The NHL doesn't hand out a comeback player of the year trophy at its annual end-of-the-season awards show, but if it did there would be a plethora of candidates for the hardware this season.
Here is NHL.com's list of 14 players who could be up for the mythical trophy at the end of this season:
Maxim Afinogenov, Buffalo Sabres
-- Afinogenov has been limited to 56 games in each of the last two seasons, but he put up only 28 points and a minus-16 rating last season after posting 61 points and a plus-19 rating in 2006-07.
Disappointing to say the least, but Afinogenov is in a contract year and the Sabres are trying to get back to the postseason after missing the dance last season. Those are reasons enough to motivate the Russian standout to have a big season.
Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
-- There is cautious optimism in Beantown regarding Bergeron, who missed all but the first 10 games of last season with a concussion and eventual post-concussion syndrome.
There were so many reports late in the season about him working out, but Bergeron never returned. This season, he's back and he has the potential to be a point-per-game player (or better) for a team that should again contend for a playoff berth. Bergeron may just turn out to be the B's greatest addition this season.
Philippe Boucher, Dallas Stars
-- After playing in his first NHL All-Star Game in 2007 as an injury-replacement, Boucher battled an injury-plagued 2007-08 season. For the first time since he became an NHL regular in 2001-02, the veteran defenseman played fewer than 60 games.
Boucher suffered injuries to both shoulders during the regular season and a hip strain kept him out of the playoffs for all but three games. He's 35 and in the final year of his contract. He's also returning to a team that played three rookie defensemen in the playoffs (Matt Niskanen
, Nicklas Grossman
and Mark Fistric
Boucher, though, is only one season removed from his career-year (51 points in 76 games), so to say he's done is more than just a bit of an overstatement. Boucher, though, does have a lot to prove this season.
Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks
-- Outside of signing a new contract, last season was one to forget for Boyle. He was hampered by a freak wrist injury, which required surgery and caused him to miss a significant amount of time. When healthy, he, like the rest of his teammates in Tampa Bay, struggled on the back end. Boyle was a minus-29 in 37 games as Tampa Bay allowed a League-worst 266 goals.
Boyle has renewed hope now as he takes over for Brian Campbell
as the Sharks playmaking defenseman and power-play quarterback. Campbell thrived in that role last season, and Boyle should do the same.
Rod Brind'Amour, Carolina Hurricanes
-- This 38-year-old physical specimen is coming off major knee surgery to repair his torn ACL, but is there any doubt that he'll be the same old Rod when the season begins?
Brind'Amour had 51 points in 59 games before blowing out his knee on Feb. 14. He's been a smidge under a point-per-game player since 2005 (203 points in 215 games), and if healthy he should be in line for 70-plus points again.
Simon Gagne, Philadelphia Flyers
-- Just like with Bergeron in Boston, there is guarded optimism about Gagne in Philadelphia because he too is coming off a concussion and eventual post-concussion syndrome. Gagne is ready to start the season healthy, which is a plus for the Flyers.
He has supreme offensive ability and had been a point-per-game player in the two years prior to his injury-plagued 2007-08 season. The Flyers are better now than before he got hurt, so Gagne comes back as only a piece to what Flyers' fans hope is a championship puzzle.
Martin Havlat, Chicago Blackhawks
-- It's been a struggle for some time now for Havlat, who was limited to 35 games last season after playing only 56 the year before and 18 in 2005-06, his final season with the Ottawa Senators
If Havlat can find a way to stay on the ice – a big if – his talent will take over and he will have a big year for the Blackhawks. Even though he's been limited to just 109 games over the past three seasons, Havlat has 100 points and a plus-25 rating.
Ethan Moreau, Edmonton Oilers
-- With more cautious optimism we can say that this may finally be the season that Moreau lives up to the four-year contract he signed with Edmonton prior to the 2006-07 season. The Oiler captain has missed 132 games due to injury ever since.
But after playing in only 25 games last season and seeing his season cut short due to a broken foot, Moreau is healthy to start the 2008-09 season. He's also coming back to a team that is now loaded at left wing with the addition Erik Cole
and the expected improved play of both Robert Nilsson
and Dustin Penner
Moreau, though, is the Oilers' leader whether he's in a first-line role or on the fourth line. He'll get plenty of ice time in shorthanded situations and will be relied on to provide some monster checks and some big goals.
Brendan Morrison, Anaheim Ducks
-- The NHL's former ironman had his streak of playing in 542 straight games snapped last season due to a wrist injury. He also tore his ACL at the end of the year, and wound up playing only 39 games.
Morrison posted only 25 points, less than half of the production he and the Vancouver Canucks
had become used to over the previous two seasons. He signed a one-year contract with Anaheim in July, and spent the summer rehabbing his knee. He may be ready for the start of the season as the Ducks No. 2 center behind Ryan Getzlaf
Teppo Numminen, Buffalo Sabres
-- He played in only one game last season, and for all intents and purposes it was a meaningless game. But the fact that Numminen returned to play in the Sabres' season finale speaks volumes about his courage and determination.
It was only 6½ months earlier that Numminen had heart surgery to repair a faulty valve. He made it back in time just to serve as an inspiration to many, but also to give him the confidence that he can still play this game at a high level.
Numminen signed a one-year contract with the Sabres last month. At 40, he isn't going to be expected to produce much in the way of offense, but Numminen will give Buffalo a veteran presence on the back end, which was missing last season when he was rehabbing from the dangerous surgery.
Michael Nylander, Washington Capitals
-- Nylander signed in D.C. last summer to be the team's No. 1 center, which would have meant piling up the assists by passing the puck to Alexander Ovechkin. Well, he got hurt and Nicklas Backstrom
stole the show.
Nylander, who had 37 points in 40 games last season, is now healthy and that is a major coup for the Caps, who still have Backstrom and Sergei Fedorov
as playmaking centers. Nylander could play with Ovechkin or Alexander Semin
, and both would excel.
Sheldon Souray, Edmonton Oilers
-- The hulking defenseman with the booming shot had a disappointing first season in Edmonton. He played in only 25 games due to a balky shoulder and had just 10 points. Two of his three goals came on the power play.
Souray is one of the most dangerous power-play guys in the NHL when healthy, which he is right now. Having Lubomir Visnovsky
on the power play with him will only help his production.
Jason Williams, Atlanta Thrashers
-- A groin injury and sports hernia surgery cost Williams 35 straight games in the middle of last season when he was with the Chicago Blackhawks
. The Thrashers, though, may find themselves with one of the steals of the offseason if Williams can stay healthy.
He had it going early last season with 19 points in 20 games before the injury kept him out for three months. He revved it up again once he returned in late February and finished with 36 points in 43 games.
Williams had six power-play goals in limited time last season. Outside of Ilya Kovalchuk
, who had 16, only Todd White
had that many power-play goals in a Thrashers uniform last season. Mark Recchi
had seven overall, but five while with Atlanta.
Richard Zednik, Florida Panthers
-- It's not about production with Zednik. It's simply about playing, which puts him on this list of potential comeback players of the year along with Numminen.
You all remember the scene of Zednik's gruesome injury, when Olli Jokinen
's skate blade slashed his neck. He came within inches of death, but now he's back for the Panthers, albeit with a neck guard as part of his equipment, and looking to contribute.
Zednik had 26 points in 54 games last season. If he remains injury-free this season, 40-50 points in a third-line role is not out of the question. The numbers won't blow you away, but the fact that Zednik will be on the ice again should.
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com