The curious case of Christopher Higgins was exactly that: curious.
Coming into this season, the Long Island native signed a one-year deal worth $1.6 million with the Florida Panthers essentially offering the former first round pick a one-last-chance deal. Perhaps the deal could be defined as more lucrative than one-last-chance as those usually go for League minimum but Higgins was on borrowed time should he produce at a similar pace to his dismal year split between the New York Rangers and Calgary Flames.
With Higgins, the potential of a 20-goal scorer was there and always had been there but he was formerly known as a disappearing act. In 67 games between the Big City and Calgary, Higgins managed only eight goals and 17 points. However, the downfall started the year before when he potted only 12 in his last year with the Montreal Canadiens — an injury plagued season after three consecutive 20+ goal seasons.
Sometimes with injuries — especially shoulder injuries — it takes time to re-develop strength in that arm which affects not only shooting the puck but almost every other part of the game.
Combine his recovery with a new team and Higgins had a pretty big transition to make, especially at home in front of his family and in his hometown. In addition, Rangers fans in no way blame Higgins for his lack of scoring. After getting off to a hot start, the entire team had a problem finding the back of the net. The Hockey Rodent called him snakebit, which is probably the best word to describe a talented player who just could not find the back of the net.
Mind you. This is not a case of Chris Higgins Disease. Higgins was snake-bit. But you could always tell he was where he needed to be, was doing what he shoulda been doing, etc. The pill just wasn’t finding twine.
If you have ever watched a game in a New York arena, you would know their fans have the ability to make their opponents and even members of their own team miserable. However, here the fans justified Higgins’ inability to score by him playing on the wrong team at the wrong time.
Likewise, the Flames fans found him similarly useful but unable to put the puck in the back of the net.
From Matchsticks and Gasoline:
It’s difficult to determine Chris Higgins’ value to the team when he joined the Flames almost three quarters of the way through the season, but during his time with the team when he was healthy, it was clear that he was a useful player even when he wasn’t scoring, and the team’s record with and without him in the lineup supports that observation. His offensive struggles this season were largely the result of poor shooting percentages and at only 26 years old, he appears to have a good chance of improvement if the Flames are able to retain his services this summer.
Good effort, poor shooting percentages. As my colleague Ryan Campbell once attempted to determine, shooting percentage is likened to BABIP in baseball where the law of averages will eventually even out, whether it be a sniper finding the back of the net from off-angles or a guy like Higgins just not getting it where it needs to go.
This season was a different story.
He came to Florida with new hopes, looking to rebound for a team who needed a new identity. Before the season started he sat down with a colleague of mine, Bill Whitehead of NHLHotStove.com, explaining exactly what he needed to do to stay in the NHL:
“Obviously, (this year) is important because I know I’m a better player than the last couple of years,” he said. “There have been a couple of injuries and hiccups in my progress, but I know what kind of player I can be. And I have a great opportunity here to play a lot of minutes and be a big contributor every night, which is my goal. I picked to play here, so everybody knows I want to play here, and it should be a fun experience.”
The fans liked him in Florida, he enjoyed playing there. Harvey Fialkov of The Sun-Sentinel believes it would be a halfway decent idea to bring him back. He potted 11 goals and finished with 23 points in another injury-riddled season where he only played 48 games in Florida before wrapping up his season with the Canucks — managing two goals and five assists through his first 14 games up north.
Breaking double digits was the beginning of the versatile forward regaining his scoring touch but it also gave the Canucks an insurance policy should Mason Raymond struggle down the stretch. Little did they know the two would be paired with Ryan Kesler in what was their best line through the first two rounds. He plays on the second powerplay unit and just looks natural out there whether the results are there or not.
If you prorate his playoff totals you would get approximately 19 goals and 34 points but we would love to see what he can do with a full season flanking Kesler. His center creates space with his physicality in front of the net not to mention both wings possess blazing speed coming down the wing. Remember, he had a shoulder injury while with Montreal and only broke his hand this year, no real problems with the legs.
With his confidence back, Higgins can finally come back to respectability.
When he played at Old Avon Farms back in the early 2000s, he found it easy to play his game. William Toonk, a former classmate of Higgins recalled his demeanor back then. “Chris has always oozed confidence, trusting his guile and ability to dominate a game,” Toonk explained. “As he matured as a player his comfort level increased, allowing his latent skills to emerge even further.” Somewhere down the line he lost that confidence but all of those qualms seem gone for now.
We know Higgins the player and now Higgins the human being. Now is his time at age 27 to put it all together. His three game winning goals through only 11 playoff wins indicates that he is well on his way and if he stays in Vancouver make sure you keep him on the radar come draft time next year.