Bounce-back players to watch this season

As the NHL’s 30 teams prepare for the mid-month openings of training camps, several players will attempt to rebound from otherwise forgettable performance in 2008-09. Here’s a look at the top 10 potential NHL “bounce-back” players for 2009-10.

Marian Gaborik, NY Rangers. Having spent most of his career struggling through injuries Gaborik in 2007-08 finally appeared to put his injury woes behind him with career-best single-season numbers in goals (42) assists (41) and points (83) in 77 games with the Minnesota Wild. Big things were expected of him last season but a nagging hip injury kept him out of all but 17 games. When healthy, Gaborik is among the elite right wingers in the league, which is why the New York Rangers gambled $37.5 million over five years on him this summer. The Rangers are going into this season with concerns over their offensive depth and their playoff hopes could rest on a healthy Gaborik regaining his high-scoring touch.

J.S. Giguere, Anaheim Ducks. Last season was not one to remember for Giguere. His father succumbed to cancer at midseason which hampered his performance. Ultimately, he lost his starting goalie job to Jonas Hiller. But it’s not the first time Giguere lost his job to his under-study only to bounce back, recovering from an inconsistent performance in 2005-06 to backstop the Ducks to the 2007 Stanley Cup. “Jiggy” still has two more years remaining on his contract and rejected rumors this summer he’d be willing to waive his “no-trade” clause, saying he’s determined to win back his job. Don’t bet against him.

Daniel Briere, Philadelphia Flyers. After his career-best 95-point performance with the Buffalo Sabres in 2006-07, the Flyers paid Briere top dollar in 2007, but over the past two seasons the results were disappointing. While he had a respectable 72-point performance in 79 games in 2007-08, groin and abdominal injuries limited him to only 29 games last season leading to rumors he was being shopped. Briere insists he’s fully recovered and if he can get back to at least an 80-point performance in 2009-10 it could go a long way toward bolstering the Flyers Stanley Cup hopes.

Marty Turco, Dallas Stars. Coming off a solid 2007-08 performance Turco was the hero of the Stars’ march to the 2008 Western Conference Final, finally shaking the label of “playoff choker” from his resume. Unfortunately Turco followed that up with the worst single-season performance of his career, with a 33-31-10 record, a bloated 2.81 goals-against average (his career average is 2.26) and an awful .896 save percentage. He also lacked a quality backup last season to help him share the workload, which should be rectified by the addition of Alex Auld.

Alex Kovalev, Ottawa Senators. Long criticized for inconsistency, Kovalev proved last season with the Montreal Canadiens why that criticism is justified. After having one of the best performances of his long career in 2007-08 with 35 goals and 84 points, Kovalev’s production declined to only 26 goals and 65 points last season, even earning a two-game benching by the Canadiens, whose management opted this summer not to re-sign him. The Senators, desperate for scoring depth, snapped him up with a two-year, $10 million contract, hoping a change of venue inspires Kovalev to another 80-plus point performance.

Brenden Morrow, Dallas Stars. After years of toiling in the shadow of Stars greats like Mike Modano, Morrow came into his own in 2007-08 with career bests in goals (32) and points (74). He was also one of the main factors in the Stars’ strong 2008 postseason. Morrow appeared on his way to yet another solid performance in 2008-09 when a knee injury in late November knocked him out of the lineup for the rest of the season. Such injuries can be difficult to fully recover from, especially for a physical two-way winger like Morrow. How quickly he recovers could have an impact on the Stars this season.

Paul Kariya, St. Louis Blues. His numbers had been in decline over the two seasons leading up to 2008-09 but Kariya was determined to bounce back from a 16-goal, 65-point effort in 2007-08. Unfortunately a promising start (15 goals in 11 games) came to an end last November when a hip injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season. At 34, Kariya’s best years could be behind him but he’s bounced back from injuries earlier in his NHL career. A healthy Kariya will provide invaluable veteran skills and leadership to the Blues scoring lines.

Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix Coyotes. Bryzgalov finally emerged as a quality starting goaltender after being claimed off waivers from the Anaheim Ducks in November 2007, with career best numbers in wins (26), save percentage (.920), goals-against average (2.42) and shutouts (3). While he matched his career best in wins and shutouts last season his performance was erratic, losing 31 games, and posting career-worst numbers in goals-against (2.98) and save percentage (.906). If the Coyotes harbor any playoff aspirations they’ll need Bryzgalov to step up this season.

Vesa Toskala, Toronto Maple Leafs. He was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise miserable 2007-08 season for the Maple Leafs, winning a career-best 33 games. Last season however Toskala’s performance was the worst of his NHL career. Despite a 22-17-11 record in 53 games his goals-against average (3.26) and save percentage (.891) numbers were awful, and a nagging hip injury which required season-ending surgery in early March. Toskala will have additional motivation to bounce back as the Leafs signed highly touted Swedish goalie Jonas Gustavsson in the offseason.

Dan Ellis, Nashville Predators. Signed in 2007 as Chris Mason’s backup, Ellis eventually supplanted Mason as the Predators’ starting goalie midway through the 2007-08 season, backstopping the Predators into one of the final playoff berths in the Western Conference. That secured Ellis a two-year contract with the Predators and resulted in Mason getting dealt to St Louis. He started the season as Nashville’s starter but in a situation eerily similar to the previous year, Ellis struggled in the first half and lost the starter’s role to backup Pekka Rinne. Unlike Mason, however, Ellis will get a chance to win back his job this season.