Well, the 2016-17 season is here.
Last season, we didn't see all that many surprises. Oh wait, someone other than the Los Angeles Kings or Chicago Blackhawks won a Stanley Cup. You see, Sidney Crosby was terrible through the first two months of 2015-16. Then he became really good and led his team to the Stanley Cup.
Crosby went from the NHL's most colossal disappointment to nearly winning the scoring title. The Sedin twins and Joe Thornton turned back the clock and looked like themselves from 10 years ago after disappointing in recent years. To be honest, not very many NHL players were disappointments a year ago
But there are bound to be some major drop-offs from guys who were stars a year ago. That's the nature of the NHL. Whether it's ageing, finding new teams or losing supporting linemates, there a number of NHL stars are going to be disappointing in 2016-17. Here is our top 15.
15 Mats Zuccarello
The 29-year-old Norwegian led the New York Rangers in scoring with 61 points last season. It's easy to believe that some guys will build off career years, but consider Mats Zuccarello a one-year wonder more than a late bloomer.
His previous career high in points was 59, two years ago. The Rangers are sure to get more production out of younger studs in Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller this season. Veteran Rick Nash could also have a big bounce-back season. But Zuccarello is not going to get better. The Rangers have not built their entire offence around him, and he simply happened to be the best on a unit that underachieved scoring-wise, altogether.
Zuccarello is going to be a stud as a second-liner, but asking him to lead the team in scoring again is silly.
14 Auston Matthews
Auston Matthews is undoubtedly going to be a superstar in the NHL. Many believe he could be the Calder Trophy winner as Rookie of the Year, and rightfully so. However, Matthews faces fierce competition and is joining a Leafs team with very few standout veterans. It's going to be extremely hard for the rookie to shine right away.
The pressure isn't on Matthews in year one. The Leafs are still in full rebuild mode and aren't expecting to contend in 2016-17. But many will expect the first-overall pick to score a point per game like Connor McDavid did last year. Matthews is going to need a couple of seasons until Mike Babcock lets him unleash his full potential. The kid has a lot to learn in the big leagues.
Don't expect Matthews to score more than 50 points this season. Though many of you will surely draft him early in your pools.
13 Henrik Zetterberg
Because the Detroit Red Wings make the playoffs every year, Henrik Zetterberg's steep decline over the years has been overlooked. It also helps when Gustav Nyquist, Dylan Larkin and Tomas Tatar are masking the end of Zetterberg's days.
He's been going downhill for several years. Back in 2010-11, he had 24 goals and 80 points. The following season? 22 goals and 69 points. We'll exclude the 48-game 2013 campaign. He had 16 goals and 48 points in 2013-14, 17 and 66 in 2014-15 and 13 and 50 last season.
And since Zetterberg is the Red Wings captain, he remains a household name. But losing Pavel Datsyuk will really hurt him. The Wings also face a much more competitive Eastern Conference in 2016-17. Zetterberg may not even be a quality third-liner by the time 2016-17 ends.
12 Milan Lucic
I think the Milan Lucic signing helps the Oilers get out of the basement and he'll win a pair of Stanley Cups with them. But if you go back to the title, this is guys who'll disappoint in 2016-17, not for the next five years.
Lucic is going to be a stud playing with McDavid. He's going to protect his stars with his 6-feet-4 frame. But good things usually take time. The Oilers are probably hoping Lucic can be a 30-goal and 60-point scorer in his first season with the team. Becoming a 30-goal scorer with McDavid is much easier said than done.
The Oilers are going to be a lot better in 2016-17, but asking Lucic to take them to the playoffs right away seems to be the expectation on the power forward early. A 20-plus goal season should be considered strong for the Oilers. But most will consider that a failure.
11 Artemi Panarin
The Russian superstar ran away with the Calder Trophy last season, scoring 30 goals and 77 points with NHL scoring leader, Patrick Kane. Given that Artemi Panarin is just 24-years-of-age, you would think that he's going to get better with age. But one just has to put all the puzzle pieces together.
