Rick Roos gets the call up to the big leagues with this top notch column on career highs.
The reality is that the vast majority of NHL forwards end up having several years where their point totals are close to whatever their career high ends up being. In other words, if a player manages to end up with 80 points as his career high, chances are he had at least a couple of other seasons where he finished with between 70 and 80 points. Look at Mike Modano for a good example. His career high was 93 points, which he achieved in two separate seasons, and he also finished with points in the 83 to 93 range three other times.
Conversely, there are forwards who establish a career high in points that they never come close to duplicating. The glaring example most fantasy GMs can quickly point to is Brian Gionta, who has never approached the 89 points he scored in the 2006 season (60 is his next highest - a staggering difference of 29 points). And there are a number of other NHLers whose career high in points has never been threatened and who, based on their age and/or the number of seasons they've played, are virtually guaranteed never to again approach that number.
They include Vincent Lecavalier (108 points in 2007; next highest point total was 92), Scott Gomez (84 points in 2006; next highest point total was 70), Todd Bertuzzi (97 points in 2003; next highest point total was 85), and Joe Thornton (125 points in 2006; next highest point total was 114), all of whom have not again come within 10 points of their career high in points.
But what about younger forwards who have only played between five and 10 seasons and, like the five older guys above, thus far have a career high in points that is 10 or more points higher than what they scored in any of their other NHL seasons? Do any of them have a realistic shot of recapturing their past glory by once again having a season that is within 10 points of their career high in points? This is key information, since it could end up influencing how to truly value these guys, which in turn will tell you things like where to draft them and who to trade them for. Here's a look at a few such players, grouped into one of four categories based on how likely (or unlikely) it is for them to ever meet or exceed their career high again.
Very Good Chance
Sidney Crosby (120 points in 2007; next highest point total is 109)
Even with his injury history, he's easily the most likely player on this list to have a season that threatens his previous career high. In fact, given that he scored at a jaw dropping 138 point pace last season (37 points in 22 games), he could realistically end up scoring 130+ points down the road, which in an odd twist could actually keep him in this list since his career high is 120! But really, the only question here is health - otherwise it's off the races for Crosby, especially playing with a scoring winger like James Neal for a full season, as Neal is far and away more talented than anyone who’s ridden shotgun with Crosby in the past.
Rick Nash (79 points in 2009; next highest point total is 69)
Expectations couldn't be set any higher for Nash's first season with the Rangers. We saw last year with Brad Richards that it can take a while to get used to the spotlight and system in the Big Apple, but I for one see Nash as having a very realistic chance to not only finish within 10 points of his previous career high of 79, but to perhaps even eclipse it. After all, he'll be the top dog in NYC and will be chomping at the bit to prove to himself - and the NHL as a whole - that his stats with Columbus were indeed artificially low due to lack of quality linemates during all the past years he suffered there.
At Least Fifty-Fifty
Niklas Backstrom (101 points in 2010; next highest point total is 88)
As anemic as the Caps offense looked during the Dale Hunter regime, Backstrom still managed to put up 44 points in 42 games, a scoring pace that would’ve projected to put him in the top 10 for the year. Sure there's talk that Mike Ribeiro might get PP1 minutes or be paired with Alex Ovechkin to balance out the lines, but keep in mind that new Washington coach Adam Oates certainly knows the value of having a top centerman play with a top winger; after all, how many of his 1079 career assists came from feeding the puck to Brett Hull or Cam Neely? In the end, Backstrom will almost assuredly get ample opportunity to play with Ovy and again put up big numbers. The only reason I don’t have him in the "Very Good Chance" category above is the concern that Ovy simply is not the same player he once was, which will could limit Backstrom's ability to actually pile up more than 90 points.
Eric Staal (100 points in 2006; next highest point total is 82)
Oh how nine months can change things! At the end of November 2011, Staal wasn't even scoring at a .5 points per game pace and was among the worst in the NHL in +/-. But he showed renewed drive after Kirk Muller took over as coach, and put up point per game numbers from December onward to end up just outside of the top 20 in the NHL scoring race. With the offseason addition of brother Jordan and Alex Semin, two guys who likely are among the most motivated to succeed this coming season, it's very possible that Eric could find himself having a comeback season the likes of which hasn't been seen in many years. Overall, seeing Eric get to 100 points is admittedly unlikely, but who can really rule out 90+ for a guy with all his talent who's finally going to be paired with elite linemates?
David Krejci (73 points in 2009; next highest point total is 62)
Like Patrice Bergeron, Krecji is a victim of circumstance - a talented offensive player on a team that legitimately roles out three scoring lines and places a huge premium on defense. But with Krecji having been stuck at or below 62 points for three years in a row, some have rightfully questioned whether he can go back to the form that saw him break out to 73 points in his first full season. The return of Nathan Horton to the Bruins line up should go a long way to helping make that happen, and a season in the mid to upper 60s is a very realistic expectation.
Probably Not, But You Never Know
Derek Roy (81 points in 2008; next highest point total is 70)
It’s true that Roy doesn't figure to be part of what's being billed as the top line in Dallas (Benn centering Eriksson and Jagr), but the consolation prize of playing with the ageless wonder that is Ray Whitney and the now 3-time 30 goal scoring Michael Ryder could still give Roy a legitimate shot at approaching his 81 point career high. But unless he gets top line PP time, there could only be so many points to go around, and he might be hard pressed to get past the 70 point mark. And his chances are even slimmer unless the season is delayed for at least a month, as he's projected to miss time into November following shoulder surgery.
Thomas Vanek (84 points in 2007; next highest point total is 73)
You're probably as surprised as me to realize that Vanek's second highest point total is only 73. His reputation and name recognition would make it seem like he's a guy who's had other better years than that. But the reality is he's another NHLer (like Semin, mentioned above) who seems to phone it in for large chunks of seasons. Then again, he's still not even 30 and clearly should have gas left in the tank. Maybe the late season emergence of the younger forwards in Buffalo will help awaken and push Vanek in 2012, as more so than perhaps anyone on this list his ability to come with 10 points of his career high is basically up to him and how hard he chooses to apply himself.
Corey Perry (98 points in 2011; next highest point total is 76)
Perry deserves better than to be in this portion of the list, as he's already twice the player that Gionta ever was (and not just in height). But the reality is that his 98 point season might just be too much for him to ever come close to approaching again. Part of his success in 2011 was that he kind of snuck up on other teams, as although he was already a very highly touted player coming off back to back 70+ point seasons, no one could've predicted his explosion to 98. But as we saw last year, opposing teams seem to have discovered the recipe to containing him and Getzlaf. And even though he's an amazing all-around talent and had a great points surge at the end of last season, he hasn't shown a Stamkos-like ability to score goals no matter who he's playing with or against. For that reason, his 98 points could end up being seen as this decade's Gionta-like fluke. Sorry Corey.....