Stock up, stock down: Who's hot, who's not
It's a basic mathematical equation. NHL teams that boast the most number of players whose stock is trending up are the ones that will be most successful. Similarly, teams whose players' stock is doing the Enron will invariably be the ones you can locate at the bottom of the NHL standings. As teams race toward the quarter pole of what has already been a turbulent NHL season, we take a look at five players whose stock is on the rise and five whose value has taken a surprising nosedive.
Rod Brind'Amour, Carolina Hurricanes: Look up and down the 'Canes' lineup and you'll be hard-pressed not to find a player whose stock is through the roof, whether it's scoring leader Eric Staal (27 points, 14 games); Matt Cullen or Erik Cole, both of whom have made strong cases for inclusion on the U.S. Olympic team in February; or rejuvenated defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky.
But if you're looking for both the tangible and intangible elements of the 'Canes' success, look no further than new captain Brind'Amour. At 35, the former first-round pick of the St. Louis Blues back in 1988 didn't look particularly well-suited for the new NHL. But Brind'Amour has netted eight goals and has 14 points in 14 games as the 'Canes have bolted out to a surprising 11-2-1 mark. Brind'Amour leads the team with six power-play goals.
"His on-ice play has been outstanding. He's had some great goals. He's undressed some people. He's not just sitting in front," said coach Peter Laviolette.
Perhaps as significant, off the ice, Brind'Amour has been key in keeping the team's focus during an impressive stretch during which the 'Canes have come from behind to beat Eastern Conference powers Ottawa, Philadelphia and Boston.
"We sat him next to Staal in the hopes that anything possible can rub off on him," Laviolette said.
Joni Pitkanen, Philadelphia Flyers: During Philadelphia's march to the Eastern Conference finals in 2004, coach Ken Hitchcock felt Pitkanen, the team's top defensive prospect, wasn't quite ready and at times left him out of the postseason lineup. Fast-forward through a year of forced learning in the AHL during last year's lockout and suddenly Pitkanen, 22, no longer looks timid or out of place.
Through 14 games the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Pitkanen has collected 15 points and leads the NHL with a plus-18 rating. He is jumping into the play and creating havoc for opposing defenders. Against Boston earlier this week he scored the tying goal and overtime winner to help the Flyers erase a 3-1 lead in the last four minutes of the game.
Hitchcock said Pitkanen's strong defensive play has always been undervalued and he is now coming into his own offensively.
"Knowing when to go and more importantly where to go," Hitchcock said this week.
Pitkanen has added 15 pounds of bulk to his frame and that has added to the confidence the Flyers' coaching staff has to use him in any situation.
"I don't think you can physically intimidate him anymore," Hitchcock said.
Teemu Selanne, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim: Who knew? When the Finnish Flash returned to Anaheim, a late-summer acquisition by the Mighty Ducks, it looked to be more sentimental swan song than visionary signing. Selanne limped to the end of the 2004 World Cup of Hockey admitting he needed knee surgery, appearing to have left his days as a feared sniper behind.
But in the absence of Sergei Fedorov who has played just three games and has yet to score thanks to a nagging groin injury, Selanne has become the man in Anaheim ... again. Selanne has been electric, leading the team with 18 points on nine goals and nine assists. He also boasts a plus-9 rating to lead the Ducks, who have shaken off a slow start to join the playoff fray in the Western Conference.
Dany Heatley, Ottawa Senators: When Heatley asked to be traded from Atlanta this summer, there were a host of questions about his mental well-being, the state of his game and the prospects for his future. There were skeptics who believed that simply putting on a new sweater in Ottawa would do little to help him move beyond the fatal accident two years ago that cost teammate and friend Danny Snyder his life.
But in what seems like a heartbeat Heatley appears to have proven he knew exactly what he needed to turn the page. Heatley has scored in bunches as the Senators have distanced themselves from the NHL pack with a 12-2 record. Heatley and linemate Jason Spezza have formed one of the most dangerous combos in the league and have cemented a place on the Olympic roster, a place that was in grave jeopardy as recently as the Canadian orientation camp in August.
"I think he's more relaxed now. He's a big part of our team in many ways," GM John Muckler said a few hours before Heatley added two more goals in a 5-2 rout of Boston on Thursday.
Through 14 games Heatley has 26 points, two points off the league lead, and is a plus-16. Any lingering effects of an eye injury suffered a year ago in Switzerland appear to have dissipated as quickly as the questions about his future.
"He goes to the net very well. He's got these fast hands so he can score from in close," Muckler said. "The rough stuff doesn't bother him one iota."
Jason Labarbera, Los Angeles Kings: When people said they liked the Kings as a dark horse in the Western Conference, it was based largely on the assumption that it would be netminder Mathieu Garon who would lead them. Instead it is the former AHL player of the year in 2004, Labarbera, who was let go by the Rangers and signed as a free agent in August.
Head coach Andy Murray admitted he knew nothing about Labarbera other than the Kings' scouts loved him. Murray began the season rotating his netminders on a game-by-game basis. That routine is out the window based on Garon's tepid play and Labarbera's seizing of the moment. The unflappable Labarbera is 8-2-1 with a .915 save percentage for the Kings, the surprise leaders in the Pacific Division.
