The start of the 2016-17 NHL regular season is less than one month away and the league continues to produce more star-studded players each year. Currently, there are plenty of young NHL talents who are ready to take that next step towards becoming an All-Star caliber player, yet some fan bases may be disappointed as other established NHL stars could take a step back in 2016-17.
Just when you thought your team's favorite and most reliable skater could never lose his scoring touch, or the ability to shut down the opposing team's best players, fans are struck with a reality check.
A professional athlete's performance taking a major step back from one season to the next shouldn't come as a surprise. After spending a decade or so playing in the NHL, a majority of those stars will experience a natural decline with their skill assets on the ice. Still, the decline effects the game's players differently -- as some will slowly fade out into retirement, while others hit the wall hard.
Stars who could see their play take a step back for the upcoming season are spread out across the league, and perhaps their respected clubs should have considered parting ways with them prior to 2016-17. Here are 15 NHL stars who will take a step back in 2016-17.
15 Tomas Plekanec
Montreal Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec will enter his 13th NHL season, and with the Canadiens as well. Plekanec has been a key two way player for the Habs over the last decade, but the former third-round draft-pick did show signs of his play being on the decline last year. Plekanec has proven to typically be a streaky goal scorer, but the center failed to reach at least 17 goals for just the third time in his career.
The Canadiens were out of sync in 2015-16, especially without goaltender Carey Price. But even with Price's return there's no guarantee the Habs will rebound, or that Plekanec's play won't take a step back -- over a decade later into his career. The Czech Republic native is now in that similar realm of players, who are entering their mid-30s, and exiting the prime of their careers. Keep in mind, Plekanec's career dates back to the early-to-mid 2000s when the sport's playing style was much different in comparison to the post-lockout years.
14 Patrick Marleau
Forward Patrick Marleau won't go down as the best San Jose Shark of all-time, but the 1997 second-overall draft-pick of the Sharks is a future Hockey Hall Of Famer too. With over 1,411 NHL regular season games played and over 1,000 career points the only accomplishment Marleau hasn't obtained is winning the Stanley Cup. And, at the age of 36 it's no secret Marleau's play will take a step back in 2016-17, especially after San Jose's long run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016.
Marleau did have 25 goals last season, which was impressive, but only totaled 48 points, an uncommon statistical low for the Sharks' heart and soul leader. There's no doubting Marleau's heart, hardworking play and dedication to help the Teal win; but his production will more than likely decline this season. In fact it almost came as a surprise that no. 12 didn't decide to retire after finally reaching the Cup Finals for the first time in his 18-year career. It was one heck of a run for Marleau and San Jose, but as noted earlier, all good things must come to an end.
13 David Backes
After 10 seasons donning a St. Louis Blues sweater, center David Backes will enter his 11th NHL season with the Boston Bruins (via unrestricted-free-agency). The 20th team captain in Blues' history has proven to be reliable for 20-plus goals and 50-plus points a season, but his play late last season and in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs are pointing towards a decline.
There is an ongoing trend for NHL players who made this list...most are entering their early-to-mid 30s and have played in the NHL for over a decade already. Unfortunately for Bruins fans Backes falls into that category. A new city and hockey culture may spark the longtime Blues' player, but only time will tell. The former second-round draft-pick may be on the verge of not reaching 50 points in consecutive seasons for the first time in his NHL career.
12 Pekka Rinne
Who said there wouldn't be goaltenders on this list? Netminder Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators has been the face of the franchise ever since his took over the Preds' crease back in 2008. Yet, it seems that there is an ongoing trend when it comes to NHL goaltenders and when it's time for their play to take a step back. To say that Rinne has played in a lot of hockey games since his rookie season is an understatement, and the Finnish native may have already shown signs of slowing down last season.
Yes, the Predators made the Stanley Cup Playoffs and set a franchise record for playoff games played, but Rinne was inconsistent for a majority of the regular season. His .908 save-percentage was a career low, and while wins and loses do matter, fans should always keep a closer eye on save percentage as a netminder gets closer to his mid-30s. What's also alarming is that Nashville was a defensively sound club last season, especially in comparison to years past when the Music City heavily relied on Rinne to carry the team. It may be time for a new era between the pipes for the gold and blue.
11 Shea Weber
A familiar face to Nashville Predators fans...
