William Nylander set a precedent last season by holding out on the Toronto Maple Leafs until he got a new contract. While he did get his wish, Nylander’s play for the rest of the season had many questioning if he was worth the money. Nylander will be desperate to have a bounceback year to show that his holdout and subsequent contract were worth it. Plenty of other NHL players are in the same position as the Toronto youngster. Whether they need to prove they are worth a contract or are battling to stay relevant, here are four other NHL players who are desperate for a good season.
Four Players Who Need a Good 2019-20 Season
Cory Schneider – New Jersey Devils
It has been a fall from grace for Cory Schneider since being considered one of the top goaltenders in the league just a few years ago. In 2014-15, Schneider appeared in 69 games for the New Jersey Devils, becoming the team’s clear-cut starter. He posted a 2.26 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage that year. The American goaltender followed it up with similar numbers the next season, recording a .924 save percentage and a 2.15 goals-against. Schneider was also on Team USA’s World Cup of Hockey roster in 2016. It appeared as though the Devils had found their first star goaltender since Martin Brodeur.
In 2017, Schneider’s numbers took a dip. His goals-against rose to 2.82, while his save percentage plummeted to .908. Even though the Devils made the playoffs the following season, Schneider was not their starting goalie. His struggles were best represented in the 14-month span where he did not record a win. Last year, he only appeared in 26 games, recording a 3.06 goals-against with a .903 save percentage.
Schneider had a strong end to his 2018-19 season, posting a 6-6-2 record and a .927 save percentage. He was on Team USA’s World Championship roster, and will surely be motivated for a bounceback year. With a $6 million cap hit until 2022, Schneider could be a buyout candidate for the Devils if his numbers don’t return to where they were a few years ago.
Wayne Simmonds – New Jersey Devils
Wayne Simmonds is gambling on himself this season. He signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the Devils over the summer after being traded to the Nashville Predators at the Trade Deadline. The veteran power forward struggled in his short time with Nashville, picking up a mere three points in 17 games and none in two playoff games.
Simmonds has scored over 20 goals on six occasions and reached the 30-goal mark twice in his seven years with the Philadelphia Flyers. At 31-years old, he will be looking to prove that he is still capable of producing at the level he did in his 20s. At the very least, he will be trying to find a more permanent home for the 2020-21 season with more term on his next contract.
The 2007 second-round pick has favourable conditions for a great year. Simmonds will have the chance to play alongside young talents like Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, who are both great passers. He is a big net-front presence who can finish on the powerplay. A big year for Simmonds could translate into a great contract for a veteran looking to settle down towards the twilight of his career.
James Neal – Edmonton Oilers
James Neal is looking for a new start with the Edmonton Oilers this season. Neal had a career-worst year with the Calgary Flames last season, prompting a trade with Edmonton. He signed in Calgary as a free agent last summer but posted just seven goals and 12 assists in 63 games with the Flames last year.
James Neal is as pure of a goal-scorer as they come. Last season was one of only two years where Neal did not score at least 20 goals. In 2010-11 he only recorded one goal in 20 games while battling injury. He reached the 40 goal mark in 2011-12 while playing alongside Evgeni Malkin with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In a city desperate for success, Neal will be looking to have a bounceback year. He will likely play alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the third line. In the second year of a $5.75 million contract, Neal will need to reach the 20 goal mark again to earn his keep. In a tough market, another bad season could pose trouble for Neal’s future as he enters his 30s.
Jonathan Drouin – Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens are looking to make some waves this year, holding roster bolstered with young talent. Jonathan Drouin needs to be among their best players if they hope to return to the postseason. Drouin has yet to reach the productivity he briefly had with the Tampa Bay Lightning since being traded to the Habs. He tied his career-high in points with 53 last season, but only scored 13 goals.
Drouin was the third overall pick in 2013 NHL Draft, going to the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was considered a highly-skilled playmaker out of the draft. He won a Memorial Cup with the Halifax Mooseheads playing alongside Nathan MacKinnon. Now, at 24-years old, Drouin has yet to find his dominant scoring touch. He has formidable possession numbers in his career, with nearly a 58% Corsi-for rating. But with as much hype that was surrounding Drouin when he was a teenager, everyone is expecting more.
The Montreal Canadiens have the chance to make the playoffs this year. With Carey Price in net, and a crop of skilled, young players, the Habs will be fun to watch. If Drouin were to get to the 20 goal/60 point mark, he will surely silence a lot of critics.