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Ten top candidates for a bounce-back season

by John Kreiser

Disappointing seasons can happen to anyone. Sometimes they're due to injuries; sometimes they're just bad luck; at other times they're a combination of circumstances.

Here are 10 players who, for a variety of reasons, didn't have their best seasons in 2012-13 but are good candidates to bounce back in 2013-14:

Pekka Rinne: The first season of Rinne's seven-year deal with the Nashville Predators didn't go the way either side had envisioned. Rinne went from a finalist for the Vezina Trophy in 2011-12 to a sub-.500 record (15-16-8) last season while watching his save percentage slip from .923 to .910. Part of Rinne's struggles may have been related to a hip injury that required surgery in May. He says he'll be ready for the start of the season -- and with no established backup, he'll have to return to form for the Predators to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Milan Lucic: Lucic had an excellent run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Boston Bruins, scoring seven goals and tying for second on the team with 19 points in 22 games as the Bruins came within two victories of winning the Stanley Cup. His playoff performance helped overshadow a disappointing regular season in which one of the NHL's best power forwards managed seven goals and 27 points in 46 games, a big drop from consecutive seasons of 30 and 26 goals and 62 and 61 points. The departure of Nathan Horton and Jaromir Jagr means the Bruins need Lucic's best game on a nightly basis.

Marc-Andre Fleury: Fleury's situation is the opposite of Lucic's -- he had a good regular season but was driven to the bench after a poor showing for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He was 23-8-0 in the regular season, with a 2.39 goals-against average and .916 save percentage as the Penguins won their division title, but was poor play led to his benching, and he played once after Game 4 of the Penguins' opening-round series against the New York Islanders.

Marian Gaborik: If history is any indicator, this should be a big season for Gaborik, who is coming off a 12-goal, 24-point season that saw him traded by the New York Rangers to the Columbus Blue Jackets in early April. Since leaving the Minnesota Wild to sign a five-year deal with the Rangers in 2009, Gaborik has reached the 40-goal mark in the first and third seasons of the contract, with mixed performances in the second and fourth. The Blue Jackets are counting on him to be the sniper who fills the skates of Rick Nash, who was traded to the Rangers last summer.

Ryan Miller: Miller's play has declined since the 2010 Winter Olympics, when he led the United States into overtime in the gold-medal game before losing to Canada. He's gone from being a Vezina Trophy winner in 2010 to a 17-17-5 record and a 2.81 goals-against average last season as the Buffalo Sabres missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second season in a row. The playoff drought will continue unless Miller rediscovers the form he had three years ago.

Jeff Skinner: It's been tough going the last couple of seasons for Skinner, who won the Calder Trophy in 2010-11 after totaling 31 goals and 63 points with the Carolina Hurricanes. He dropped to 20 goals and 44 points in his second season and to 13 goals and 24 points in 42 games in 2012-13. Carolina gave Skinner a big-money, long-term deal before last season and needs to have him rediscover the scoring touch he showed in his rookie season.

Ryane Clowe: The New Jersey Devils are hoping Clowe's offensive struggles last season were an aberration -- they gave him a five-year, $24.25 million contract after he scored three goals and finished with 19 points in a season divided between the San Jose Sharks and the Rangers. He averaged just over 20 goals in the previous four seasons, so the expectation that Clowe simply had one of those seasons where everything went wrong isn't out of line. But with Ilya Kovalchuk back in Russia, the Devils can't afford another off-season by the soon-to-be 31-year-old.

Valtteri Filppula: Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman is betting that Filppula's 17-point performance with the Detroit Red Wings last season was a one-season dip -- and it had better be, considering Yzerman signed him to a five-year, $25 million deal. Filppula figures to be the Lightning's No. 2 center, and they need him to score the way he did it 2011-12, when he put up 23 goals, 66 points and a plus-18 rating.

Bobby Ryan: Like Filppula, Ryan will be trying to bounce back in a new place. After four 30-goal seasons, he dropped to 11 goals and 30 points in 46 games last season, a pace that would have produced only 19 goals over a full 82-game season. The Anaheim Ducks sent Ryan to the Ottawa Senators in early July in one of the biggest deals this summer; he should get a chance to play on the first line with center Jason Spezza, so his goal total could bounce back quickly.

Martin Havlat: The San Jose Sharks need Havlat to be the kind of offensive player they thought they were getting when they acquired him from the Wild two years ago; instead, he had 27 points in 39 games during an injury-plagued 2011-12 season and dropped to eight goals and 18 points in 40 games last season. Havlat doesn't have to carry the load on a team with players like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture, but the Sharks need him to generate 50-60 points and fill a top-six role.

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