It’s now become common knowledge that players playing in their final year of their contract often perform extraordinarily well (see: Daniel Briere) when the potential to earn top dollar on the free agent market is there. Looking at the 2009-10 NHL season, we try to pick out players who are in the final year of their contract and are slated to perform exceptionally well this season.
Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks
Marleau’s breakout 86-point year in 2005-06 came AFTER he just signed a three year, $12.5-million contract. His performance under that contract rewarded him with a two-year extension worth $12.6-million. So why is this contract year so important? Coach Todd McLellan stripped Marleau of his captaincy earlier in the offseason and Marleau has also been the subject of many significant trade rumours involving Dany Heatley. GM Doug Wilson managed to deal for Heatley without losing Marleau but you have to wonder if the pieces aren’t in place to replace Marleau should he choose to test free agency in the offseason. Marleau will need to post 75+ point totals if the Sharks are even to consider overpaying to keep their veteran center. However, Marleau will also be one of the most coveted free agent forwards in the offseason so a solid year will leave many options open for him.
Marty Turco, Dallas Stars
Turco was dreadful and overworked posting a 33-31 record, a 2.81GAA and a .898 SV% in 74 games. Turco’s critics say he’s done as a starting goalie at age 34 but Turco is ready to prove otherwise. Once considered an elite Canadian goaltender (2006 Olympics), Turco needs to show that he can still perform like vintage-Turco. The Stars are showing they still have confidence in Turco backstopping the team by not signing any legitimate threat to the starting job. Turco makes $5.4-million this season and will certainly earn himself a contract extension if he leads the team to the playoffs with extraordinary goaltending. If not, Turco will be getting himself a significant pay-cut and perhaps a very reduced role next season.
Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose Sharks
Nabokov, also 34, is due to earn $6-million this season after backstopping the Sharks to a first-round playoff exit. He is no doubt still among elite NHL goaltenders but failure to accomplish anything with such a talented Sharks roster this season will raise red flags as to Nabokov’s ability to handle the pressure of leading a team to post-season glory. It’s clear that Nabokov offers the best chance for the Sharks to win but it’s now or never for the him and the Sharks. Expect big regular season numbers from Nabokov to silence his critics – 40+ wins is not out of reach. It’s Nabokov’s job to lose and his postseason will determine his fate.
Olli Jokinen, Calgary Flames
Jokinen was brought into Calgary last season to provide them with a much needed boost going into the postseason. Jokinen instead fizzled and added only 15 points through the remainder of the season. This season, Jokinen will be playing on the top line with Jarome Iginla and Flames fans are awaiting the much anticipated chemistry to start. The potential here is similar to how Mike Cammalleri benefited from sharing a line with Iggy and Jokinen could be in line for an 80-point season. The 2009-10 season is also the Flames’ 30th anniversary and much like the Habs’ centennial year, there will be a lot of pressure to produce. The Flames have a lineup to seriously contend on the west and the success of Jokinen-Iginla is imperative in that formula. Jokinen, making $5.5-million this year, could benefit from a hefty raise in a new contract with the Flames this offseason.
Sergei Gonchar, Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero has a decision to make at the end of the season, Kris Letang or Sergei Gonchar? Letang is only 21 with a great upside, posting 33 points in 74 games last season. Gonchar, in the league since 1994, posted 19 points in an injury shortened 25 games. Gonchar has said he wants to remain in the NHL and moreover with the Penguins, however, salary cap restraints could prevent that from happening. Gonchar is still a proven scorer and a typical Gonchar season can net him with at least a $6-million/year contract in 2010. Gonchar knows this, and while he still wishes to remain with the Penguins, he simply may be forced to leave as an unrestricted free agent. Gonchar will put up points this year and the added incentive to keep his salary may put a boost on his point totals.
Marc Savard, Boston Bruins
Savard is a bargain for a quiet point-producing machine, in the final year of his contract making $5-million/year. If his performance under the contract is any indication, he is due for a raise. However, the tools are in place in Boston for Savard to put up major contract-year numbers to compliment his 88-point performance last season. It’s no doubt that Savard is a top-15 forward but contract-year status might boost him to top-10 form.
Alexander Frolov, Los Angeles Kings
Frolov put up a mere 59 points last season, a decline from his 71 point season in 2006-07. The Kings are putting the tools in place for a middle-of-the-pack contender in the West and Frolov has the ability to contribute this season. Frolov, a former first rounder, is making $4-million this season and can set himself up for a larger contract. His last contract, signed in 2006, came after the NHL lockout, where he put up 40 points in 48 games in Russia. Anything close to that potential could make Frolov a viable contract year player this season.