Now, Kane is a great player, but his 106-point season won't be repeated. His career best before that was 88 back in 2009-10, when he was just 21 years of age. Between 2011-12 and 2014-15, his best season was 69 points in 2013-14. Kane is probably scoring no more than 85 points next season.
Also, Panarin may not even be on the same line with Kane. As The Hockey News pointed out, his numbers were awful when Kane wasn't playing with him. Kane's one of those stars that can make any one on his line look better. Panarin will see a huge drop-off in 2016-17.
10 Joe Thornton
Joe Thornton found the Fountain of Youth and hit the 80-point mark for the first time since 2009-10, where he scored 89 points. His San Jose Sharks fell just two games shy of winning their first-ever Stanley Cup. Jumbo Joe had 19 goals and 82 points in his age-36 season.
As much as we all love Thornton and want him to win a Stanley Cup, his numbers are certainly going down. Thornton turned 37 in the summer, and a long trip to the final, along with the World Cup of Hockey, are sure to take a major toll on his body which is surely breaking down.
Now listen. Thornton is still going to produce like a top-flight centre. 60-70 points is realistic, but it's easy for some fans to remember his household name and expect a repeat of 2015-16. Just know between 2011-11 and 2014-15, his best points total was 77.
9 Shea Weber
Basically, Shea Weber is going to have to do one of the following if the intense media and fans of Montreal can be convinced he was worth bringing in by shipping away P.K. Subban.
A) Score 30 goals
B) Win the Norris Trophy
C) Win the Stanley Cup
Failure to do any of those will have Habs fans going crazy. Marc Bergevin promised Subban was goin nowhere but took on Weber's contract that carries 10 more seasons. Subban is four years younger and was the heart-and-soul of Montreal. Everything is on Weber's shoulders now.
Weber, now 31, has seen his stats decline over the years, and he's not the defensive force he was several years ago. He still is great and should fight in Montreal, but he's going to have to play like a 25-year-old Nicklas Lidstrom if he wants to live up to lofty expectations in Montreal.
8 Marian Gaborik
After a phenomenal showing in the 2014 playoffs that helped the Los Angeles Kings win a Stanley Cup, Marian Gaborik was expected to be a hero with this team for years to come. If hero means having a toxic contract at 34-years-of-age that nobody will pickup, then so be it.
The Kings were silly for giving him a seven-year deal (when he was 32) for $34.125 million. Gaborik played in just 54 games in 2015-16, scoring 12 goals and 22 points. Everyone knows the man is extremely injury-prone and no longer the bonafide superstar he was with the Minnesota Wild eight years ago.
Further complicating things for Gaborik is the fact his Kings are exhausted from all these long playoff runs over the years. 31-year-old Jeff Carter and 29-year-old Anze Kopitar only have so much left in the tank. It'll affect Gaborik, who should be thrilled if he scores 20 this season.
7 Kris Letang
Kris Letang went from one of the most overpaid players in the NHL to a near-Norris Trophy winner. His 2015-16 season was one to remember: He posted a career-high 67 points and won the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh, scoring the series-winning goal while shutting down the likes of Thornton, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski.
However, all isn't easy going forward for Letang. You really think a 29-year-old will build off of 67 points? His career-best before that was 54. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were magic and the Pens' third line performed like an average first line. Everything fell into place for Pittsburgh last year.
And Letang is sure to feel the effects from a long playoff journey last year. If you think this is the year he wins the Norris, think again.
6 Andrew Ladd
Andrew Ladd was once an underrated player, being the Winnipeg Jets captain and all, and scoring three-50 point seasons in The Great White North. Then the Chicago Blackhawks gave up golden prospect Marko Dano and a first-round pick for his services. Then the New York Islanders gave the 31-year-old a seven-year deal worth $38.5 million. That's a lot for a guy who'll probably be on their second line with a career high of 62 points.
