NHL — Five players on the hot seat for 2017-18

NHL News


Coaches are hired to be fired. Players, on the other hand, are almost always hired to someday be traded, bought out or placed on waivers.

With that in mind, here are five players who will begin the 2017-18 season on the hot seat:

Jack Eichel, C, Buffalo Sabres

Being dubbed the savior of a championship-starved franchise comes with its share of land mines, and at 20 years old, Eichel is still learning how to navigate through them. On paper, he has had a pretty impressive start to his career, with 48 goals and 113 points in 142 games, ranking 49th among NHL players during that time.

But the Sabres have been dreadful in those two seasons, finishing 15 points out of a playoff spot in Eichel’s rookie season and 17 points behind the pack last season. Eichel’s frustration boiled over in a season-ending press conference, when he described his first two years in Buffalo as “embarrassing” and questioned his teammates’ work ethic, saying, “There’s a difference between saying you want to win and actually wanting to win and putting the work in and dedicating your life to it.”

Eichel, who is entering the final season of his entry-level contract, strongly denied reports he would not re-sign with the Sabres if Dan Bylsma returned as coach, but he could not escape criticism after Bylsma and general manager Tim Murray were fired and replaced with Jason Botterill and Phil Housley, respectively. With a new front office and coaching staff, the slate has been wiped clean in Buffalo, but the pressure on Eichel to take the Sabres where Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews have taken the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs is mounting, and it’s real.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, Washington Capitals

After bowing out of the playoffs in the second round for the fifth time in seven years, just about every player in D.C. is feeling the heat. Captain Alex Ovechkin and head coach Barry Trotz have never been to the conference finals, and T.J. Oshie has the added pressure of an eight-year contract that will pay him $5.75 million annually through his 38th birthday.

But while Oshie, 30, is coming off a season in which he tied Ovechkin for the team lead in goals (33), Kuznetsov, 25, enters this season as the Capitals’ second-highest-paid player, after signing an eight-year, $62.4 million contract that carries a $7.8 million cap hit through the 2024-25 season.

That’s a ridiculous amount of money for — and faith in — a player who saw his production dip from 77 points in 2015-16 to 59 points (19 goals, 40 assists) last season. And remember, to make room for Kuznetsov’s salary, the Capitals were forced to trade Marcus Johansson (24 goals, 34 assists) to the New Jersey Devils and let Justin Williams (24 goals, 24 assists) walk and sign with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Kuznetsov is incredibly skilled, but this has just as good a chance of being one of the Capitals’ worst signings as one of its best.

Ben Bishop, G, Dallas Stars

After splitting time with Andrei Vasilevskiy in Tampa last season, Bishop is going back to his roots in Dallas. He grew up a Stars fan in Frisco, about 30 miles north of Dallas, and he is hoping the move resurrects a career that has leveled off since being named a Vezina Trophy finalist after the 2015-16 season.

Bishop, 30, played in just 39 games for the Lightning and Los Angeles Kings last season, going 18-15-5. Neither team reached the playoffs. The Stars are rolling the dice that by trading for Bishop and signing him to a six-year, $29.5 million contract, they’ve addressed their black hole between the pipes. After leading the Western Conference the season before, the Stars were by far the most disappointing team in the NHL last season, finishing ahead of only the Colorado Avalanche in goals-against average (3.17).

General manager Jim Nill reacted aggressively, firing coach Lindy Ruff and hiring defensive genius Ken Hitchcock as the replacement, fortifying the blue line with steady D-man Marc Methot and adding offensive (Alexander Radulov) and defensive (Martin Hanzal) awareness up front. But the key to the Stars rebounding from a dreadful season is unquestionably the play of the 6-foot-7 praying mantis between the pipes.

Jonathan Drouin, LW, Montreal Canadiens

This has the potential for some real fireworks, both good and bad. Taken third overall by the Lightning in 2013 (behind Nathan MacKinnon and Aleksander Barkov), Drouin’s passing skills have been compared to Wayne Gretzky’s (per Phil Esposito), and he has been trumpeted as a potential point-per-game player (per Scotty Bowman).

Despite a rocky start to his NHL career that included a six-week holdout after a trade request, Drouin had a breakout season in Tampa last year, with 21 goals and 32 assists for 53 points in 73 games. Financial constraints forced Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman to send Drouin to the Canadiens in exchange for top defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev.

The question in Montreal is whether Drouin, 22, will be worth the six-year, $33 million contract Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin gave him. Habs fans who are still lamenting last summer’s trade of P.K. Subban to the Stanley Cup finalist Nashville Predators certainly hope so.

“There’s obviously a lot of pressure playing in Montreal, everybody knows that,” Drouin said at his introductory press conference. “I’m French Canadian and I’m going to thrive on that pressure. I like that stuff.”

Jordan Eberle, C, New York Islanders

Plenty of others could make this list — including Martin Jones of the San Jose Sharks; Anze Kopitar of the Kings; Matt Duchene of the Avalanche; Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers; and Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild — but fans in Brooklyn and Edmonton will be carefully monitoring the nightly performances of Eberle and Ryan Strome, who were traded for each other in June.

Eberle, 27, managed just 20 goals last season, his lowest full-season total since his rookie season in Edmonton, and had just two assists in 13 playoff games. The Islanders are counting on Eberle to be the potent right winger John Tavares has been lacking since Kyle Okposo left for Buffalo. Eberle ($6 million cap hit) has two years remaining on his contract, and Tavares ($5.5 million) is entering the final season of his deal. Their on-ice chemistry could determine how long they — and general manager Garth Snow — remain with the Islanders.

Strome, meanwhile, has failed to live up to his draft ranking (fifth overall in 2011), managing a combined 21 goals in his past two seasons, after scoring 17 goals in his first full season with the Isles. Playing in the shadows of McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins should be good for Strome, whose $2.5 million cap hit made it possible for the Oilers to re-sign Draisaitl to an eight-year, $68 million extension.



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