Alexander Mogilny, New Jersey Devils: You look at Mogilny and his 13 points in 14 games and you think, that's not so bad. But then you look at the standings and find that the Devils are 6-7-2 and would be out of the playoffs if the postseason began today and you realize there are problems in the swamp. Big problems.
The Devils have given up 11 more goals than they've scored, blasphemy for a team that might as well have created team defense. Coach Larry Robinson was so unhappy with his team's play that he benched Mogilny during a loss last Saturday to the Rangers and then scratched him for another loss against the Islanders this week, their fourth in a row. The problem for the Devils is that they have struggled to adapt to the new game, blowing leads and taking untimely penalties.
There is also the leadership void created by the retirement of Scott Stevens and the departure of Scott Niedermayer. Mogilny was expected to help fill that void. The fact that GM Lou Lamoriello signed the talented Russian to two-year deal worth $7 million makes matters that much more complicated as the Devils are in cap trouble and will find it difficult to move players such as Mogilny should they feel the need to.
Nikolai Khabibulin, Chicago Blackhawks: You couldn't accuse the normally parsimonious 'Hawks of playing it cheap as they spent the offseason spending like a drunken sailor for the first time in years. The problem is it appears that same inebriated swabbie actually assembled this team as overpaid veterans such as Matthew Barnaby, Curtis Brown, Martin Lapointe, Adrian Aucoin and Jassen Cullimore have provided little in the way of production or leadership through the first seven weeks of the season.
But the biggest blight on the Hawks' landscape has been Khabibulin, whom the Hawks made the highest-paid goalie in the league by inking him to a four-year, $27 million deal. Khabibulin, who bolted the Bolts after leading them to the Cup in 2004, has been, by his own admission, abysmal. Instead of helping to cover up the mistakes of lesser teammates, as one might expect the best-paid netminder to do, he has contributed to the team's early problems with a 3.69 GAA and .862 save percentage.
Yes, Khabibulin and the Hawks have a modest two-game winning streak, the first of the season, but one of those wins came against St. Louis and hardly counts. The Blackhawks (6-10, 13th in the Western Conference) and their big-ticket netminder still have a long road to traverse before they can even begin to consider the playoffs.
Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning: With the new standards of officiating and more open ice, it seemed a slam-dunk that defending scoring champion St. Louis would simply pick up where he left off at the end of the 2004 season. But even a slam-dunk sometimes clangs off the iron now and again.
Things got off to a rocky start for St. Louis when he felt he'd been slighted by the big contract awarded teammate and friend Vincent Lecavalier in the summer. But even after St. Louis got his own long-term deal locked up, he struggled to regain the scoring touch that saw him win the NHL scoring title in 2003-04 and league MVP honors.
St. Louis has been shuffled by head coach John Tortorella from top line to fourth line in an effort to jump-start his productivity but the sensitive, sometimes moody St. Louis seems to be suffering from a surprising crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that has afflicted the entire team as the Bolts have lost five straight games for the first time since the end of the 2001-02 season and are now a sub-.500 club. St. Louis did score in Thursday's 5-2 loss to the Rangers, but it marked his first in six games and just his fifth overall.
Bobby Holik, Atlanta Thrashers: The likable, articulate Holik has been a highly-sought-after commodity, first as a free agent when he left New Jersey after the 2002 season and then when the Rangers bought him out of an enormous contract this past summer. Holik, who won two Cups in New Jersey, could have had more money had he returned to the Devils but chose to sign with the Thrashers because he thought they had more upside and he liked the way Bob Hartley coaches.
Surprisingly, then, Holik has struggled to meld his abrasive, physical style with that of the new NHL. Although penalties aren't the problem (he had just eight minutes in 15 games through Thursday), he has yet to provide the offense from in close that was expected of him. No one's expecting him to score 50 goals, but Holik needs to bring more snarl to the front of the opposing net than his three-goal, six-point output thus far if the Thrashers are going to make the playoffs -- when Holik's real value is expected to be revealed -- for the first time.
Keith Tkachuk, St. Louis Blues: The Blues' highest-paid and arguably most important player showed up to training camp looking like he was headed to a sumo tournament. Things have pretty much gone downhill from there. After being suspended by the team, Tkachuk responded by suffering first a groin injury and then cracked ribs, injuries that have limited him to just two games this season.
The power forward is back on the ice but isn't expected to return to the lineup for a couple weeks at the earliest. People wondered at the Blues' logic of not buying out Tkachuk when they had the opportunity after the new collective bargaining agreement was ratified this past summer. But ownership felt it imprudent to pay Tkachuk not to play for them, which is essentially what they're doing now. The team believed that if they struggled (which they are, with an NHL-worst 2-11-3 record including a current 10-game losing streak), they could deal Tkachuk for some badly-needed prospects or draft picks closer to the trade deadline. And had he returned to the form that saw him notch 33 goals and 71 points in 2003-04, a team with cap room and a shot at the Cup might have made such a move even though he counts about $5 million against the cap this year and next (the average of his salary in those two years). Now, it's hard to believe any team would be interested, meaning the Blues and Tkachuk appear stuck with each other.
Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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