Sure, it’s early, and while it’s just as likely that Patrick Sharp will cease to score on 21.1% of his shots – Simon Gagne will probably find the back of the net this season.  Everyone falls into a slump at some point, and most players will tell you that avoiding a slump altogether is preferable – still, it’s better to get the struggles out of the way early as opposed to hitting the skids down the stretch in March or April.

We’ve outlined five players that have gotten off to a not-so glorious start to the 2010-11 season.  Whether they’re performing below their own standards or failing to meet the production demands of a new contract, these guys are currently struggling to play up to expectations.

Patrice Bergeron

Bergeron was awarded with a nice 3-year $15 million contract extension to kick off the season.  It was a deal that made a lot of sense for both sides, especially given the uncertainty of Marc Savard’s status.  Bergeron was primed to take a skip up the depth chart and compliment his own solid two-way play with a little more offensive production.

Bergeron has been okay on the draw, winning an even 50% of his faceoffs thus far, but the scoring just hasn’t come yet.  Bergeron was a candidate to centre the Bruins’ top line between Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton, but David Krejci appears to have solidified his status as the first line pivot.  Bergeron has been playing with Jordan Caron and Blake Wheeler and he has actually seen a slight decrease in his ATOI compared to 2009-10.

Jay Bouwmeester

Perhaps Mike Peca was on to something when he let loose a flurry of criticism for the once premier two-way defenseman, Jay Bouwmeester.  Bouwmeester’s struggles in 2009-10 were evident both on the score sheet and in even the quickest glance at his on-ice play.  The move from Florida to Calgary was supposed to bring his offensive defenseman status to prominence, instead he suffered a significant dip in just about every facet of his game a season ago.

Bouwmeester’s defensive play has been decent thus far in 2010-11, but his offensive game has left the Flames wanting more.  Eight games is still a relatively small sample size, but one assist in over 26 minutes of ice-time a night is well below what Bouwmeester is capable of.  In his defence, Bouwmeester has played a lot of tough minutes and was paired with Steve Staios (read: pilon) for a couple of games.  If Bouwmeester’s overall play thus far in 2010-11 is any indication, then the numbers should come eventually.

Alex Kovalev

As Tomlinson pointed out last week, 37-year old Alex Kovalev is battling father time.  In fact, Kovalev’s play through the Ottawa Senators’ first 8 games has made Alexei Yashin’s final days as an NHLer look Gretzky-esque.  Kovalev may be the lone candidate on this list that fails to break out of his early season doldrums.

Kovalev has just one assist and is -5 while skating about 14 minutes a night on the the bottom two lines.  Given the Senators’ struggles as a team, and just one year remaining on Kovalev’s contract – he’s a candidate for trade.  At this point, though, who would want him?

Simon Gagne

The Tampa Bay Lightning appeared to have robbed the Philadelphia Flyers when they shipped Matt Walker and a 4th round pick for Simon Gagne.  Gagne was coming off of a playoff run where he appeared to have regained his scoring prowess; 9 goals in 19 games including 2 game winners.  Of course, the biggest question with Gagne has always been his health.

After six games with nothing to show but a lousy -8 rating, the truth emerged that Gagne had been hampered by illness and a stiff neck.  Not exactly the start to his Tampa Bay tenure that Steve Yzerman had hoped for.  Although, it’s safe to declare Tampa the winner of the deal for the immediate following the news of Matt Walker hitting the shelf for as many as 10-12 weeks. We’re betting Gagne picks up the pace as he and his linemates adjust to Guy Boucher’s mysterious systems.

Dion Phaneuf

With that impressive 4-0 run to open the season behind them, the Toronto Maple Leafs have witnessed the reality that is an erratic Dion Phaneuf.  Granted, Phaneuf was solid down the stretch for the Leafs last season, but his play early this year with the captain’s ‘C’ strapped to his chest has been vintage bad decision making Dion.

Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Flyers was a low point for Phaneuf, he was a -3 and had one goal against deflect off his own stick and probably could have prevented another.  What’s worrisome about Phaneuf is that he’s now accountable for not only himself, but his team.  He’s always played with an edge, and made questionable decisions, but his best seasons were his first two in Calgary where all he had to do was show up and play.  If the Leafs struggle as a whole, then the decision to award him the captaincy could be their ultimate undoing.

Dis-honorable mentions:

Bryan Little, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Dave Bolland, Nikita Filatov, Chris Higgins, David Clarkson, Mike Green