Longtime Predators' defenseman Shea Weber will dress for an Original Six franchise this season and in the hockey hotbed market of Montreal. The newly acquired defenseman for the Canadiens will be heavily relied on and has some big shoes to fill, as the Habs gave up d-man P.K. Subban to have Weber lead the club's blue line now. We won't discuss whether the Canadiens won or lost the blockbuster trade from this past summer, but there is skepticism for Montreal's newest leader.
There's no arguing how good and dynamic of a defenseman Weber has been since entering the league back in 2005-06, but it was apparent to the eye that the four-time all-star had taken a minor step back last season. The reality is that Weber has eaten up a lot of ice and minutes for the Predators over the last decade. And, the British Columbia native had been competing against the Western Conference's best players night-in-and-night-out. Wouldn't that take a toll on a d-man who's entering his 12th NHL season? Weber isn't getting any younger, and his duties to now lead the Canadiens didn't get any easier in comparison to playing in Nashville...
10 Rick Nash
New York Rangers forward Rick Nash was used to receiving much criticism for his production during multiple Stanley Cup Playoff appearances, but what the all-star wasn't used to is struggling during the regular season. Nash finished with a career-low 31 points.
It seems that the days of being a 30-plus goal scorer are well in the past for the Big Apple's once beloved sniper. The Garden faithful were even hoping for a potential trade that involved getting rid of Nash during last year's NHL Trade Deadline. While some may defend the 32-year-old for his solid two-way play, Nash was brought into New York for one reason and one reason only -- to score goals. Was last season a fluke? Probably not. Without the same notorious goal production fans had witnessed of well over a decade from no. 61, Nash is another NHL star who will continue to take a step back in 2016-17.
9 Andrew Ladd
Andrew Ladd has been one of the more underrated and accomplished players in recent memory. The former fourth-overall draft-pick (2004) of the Carolina Hurricanes has hoisted the Stanley Cup twice in his career, and blossomed into one of the league's most respected captains. Still, Ladd's physical play and tenure of playing in the Western Conference may impact the New York Islanders' newest forward -- in a negative sense.
Sure, Ladd is only 30 years old and counting, but the former captain for the Winnipeg Jets is entering his 14th NHL season. The punch line for Ladd having success as an Islander would be playing with stud-center John Tavares; but that doesn't mean Ladd is a shoe in to have chemistry with the Isles' all-star captain. There's going to be a new and different sense of pressure on Ladd, which not only entails playing in the New York market, but the Islanders are going to heavily rely on the left winger for production. Timing is everything in this business, and the time may not be right for Ladd and New York.
8 Ryan Getzlaf
Since entering the NHL at the age of 20 with the then Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, forward Ryan Getzlaf has had a great NHL career. The one-time Stanley Cup champion (2007) has recorded 60 or more points in seven out of his 11 seasons with the Anaheim Ducks, and dons the captain's "C" for the Anaheim too. Yet, after spending 11 seasons in both a highly competitive Western Conference and physical Pacific Division, does Getzlaf still have what it takes to be an NHL star going forward?
No, and expect a down season from the former 19th overall draft pick. Whether one can point towards Getzlaf's early season injury, or not, to blame for his slow start to the 2015-16 season, there's still room for concern. Post injury, the Ducks' captain continued to struggle to find the back of the net and you have to wonder if maybe it's time for Anaheim to move on from the Getzlaf era. Keep in mind, 11 seasons with one club in the NHL is almost unheard of at this point and time. And, perhaps a new scenery would even benefit Getzlaf's play, as his 63 points last season was unusually low for the 31-year-old.
7 Henrik Zetterberg
The times have changed in Hockeytown, that's for sure. And, for the first time in over fourteen years the Detroit Red Wings will take the ice for the start of a regular season without forward Pavel Datsyuk. But what will happen next for the the Red Wings other longtime star player, Henrik Zetterberg?
The left winger played in all 82 games last season for Detroit, but only managed to find the back of the net 13 times. Zetterberg also finished the season as a minus-15, which was by far a career low for the Swedish native. So, if the decline hasn't already started for Zetterberg in Hockeytown, it will this season. It's already hard to imagine the Wings without Zetterberg's partner in crime Pavel Datsyuk, but Detroit should get used to seeing Zetterberg struggle in 2016-17. The former Red Wings' 1999 seventh-round draft-pick is under contract until the 2021 season, which could come back to haunt Hockeytown and even have the club buyout Zetterberg at some point.
