Who Will Have a Make It or Break It Season in 2013-14?

They must put their blood feud aside for the love of pancakes! - Jeff Gross

The new season is here, and with it: FAN CRITIQUE. As the title implies, this season is a big deal for a few players. I’ll outline them. You’ll agree or not, and you’ll praise or roast me in the comments.

I’m slanting this post in terms of contract status first, because in a year with the salary cap decreasing, maximizing assets has to be the number one priority for every team. (For instance, it makes the difference between signing Mark Fistric or seeking a guy like Ron Hainsey, who was standing strong at demanding $2 million per.)

Otherwise, I’m going with two real obvious players, one guy who everyone already agrees needs to step up, some young guys, and a couple conversation piece listings. Here we go!

Obvious:

DUSTIN PENNER – Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf was vocal in his desire for the club to hire Dustin Penner’s services. GM Bob Murray complied, giving him a one year, $2 million contract. Penner’s early career shows he can score when he’s on his game and playing in that role. The Ducks hope that is the Penner they are getting and not the Penner who seemed to play in primarily checking role with the Los Angeles Kings – until the playoffs, when he was consistently used to drive offense. In those instances, he put up similar postseason numbers he has throughout his career. Should Penner prove a bust, the Ducks are under no obligation to keep him on, so this season is important to the player, the club, and the team captain, who pushed to have him added.

JONAS HILLER – This is a contract year for the impending UFA. With the supposed depth of goaltending talent the Ducks have in the system, not to mention a back-up netminder named Viktor Fasth, Hiller needs to have a big year for his next deal – whether that’s here in Anaheim or not.

Based on his performance, will the Ducks have interest in dealing him for assets? Or will he make himself vital to the success of the team and therefore indispensable? Or will we simply pay the man for his work and let him test free agency after the season? Those are the questions Hiller’s play needs to answer, hopefully for the gains of the team.

Off the Board:

CAM FOWLER – Ah, the little waterfowl who could(n’t). This is the first year the kid’s going to get paid. He’s making a cool four mil starting now until 2018, and…well, he’s not a $4M defenseman. This presents a problem, doesn’t it.

Eric Stephens has Fowler saying, "I’ve had kind of a grace period. I’ve certainly had my ups and downs. I’m a fourth-year player now. It doesn’t matter about my age. I have experience in this league and I need to go out there and prove it." Indeed he does.

We all know Fowler’s positives by now, but the same is true of his downsides. Fowler needs to show his defensive game and provide far more upside when he’s not contributing directly to offense – as was the case last season. His pairing with Ben Lovejoy, assuming it is a somewhat regular thing, gives me hope he can settle down and play a good game in 2013-14. The two were a good minute-eating pair in the playoffs and could continue that this year. At $4M per, we need to see some serious upside now.

Honorable Mention:
ANDREW COGLIANO – I don’t think this guy has to prove too much, per se. We have a good sense of what he is. But for conversation’s sake, including him on this list makes sense: he’s an impending UFA after the season. He’ll take in $2.67 million this year (a cap hit of $2.39M), which is some decent coin.

Cogliano is 26, so he has a few prime years left to give. Like Hiller, he’s playing for his next deal – and ideally, he’s playing to stay a part of this core. He isn’t the perfect player by any means, but for the right price, his speed and versatility can be useful to any lineup. If he has another stronger year, he probably stays a Duck. Conversely, he could be a good piece to move if the team needs help come late season.

Young Guns:

PETER HOLLAND – It seems like we’ve been hearing about Peter Holland for years. Because we have! The time for him to prove his worth is now if for no other reason than he’s RFA after the season. Players do this for a job, and getting paid is an important part of any job. The best way for a young guy, owned by a team, to earn a favorable next contract is to play well. And to do that, he needs to make the big club and be seen.

Bruce Boudreau says Holland knows he's in a battle to make the team, and early returns are favorable, according to Dan Wood. Good. Having strong centermen is good for the team, and it’d be nice to see this kid earn a roster spot and play some good hockey. (Update from Saturday, courtesy of Wood: C Peter Holland continues to impress at #NHLDucks training camp -- "the best player on the ice today," Coach Bruce Boudreau said.)

DEVANTE SMITH-PELLY – "Devo" has played with the big club before and became a bit of a fan favorite while here. Putting him here is a bit of a misnomer: he’s "made it" in some limited capacity, as evidenced by his time with the team. But like Holland, Devo is an RFA after the season, so his future is up for grabs. My suspicion is that Smith-Pelly was kept on the Ducks to prevent having to send him back down to the OHL when it was clear he was ready for better competition. The Ducks can use any skilled, big-bodied winger – especially a guy who can slot on the left side. According to Wood, both he and Patrick Maroon have been noticeable to Boudreau. We have Maroon for a couple more seasons as an RFA, so this is Devo’s time to shine.

Interesting Choice:

JAKOB SILFVERBERG – This is a pride of the team addition. Silfver was acquired from Ottawa (with some other pieces) for Bobby "Silver" Ryan in one of this offseason’s biggest trades. On the level, he’s an RFA after this season. So not only can he set his future payday terms by awesome play, he can help fans determine who won the BR trade – which is the most important part of EVERY trade. Boudreau has noted Silfver’s two-way play already, which means he’s already a better player than Ryan was in the defensive zone. ZING.

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