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A look at 11 candidates for a bounce back season

by John Kreiser
Disappointing seasons happen to almost everyone, whether because of injury, bad luck or circumstance. Here are 10 players who didn't have their best seasons in 2009-10, but are good candidates to bounce back in the upcoming season:

Evgeni Malkin, Penguins -- Scoring 28 goals and putting up 77 points would be a pretty good season for most players. For Malkin, it was the worst of his four NHL seasons and a huge drop from 2008-09, when he won the Art Ross Trophy with 113 points and then captured the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP while leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup. Malkin is still one of the NHL's premier players, and it would be a surprise if he doesn't return to being a 100-point player in 2010-11.

Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings -- Like his fellow Russian, Datsyuk didn't have an awful season (27 goals and 70 points while leading the NHL in takeaways). But his offensive numbers were a big comedown after he put up 32 goals and 97 points in 2008-09 -- giving him back-to-back 97-point performances. The Wings need a big season from Datsyuk to return to the NHL's elite this season.

Vincent Lecavalier, Lightning -- It wasn't that long ago (2006-07) that Lecavalier was winning the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL's top goal-scorer. But he managed only 24 goals in 2009-10 and averaged less than a point a game for the second season in a row -- this time despite being healthy enough to play all 82 games. With a new regime and more talent in Tampa Bay, the Lightning need their all-time leading scorer, now 30, to bounce back and revert to the form of a few years ago.

Jay Bouwmeester, Flames -- Calgary GM Darryl Sutter thought he pulled off a coup when he landed Bouwmeester during the 2009 Entry Draft and signed him to a long-term deal. But instead of getting a high-scoring, reliable defenseman, the Flames got a player who generated just 3 goals and 29 points, his lowest totals in five years and a huge drop from his 15-27-42 line for Florida in 2008-09. Bouwmeester is hitting his prime -- he turns 27 just before the season starts -- and should be a more productive player in his second season in Calgary.

Steve Mason, Blue Jackets -- Mason was the biggest reason Columbus made the playoffs for the first time in 2008-09, winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie while going 33-20-7 with a League-leading 10 shutouts. But nothing went right last season; Mason struggled to a 20-26-9 record and saw his goals-against average soar from 2.29 to 3.06. The Jackets have no hope of getting back to the playoffs if Mason doesn't return to form.

Cam Ward, Hurricanes -- Ward suffered 23 regulation losses in 2009-10, the same number as the previous season. The difference: His victory total dropped from 39 to 18. A large part of that was due to injuries that kept him out for long stretches of time, but even before he got hurt, neither Ward nor the Carolina Hurricanes were showing the form that earned them a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009. Like the Blue Jackets and Mason, the Hurricanes' fate is tied to the performance of their goaltender.

Bryan Little, Thrashers -- Little was one of the surprises of the 2008-09 season, putting up 31 goals as a 21-year-old playing his first full NHL season. But Little's second season wasn't nearly as good -- he dropped from 31 goals to 13 and 51 points to 34. With Ilya Kovalchuk gone and a raft of new talent on board, the Thrashers are counting on the 22-year-old forward to put up good numbers again.

Milan Lucic, Bruins -- Lucic was one of the big reasons the Bruins finished first in the East in 2008-09; he put up 17 goals and 42 points while playing a brand of physical hockey that quickly endeared him to the TD Garden faithful. But injuries limited him to 50 games in '09-10, and he rarely looked like the dominant force of a year earlier, putting up just 9 goals and 20 points while the B's struggled to make the playoffs. If he's in good health, there's no reason Lucic can't return to being the player he was in '08-09.

David Booth, Panthers -- After a 31-goal, 60-point performance in 2008-09, big things were expected from Booth last season. But they never happened. He was freight-trained by Philadelphia's Mike Richards in late October and wound up playing in only 28 games, scoring 8 goals and adding 8 assists. The Panthers desperately missed his scoring and need Booth to return to the 30-goal scorer he was a year earlier if they hope to break the NHL's longest active playoff drought.

Martin Havlat, Wild -- Minnesota gave Havlat a big contract last summer, hoping he could be the replacement for Marian Gaborik, who left for the Rangers as a free agent. It didn't happen. Havlat fell from 29 goals and 77 points with Chicago in '08-09 to just 18 goals and 54 points, while plummeting from a plus-29 rating to minus-19. Minnesota can't afford another season like that from a player who's so vital to its offense.

Scott Hartnell, Flyers -- Hartnell is coming off a fine playoff performance (8-9-17 in 23 games), but that only makes his regular-season stats (14 goals, 44 points in 81 games) look worse. Hartnell had 30 goals and 60 points in 2008-09, his fourth consecutive 20-goal season, and his diminished production was a big reason the Flyers had to go to a shootout in Game 82 just to make the playoffs. They need the 30-goal version of Hartnell to improve this season.
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