NHL Playoffs Performances Can Change a Career

By Joe Pack
Joe Pack
Joe Pack
May 8, 2013 Updated: May 8, 2013

The NHL playoffs bring out a number of different verdicts for players.

Some wilt under the pressure and their style of play, for example open-ice puck movement or stretch passes through the neutral zone, is nullified.

But some find their style of play or their individual efforts fall squarely under the spotlight in a way they have never before experienced. Some playoff performers earn a spot in the Hall Of Fame, some find a pay raise at the end of a willful postseason run, and some become “one-hit wonders” among devoted fans.

Hall Of Fame Performer

Claude Lemieux is perhaps the best example of a player who will get Hall Of Fame consideration solely because of his play in April, May and June. The year the New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup in the lockout-shortened season of 1995, he won the Conn Smythe trophy for most valuable playoff performer—this on a team that included Martin Brodeur and Scott Niedermayer.

His 16 points in 20 playoff games that year was far more impressive than his 19 points in 45 regular season games. Lemieux won three Cups with three different teams, his 80 playoff goals is ninth all-time and he appeared in the postseason 15 consecutive years.

Contractually Motivated

In recent years, forwards Teddy Purcell and Ryan Malone have seen outstanding postseasons result in massive pay raises.

Both had nondescript seasons before cashing in on one special playoffs performance. Purcell’s 17 points in 18 playoff games with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2011 came after scoring 51 points in 81 regular season games. Malone broke out with 16 points in 20 playoff games in 2008, helping the Pittsburgh Penguins reach the Cup final.

Both players signed lucrative contracts in the summers following, including Malone’s seven year, $31.5 million agreement.

One-Hit Wonder

A few NHLers can lay claim to this tag, at least among the devoted fans that witnessed their one, miraculous playoff run.

Lonny Bohonos is one of those names that Toronto Maple Leafs fans may remember. After bouncing up and down between Vancouver’s and Toronto’s NHL and AHL squads, Bohonos got the call to fill in for an injured Maple Leafs team in 1999.

Playing on a line with Mats Sundin, he scored an impressive nine points in nine games and helped the Leafs reach the conference final. Though rarely heard from again and having developed a reputation for squandering his talents, Bohonos is a fascinating footnote that reminds fans that their team could be the lucky lottery winners in any given year.

Star in the Making

Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals only played 21 NHL games before being named the starter for the 2012 playoffs in favor of long-time veteran goaltender Tomas Vokoun.

That year, he helped his team knock off the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, finishing the playoffs with 7 wins, a 1.95 goals against average, and a .935 save percentage.

In 2013, his regular season numbers (2.58 GAA, .920 save percentage) have so far been eclipsed by his playoff numbers (1.61 GAA, .944 save percentage).

Vokoun has since been dispatched, with the Capitals showing their confidence in a relatively inexperienced, yet playoff-tested goaltender.

Holtby’s regular season numbers, while good, have paled in comparison to his playoff numbers. Is he a one-hit wonder? If his encore continues this year and into next season, the answer will most likely be no.

Will his numbers continue to improve come springtime, placing him in the tradition of Claude Lemieux? If his playoff numbers become his calling card, he will surely be ready for a significant raise come 2015 when his current contract expires.

Holtby will be paid just under $2 million dollars for the following two seasons, a bargain for known postseason stalwarts.

The Capitals and New York Rangers are involved in a very tight first-round series. A win in the series may go a long way in securing the reputation of a young goaltender.

Joe Pack has written for TheHockeyWriters.com, is a member of the Society for International Hockey Research and has his own blog at www.upperbodyinquiry.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoePack

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Joe Pack