NHL

Cullen: Tough To Be Optimistic About Being a Healthy Scratch

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Scott Cullen
11/1/2010 12:56:32 PM
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Scoring points in the NHL requires opportunity and ability.  Skilled players that are given ample ice time, including time on the power play, and good linemates, tend to score.  It doesn't work for everyone, but is a simple framework for expectations.

It can be frustrating when a player isn't getting power play time or has linemates that aren't as skilled, but none of that matches up with the aggravation of a player being a healthy scratch because while it's unlikely that a player will produce in limited ice time or opportunity, there's an unambiguous conclusion to be drawn from being a healthy scratch -- the coach has determined the team is better without the player, for one night at least.

"You know it crumbles that way,
At least that's what they say when you play the game"

- What It's Like, Everlast

Once a player has been a healthy scratch, the hope is that it will create more urgency in their play and perhaps they will start meeting their expected levels of production.  For others, it may just be the beginning of a stint in the doghouse.

So far this season, there have been several high-profile players that have already been sent to the press box for a game or two and while there have been immediate dividends in some cases, in others it remains to be seen if the scratched players are going to get on track.

Here are some notable players that have been healthy scratches already this NHL season:

Ilya Kovalchuk, RW, New Jersey (3 G, 3 A, -4, 9 PIM, 11 GP): As the only one on this list with a $100-million contract, Kovalchuk was the most celebrated scratch through the first three weeks of the season.  By all reports, Kovalchuk's suspension was a disciplinary decision by head coach John MacLean, and not related to Kovalchuk's lack of production, though with one point in his last six games, Kovalchuk is pushing the bounds of what a team can accept from a forward averaging more than 21 minutes per game.

Wojtek Wolski, LW, Phoenix (0 G, 4 A, +6, 6 PIM, 8 GP): Scored 18 points in 18 games after coming over from Colorado at the trade deadline last season and there are two ways to look at it.  Wolski played better than 18 minutes per game last year, on his way to a career-high 65-point season, but has played 15:43 per game so far for the Coyotes this season, yet it's not like Wolski's ice time has been severely limited to the point that 11 shots on goal in eight games (1.38 per game) is acceptable.

Nikolay Zherdev, LW, Philadelphia (2 G, 0 A, -1, 4 PIM, 9 GP): Coming back from a year in the KHL, Zherdev seemed like an odd fit with the Flyers and was playing just 12:36 per game before he was given the press box treatment over the weekend; strangely enough, the scratch came after Zherdev scored his second goal of the season in his previous game.

Michael Frolik, RW, Florida (1 G, 2 A, even, 4 PIM, 8 GP): Talented winger who has scored 21 goals in each of his first two seasons, but hadn't found the net in the first seven games before he was made a healthy scratch.  Must have been a genius move, because Frolik scored in his first game back in the lineup.

Nik Antropov, C, Atlanta (2 G, 2 A, -6, 8 PIM, 10 GP): It's stretching the healthy scratch definition, at least a little, in Antropov's case because he is returning from off-season hip surgery, but if he was producing, he wouldn't have have been asked to sit one out.  Since his time in the press box, Antropov has been playing more than 17 minutes per game and has three points in three games. 

Jiri Hudler, RW, Detroit (0 G, 3 A, -6, 4 PIM, 8 GP): Returning after a year in the KHL, Hudler was supposed to be the guy who scored 23 goals and 57 points in 2008-2009, producing in limited ice time.  So far this year, however, Hudler hasn't scored despite averaging a career-high 2.0 shots on goal per game, and his minus-6 in eight games made it easy to sit him out.

Niclas Bergfors, RW, Atlanta (3 G, 4 A, +2, 2 PIM, 8 GP): The perils of new management.  Bergfors was one of the pieces to that the Thrashers received in the Ilya Kovalchuk deal last season and finished with a respectable 17 points in 27 games in Atlanta, enough to keep expectations high entering this season.  However, he has no track record with new GM Rick Dudley or coach Craig Rasmay and was scratched after recording two assists in the first three games (averaging less than 14 minutes per game), but has responded since, with three goals and five points in five games. 

Mike Comrie, C, Pittsburgh (0 G, 5 A, -1, 13 PIM, 11 GP): He signed a bargain contract late in the summer, but there were some expectations that Comrie could produce as a complement to some of Pittsburgh's top forwards.  Comrie had four points in four games when he first returned to the lineup, but has one point in the last four gane is now languishing on the fourth line.

Bryan Bickell, LW, Chicago (2 G, 3 A, even, 5 IPM, 12 GP): Big changes in Chicago this summer opened the door for Bickell to earn a spot and he opened the season with two goals and four points in the first five games before the well ran dry.  After one assist in seven games, he was relegated to the press box Saturday night against Minnesota.

Carl Gunnarsson, D, Toronto (0 G, 0 A, even, 0 PIM, 6 GP): Late last year, the 23-year-old stepped right into a top-four role on the Maple Leafs blueline and looked like he could be a productive player, with 15 points and a plus-8 rating, while playing more than 21 minutes per game, in 43 games.  This year, it's goose-eggs across the board in 15 minutes a night and he doesn't appear to have confidence with the puck like he did last year.

Chris Butler, D, Buffalo (0 G, 3 A, +2, 6 PIM, 8 GP): The 24-year-old played more than 20 minutes a game on the Sabres' blueline last season, with not entirely favourable results (21 points, -15 in 59 games) and he ended up scratched for the first four games of this season.  Since then, however, Butler has played well in fewer minutes.

Craig Rivet, D, Buffalo (0 G, 1 A, +1, 4 PIM, 9 GP): Buffalo's captain sat out against Atlanta on Friday and while he's not a big-time point producer, Rivet has provided value in recent years by racking up more than 100 PIMs in three straight seasons.  Tough to do that from the press box though.

Jason Blake, LW, Anaheim (2 G, 1 A, -4, 4 PIM, 11 GP): The 37-year-old's production declined last season, so expectations were obviously modest, but when he started the season without a point in the first six games, his spot in the lineup was easier to replace, even if it came after he had two points in three games at the time.  Upon returning from his scratch, Blake scored a goal and registered a season-high seven shots on goal against New Jersey.

Chris Clark, RW, Columbus (0 G, 6 A, +3, 4 PIM, 8 GP): After sitting out the first couple games of the year, Clark has returned to the lineup and been one of Columbus' most productive forwards.  He's still playing under 14 minutes per game and isn't ever going to be a 30-goal scorer again (as he was in 2006-2007), but the 34-year-old has re-claimed his place in the lineup.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.  For more, check out TSN Fantasy Sports on Facebook.

Jiri Hudler (Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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