The Nashville Predators were so pleased with what happened last season in regard to Sergei Kostitsyn that they tried for a repeat.
Now they have that opportunity, albeit not in the way they imagined.
In an offseason absent any significant free agent additions, Nashville did sign forward Niclas Bergfors to a relative bargain-basement deal of one year at $575,000. The 24-year-old was a first-round draft choice in 2005 who had not exactly lived up to expectations.
It was a year earlier that they acquired Kostitsyn, at the time a 23-year-old with a reputation as an underachiever, and signed him for one year at $550,000. That turned into an undeniable bargain when he scored a team-leading 23 goals and tied for team-high honors with 50 points.
If only it were that easy.
Bergfors was sent to Milwaukee on Nov. 23 (keep in mind his was an NHL-only contract) having produced just two points (one goal, one assist) in 11 appearances and having made little, if any, impact.
That does not mean the chance for a repeat of last year is gone. Far from it, in fact.
Two months into the season they have a chance to do it all again — with Kostitsyn.
Recall that it was not exactly smooth sailing with the young Russian last season. He was a bit player for much of the early part of the season as he struggled with what was expected of him and how he ought to fit into coach Barry Trotz’s defense-first approach to the game.
Things even got to the point where franchise officials were ready to send him to Milwaukee. At the end of November he had just two goals and one assist.
Then it happened. Trotz reasoned that Kostitsyn learned to trust the coaches, which freed his mind and body to play the game at full speed.
Whatever the reason, he had at least one point in the first eight games of December and stayed productive throughout the remainder of the regular season. He eventually put together the second-longest points streak (11 games) and matched the third-longest goal streak (five games) in franchise history.
Fast-forward to now.
He went without a point in 10 of the 11 games he played in November. He entered December injured, underproductive (11 points and 20 games) and with Trotz publicly questioning his usefulness.
It all sounds so familiar.
As such, one way or another he is poised to repeat a piece of his personal history.
After all, Kostitsyn broke into the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens as a 20-year-old. He generated a bit of a buzz when he delivered 27 points in 52 games as a rookie.
Then his goal, assist and — obviously — point totals dropped over each of the next two seasons. Questions about his commitment arose, and eventually he was reassigned to the AHL, a move against which he openly railed.
It is entirely possible, therefore, that Nashville already has gotten the best it is going to get out of Kostitsyn, who was rewarded for last season’s turnaround with a one-year, $2.5 million contract for this season.
Then again, maybe he’s just a slow starter. He actually is ahead of where he was at this time last year in terms of point production, despite the fact that he has missed six games with some minor ailments.
There’s no doubt the Predators expected him to do much of what he did last season. Chances are, though, they did not figure he would do so in the same fashion.
At this point, that’s the best they can hope.