6 Jeff Carter
Similar to rival Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter should experience a setback in his production for the 2016-17 regular season. The former Philadelphia Flyers' stud forward has been a blessing for the Kings, as he was a finishing piece to both Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014. Still, at the age of 31 and after continuous long playoff runs -- how much does "Carts" have left in the tank?
Sure, Carter is an established playoff hero, but the soon to be 32-year-old is coming off back-to-back 62 point seasons and most recently one where his goal production decreased. A sign for a potential down season in 2016-17? Yes. While the Kings have also been an NHL powerhouse for the past five or six seasons, you do have to also wonder if their success as a team is on the fall too; which could impact Carter's production and overall play.
5 Kris Letang
Nine NHL seasons and two Stanley Cup championships later, and Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang could potentially take a step back in 2016-17 as one of the league's premier defensemen. Letang appeared to struggle at times during the Penguins' 2016 Stanley Cup run, and one has to wonder if the former third-round draft-pick will have a sluggish season come October?
Letang has seen a lot of ice-time over the years for Pittsburgh, and is usually paired up against the team's top forwards. Plus, a majority of last regular season's early struggles for the Pens was no easy task for the black and gold's blue line. After a roller coaster year in 2015-16, Letang will take a step back in 2017. The Penguins' highest paid d-man is also locked up until 2021-22 season, and it's a fair question if he'll remain with the club until that time; especially with an expansion draft looming around the corner for Las Vegas.
4 Daniel & Henrik Sedin
These two are always attached by the hip...
Forwards Daniel and Henrik Sedin have been the heart and soul for the Vancouver Canucks for well over a decade now, and have seen it all Western Canada's most beautiful city, well, other than a Stanley Cup. While the Sedin twins are not even close for a majority of the blame in relation to the Canucks' inconsistent play over the past few seasons, the Swedes haven't had that same swagger at Rogers Arena that the Vancouver faithful came to embrace.
It would also be easy to say that maybe a change of scenery, a new club, would benefit both the twins, but either way these future Hockey Hall Of Famers will take a step back in 2016-17. After 15 NHL seasons in a physical Western Conference, can the Sedin twins realistically produce at this point and time? It was an uncanny and admirable run for the Sedin twins, but with two years left on their contracts -- it's fair to say the 35-year-olds' careers are coming to a close.
3 Jonathan Quick
Sure, goaltender Jonathan Quick was nominated for the Vezina Trophy last season, and the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner for the Los Angeles Kings has been iconic in the blue paint, too. However, in the blink of an eye fans have witnessed Vezina-like netminders take notable steps back in their careers and when you may least expect it.
Quick's unique style of play has proven to be a double-edged sword in recent years, and health can be a concern with the two-time Stanley Cup winner, especially with Quick now entering his 30s. Quick's combined regular season and Stanley Cup Playoff starts between the pipes for the Kings may catch up just finally catch up to him. It was around the same career time-frame when (now) Vancouver Canucks' netminder Ryan Miller's career took a surprising dip too.
2 Henrik Lundqvist
Has the King's time finally come and gone?
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has served as the backbone for the New York Rangers since the start of the 2005-06 season, and will arguably go down as the best netminder in Rangers history. Still, Lundqvist has played a lot of hockey and seen plenty of rubber peppered his way in New York's crease. Fans have seen it time and time again when it comes to an NHL goaltender breaking down, and right now the Swedish native is borderline defying the odds with his recent success on Broadway.
At the age of 34, does Lundqvist still have what it takes to carry an expected average Rangers club back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs? The Broadway Blue Shirts will be relying heavily on their King, but don't be surprised to see more playing time for backup Antti Raanta either.
Rest will be a key word that will be thrown around more often than not this season in relation to Lundqvist.
1 Zach Parise
The last time Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise played a full 82-game regular season was back in 2012 with the New Jersey Devils. Since joining the Wild, Parise has appeared to be snake bitten by injuries at times, and the Minnesota native's offensive numbers have declined since departing from Jersey.
A healthy Zach Parise always sounds promising in the State of Hockey, but combine that with the age factor (32), plus the wear and tear Parise's body has already been exposed to throughout his career -- and the once dynamic forward may not sound as promising anymore. As beloved as Parise is my his team and country -- the beginning of a decline could be on the horizon for one of the league's best and most complete hockey players.