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Dear Backhand Shelf

It seems like so long ago, but I once scored 65 goals in a single season. My career got off to an extra-hot start, with 369 goals in my first five seasons. I had it all—endorsement deals, Russian model girlfriends, and the idea that I was the most dynamic player in the NHL since Pavel Bure. That’s all changed, now. I had just 32 goals last season and only have three goals in eight games to start this campaign. I’m still in a number of horrible commercials, but it just doesn’t feel the same. I used to step on the ice with swagger and confidence and know that I was going to score a goal. Crowds in visiting buildings used to get up out of their seats. It doesn’t feel that way anymore, and I’m beginning to be criticized for my team’s lack of playoff success. I’m 26 and wish I could have a couple of years back with Stanley Cup wins so I have that to fall back on, like Jaromir Jagr had in the past. Where do I go from here?

Signed, Enigmatic Russian Sniper

Thanks for the letter and reading the Backhand Shelf, ERS. I had little idea that 65-goal scorers, and by extension, presumptive scoring champions and MVPs read our quaint hockey blog. But to the crux of your question, ERS, is that if you’re 26, there’s still a long career of yours ahead. While the NHL seems to be turning into a kid’s game, what with Patrick Kane, Taylor Hall, Jon Tavares, and a whole host of young superstars dominating the scoring leaders, seven of the top-10 scoring leaders from last season were over the age of 30.

Don’t fret so much about a “down” season. Even the best of the best get hit by lousy shooting percentages if they play enough seasons—In 48 games in 1995, Wayne Gretzky was just 7.7% and scored 11 goals. Three goals in eight games is also no need for concern and there’s absolutely no reason to pooh-pooh a 30-goal season. Whether or not you feel less elite doesn’t make a difference. Just three players, Alexander Ovechkin, Jarome Iginla, and Ilya Kovalchuk have hit 30 goals in each season since the NHL lockout, and I’m willing to bet that you’ve had more playoff success than those three. Even so, it’s a bit of a misnomer—Your goalie is really the only player who can truly carry a team through a post-season run.

It may be cliché, but just keep firing pucks on net. While the game may feel a lot quicker than it was when you were scoring 65, it’s still the same game. There are five players aside plus a goalie, and you’re the same guy, with the same hands. Shoot more, trust the process, and don’t sweat the results until you drop sub-30.

Dear Backhand Shelf

I sign nine-year contract in Philadelphia in offseason to play goalie for local professional ice hockey team. I start with save percentage of .870 and have only 3-4 record. I was real good goalie in Phoenix for ice hockey team last two season and bring them to playoff, but I’m not making save any more. But it only hockey. Why do they have to be mad?

Sign, Ice Hockey Goalie

Thanks for the note in broken english, IHG. Unfortunately, they have to be mad because this is a salary-capped league now, and every penny saved equals a penny spent, so big-money players are sometimes overlooked for their talent if they’re struggling and we focus on the negatives. Check out Scott Gomez in Montreal: He’s a terrific two-way hockey player, and yet he doesn’t get the credit he deserves. It’s not his fault that Glen Sather though that he was worth more than $7M per season.

Useless TBS trivia: Ron Hextall is your Friday night writer's favourite goalie.

It’s probably a little harder on a goalie, because they play more time. Philadelphia is a place that’s had a lot of trouble with goaltenders and haven’t had a legitimate number one since the days of Ron Hextall, even though they actually got very usable performances out of Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky last season. I would say it’s a town and management that doesn’t really know how to gauge goaltender performance, so you’re damned-if-you-do in Philly regardless. It could be a long nine years, particularly if you post save percentages below the .900-level. I’d suggest tune out the media and fans a tad, and just be thankful for the fact that you play behind a team that’s good enough that you don’t have to play lights-out to win 35 games anymore. Sometimes they make it easy on you and score 8 goals.

No way you can possibly lose a game when your team scores 8 in support, right?

Hey Backhand Shelf

So I was suspended for the first eight games of the season and my team lost all eight. I think they suck. Is it possible for a defenseman to step in and make their team kinda good? I don’t think I really want to play for a team that isn’t at least kinda good.

Signed, I Think My Team Sucks

No, ITMTS, your team doesn’t suck. It’s a collection of players who play hockey for a living. They’re all pretty good and can win on any given day. However, one defenseman, ergh, I don’t really like your chances. GVT—or goals versus threshold—a Hockey Prospectus statistic that admittedly has some flaws, estimates that the best defensemen can swing a team’s fortune by between 8 and 13 goals over the course of the season, and at about six goals per win, that doesn’t equal a whole lot more than two games.

"To paraphrase Han Solo, 'I have a good feeling about this'."

So, there are two things at play here: One is that if your team started the season 0-8, they’re probably playing with a pretty low PDO, and wins will come when that number naturally corrects itself. If you’re unfamiliar with PDO, it’s a statistic that measures the “luck” quotient faced by an NHL team, whether high or low. Here’s another great run-down at it. The second thing in play is that yourself, being a defenseman, swinging a season by two or three games probably isn’t going to make your team go from “suck”, as you so aptly put it, to “not suck”. Two wins, of course, can be the difference between a 30-win season and a 32-win season, both of which are indicators of fairly bad NHL teams, so you might be on your own. It will take a little more than you in the lineup to change things around. Percentages, and a couple more players are going to have to really “step up” to give your team a better chance at winning some games.

But yeah, that’s a pretty raw deal. Sit out for eight games, and your team doesn’t get you at least a single win. Rough.