NHL's 10 best comeback stories of 2014-15 include Devan Dubnyk, Scott Gomez, Ryan Miller and more.
You've heard the saying, or some variation of it anyway: It’s not how hard you fall. It’s that you get back up again.
Plenty of players stumble along the way, either because of injury or age or other distractions. Some don’t make it back, at least not to where they were before.
But there are some who rediscover their games, or take them to another level. And that’s a glorious thing to see.
Here’s a look at 10 players who resurrected their games this season.
10. Ryan Miller - G, Vancouver
When Miller was dealt to St. Louis at the trade deadline last year, he was hailed as the final piece of the puzzle for the Cup-starved Blues. It didn’t quite work out that way. He played poorly down the stretch and when the team flamed out in the first round, Miller and his .897 save percentage took the fall. He’s had his ups and (mostly injury-related) downs since signing as a free agent with the Canucks during the summer, but he’s regained his form and his confidence, setting him up to excel moving forward ... either in Vancouver or elsewhere.
9. Dale Weise - RW, Montreal
He was an afterthought last season for John Tortorella’s Canucks. Miscast as a goon, Weise was limited to three or four minutes of garbage duty when he did play but was just as likely to end up watching from the press box. When he was dealt to Montreal ahead of the 2014 trade deadline, it changed his place in the game. The Canadiens gave Weise a different opportunity. They saw him as more than a grinder. They recognized his speed as an asset, and saw that he had some offensive flair. They gave him chances up and down the roster, often in the top six. He’s responded with a career-best season and should play a key role for the club as it battles for the Stanley Cup.
8. Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford - D/RW, Winnipeg
Nothing like a change of scenery to change a man’s game. Refugees from Buffalo, these two former Sabres have been reborn since arriving in Winnipeg. Shaking off the shellshock, Myers looks smoother and more composed than at any time in his career. The points are coming (13 in 20 games) as is the defensive confidence (+6 in Winnipeg after going –15 in Buffalo). Stafford has flourished in a top-six role. “He really has had a huge impact since he’s been here,” said coach Paul Maurice. “I mean, he only gets big goals, big assists. He seems to have elevated the game, and so much is just an enjoyment in playing the game.”
7. Dennis Wideman - D, Calgary
A player who was weighted down by his heavy contract as much as his poor performance, Wideman was the favored whipping boy of the short-tempered Saddledome faithful last season. He started off this season just as poorly, and was made a healthy scratch in only the Flames’ second game. That seemed to rattle his cage and before long he was on board with the great expectations of coach Bob Hartley, delivering high octane offense and premium minutes in his own zone—a level that he raised after captain Mark Giordano was lost for the season. When the Flames traded Curtis Glencross it was Wideman, the former posterboy for collecting a paycheck turned dependable defender, who was rewarded with the A.
6. Scott Gomez - C, New Jersey
You had to admire Gomez for hanging on. Here’s a guy who was serenaded with “Happy Birthday” by the fans in Montreal when his goal drought stretched to a year. Who bounced from the Habs to the Sharks to the Panthers just trying to get every last squeeze he could. Who looked like he was done when he was left unsigned all summer and whose best offer was a chance to hang around the Devils just in case someone got hurt. Amazing then that when the team finally handed him a contract in November he started producing in return. He chipped in two assists in his fourth game, then added five more in his next six. And here he is now, the team’s fourth-leading scorer despite starting two months after everyone else. That’s some kind of comeback.
5. Kris Letang - D, Pittsburgh
There was a while there last season when it was uncertain whether Letang would play again. Cut down by a stroke at the improbably age of 26, he battled back only to suffer one concussion. Then another. But through it all Letang has shown exceptional courage and, when able, he's played some of the best hockey of his career while ranking eighth in average time on ice (25:29).
4. Pekka Rinne - G, Nashville
An E. Coli infection that occurred after undergoing hip surgery all but wiped out Rinne”s 2013-14 season, limiting him to just 24 games. It wasn’t considered career threatening, but when a goalie is into his 30s, there are no sure things. A summer spent focused on his health saw him return in top condition and the results have been spectacular. Rinne has re-established himself as one of the best in the game, a league-leader in all the major categories and likely finalist for the Vezina Trophy.
3. Mike Ribeiro - C, Nashville
A year ago he was damaged goods, cut by Arizona GM Don Maloney who all but blacklisted the center by citing “behavior issues [that] we felt we could not tolerate going forward.” Given a second chance by perhaps the least likely employer—the defensively-coded Predators—Ribeiro has straightened up off the ice while playing a pivotal role in Peter Laviolette’s reimagining of Nashville’s attack.
2. Alex Ovechkin - LW, Washington
Ovechkin could have scored 70 goals last season and rescued kittens from burning buildings in his spare time and it wouldn’t have mattered. The game's greatest scorer was tarred by his obviously strained relationships with Washington’s coaches and an indifference to defensive hockey that led to a well-earned –35 rating. That all changed with the arrival of Barry Trotz who, despite his reputation for defensive hockey, was actually a coach who understood how best to use the players he had at his disposal. He devised a system that allows Ovechkin to thrive in the attack zone as long as he commits to playing both sides of the puck. The captain bought in. Now, instead of being a joke in 29 markets, he’s a legitimate MVP candidate again. Don’t be surprised to see Trotz earn a few Jack Adams votes as a result.
1. Devan Dubnyk - G, Minnesota
From a target of derision in Edmonton to a flameout in Nashville to a washout in Montreal and a going-nowhere backup in Arizona, Dubnyk seemed destined to play out the string on the fringes of the game. Then came The Trade to Minnesota, an act of desperation by Wild GM Chuck Fletcher that created a fit as perfect as any since the Penguins added Ron Francis and Ulf Samuelsson ahead of their first Stanley Cup in 1991. Maybe the ending to this story won’t be as happy, but given the way that Dubnyk has revived his career it’s no less remarkable.