The New York Islanders have plenty of firepower up front with John Tavares, Anders Lee, Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson. Ladd is not a necessity and probably won't score more than 50 points. His contract tells you he's being paid like a top-flight first-liner. He's not one of those players.
20 goals and 45 points is more likely for Ladd.
5 Jaromir Jagr
Everyone in the world loves Jaromir Jagr. Seriously, nobody in the world hates him.
It was rather epic to see him score 27 goals and 66 points in his age 44 season and lead a stacked Florida Panthers team in scoring. But if you really think this man is going to lead the team in scoring again, we have to tell you why it's not happening.
Jagr is 44 freaking years old. Seriously, it's not scientifically possible for him to score 60 again. Jagr may want to play until he's 60, but the decline can come at any minute. The Panthers also have young, talented forwards in Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. They'll carry the load of the offence, not the 45-year-old Jagr.
4 Matt Murray
Because of injuries from Marc-Andre Fleury, Murray stepped in near the end of the 2015-16 regular season and never looked back. He went 9-2-1 with a ridiculous .930 save percentage and 2.00 goals against average. In the playoffs, he went 15-6 with a 2.08 goals against average and .923 save percentage.
Matt Murray does have plenty of upside and is just 22-years-old. He's no doubt going to be a star, soon. But to post those stats again at his age is simply not going to happen. If you think Pittsburgh can suffocate all of the elite offenses again the way they did in the playoffs, you'll be disappointed. Their virtually unbeatable play from January to June is not sustainable over an 82-game regular season.
Murray has a broken hand and will miss several weeks to start the season. If Fleury plays like his normal self, Murray might not even earn the starter's job in 2016-17.
3 David Backes
The heart-and-soul leader of the St. Louis Blues shipped up to Boston and signed a five-year deal worth $30 million. That's a huge risk for a 32-year-old whose heavy two-way game brings plenty of wear-and-tear on guys who play that style.
Now David Backes is a good player, but the numbers are doing downhill. After posting 57 and 58 in 2013-14 and 2014-15, respectively, Backes had just 45. That's his lowest in an 82-game season since 2007-08, his second year in the NHL. His 21 goals were also his lowest since registering 17 in 2009-10.
Backes also doesn't have the linemates in Boston that he had in St. Louis. Patrice Bergeron will be the first-line centre, with World Cup hero Brad Marchand on his side. Loui Eriksson signed with the Vancouver Canucks, so Backes won't be scoring a whole lot. Expect another disastrous contract on the hands of the Bruins.
2 Taylor Hall
Many are still awaiting the true breakout season from Taylor Hall. It didn't happen with the Edmonton Oilers despite excellent linemates. Hall showed signs of a breakout star with a 27-goal, 80-point campaign in 2013-14. He had just 38 points in 53 games the following year, and then had 26 and 65 this past season.
Hall had the luxury of being on a line with Connor McDavid and Jordan Eberle. He's joining a New Jersey team whose leading scorer was Kyle Palmeiri with 57 points. Adam Henrique is also talented, but no way does he have the upside of guys like Leon Draisaitl and McDavid.
The Devils also hate scoring. They play very tight defence and rely on low-scoring games to win. Hall won't be asked to score 30 goals as much as he will be forced to play at both ends of the rink.
1 Shayne Gostisbehere
Shayne Gostisbehere was the biggest surprise of the NHL in 2016-17. He scored 17 goals and 46 points in just 64 games. The Hockey News also noted his 0.72 points per game was the best for a rookie blueliner in 23 years.
So it's easy to think the 23-year-old, on a young Philadelphia Flyers team, is bound to get better, right? Think again. Teams didn't know how to react to this rookie's offence last season, they'll have more videotape on him now. Those numbers are just insane. Even Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, Zdeno Chara, Duncan Keith and Nicklas Lidstrom didn't post those numbers in their rookie years.
Gostisbehere should still be a top-10 scoring defenceman, but he's not going to score 70-something points like many of you will think. There's just no way he's going to keep up with the pace he had last season.