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NHL: Week 7 – Enigmas: Western Conference

Note*** A full NHL schedule breakdown by week is available here on a Google doc.

Here’s the follow-up to last week’s installment for you keepers wondering what to do about those struggling players: this week we examine the West’s big disappointments.

Mike Richards (C) – LAK: What ever happened to the brash, born leader that became a point-a-game player in his third season in the NHL? In the three seasons (from 2009-10 to 2011-12) his PPG fell to 0.73 and he’s on pace for the same type of production this year. That is despite a recent four-game point streak in which the chemistry he seems to have with his old pal Jeff Carter was reignited. At 28, it is safe to assume Richards is the classic case of an early bloomer. He is still a very good two-way center, but in L.A. where structured defensive play spells success, multi-point games are hard to come by for any second liner. They also have him manning the point on the PP, which doesn’t really fit his down-low type of game. Expect much of the same for years to come.

Drew Doughty (D) – LAK: His incredible sophomore season (2009-10) had the pundits so high on the Kings’ young horse that most had him succeeding Niklas Lidstrom as a perennial Norris trophy candidate. Inconsistency has since ruled his early career, dropping from 59 points to 40, then 36 the next two seasons. Doughty excited his owners once again with a Conn Smythe-worthy performance last spring (20-4-12-16, +11). The story this season however has been of another regression: no goal and 7 of his 8 assists have come in two separate stretches of consecutive games (one of two and one of three). One trend stands out in his case: he produces more when he plays sound defensively. The Kings are starting to look more like the defending champs structurally and Doughty is +2 in his last 4 games, so look for him to pick up his offense soon. Flashes of brilliance will be the norm for Doughty, but don’t expect reliability.

Jack Johnson (D) – CLB: Another ex-King stud D-man, Johnson has been sidelined with a shoulder injury since Feb. 23rd. Big things were expected from his fantasy owners this year after his strong finish following last season’s trade to the Jackets (21-4-10-14, +5). But once again, the BOO-Jackets are failing to show any organizational progress and that makes everybody on the team look much worse than they truly are as individual players; especially their number one defenseman, who is -10 simply by logging tons of ice-time on a dysfunctional squad. He does have 8 points in 18 games, which indicates that even a marginal improvement in team performance (and it can’t get much worse) will have him back to an elite level offensive output. Keep riding him upon his return.

Ryan Whitney (D) – EDM: Even if he finally seems fully healthy, injuries seem to have robbed this veteran of his confidence. He has played a lowly average of 35.8 games over the past six seasons, a period in which the game has sped up considerably. Whitney is a talented passer, but he needs to be on the ice with elite forwards in order for his dishes to convert into assists. Justin Schultz’s arrival (meaning no first PP minutes), combined with spotty defensive play (-20 since the beginning of 2011-12) has rendered these opportunities rather scarce. The press box is another tough place to record assists from and he’s seen it 7 times so far. There may be a chance for a rebound in the future, but not as long as he is an Oiler.

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