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Predicting NHL bounce-backs: Seth Jones, Carter Hart, more

The first one who will tell you that Seth Jones had a disappointing 2020-21 campaign is Seth Jones.

“I didn’t have the greatest season. I’m not sure why,” the Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman said.

After garnering so much attention for his iron-man defensive play in the 2020 postseason bubble, when he averaged 32:40 in ice time per game, Jones’ game had a massive drop in quality in 2021. His minus-5.8 goals scored above average was worst on his team. His minus-18 was the worst plus/minus of his career since his rookie season in Nashville. Jones scored one point in his first 10 games. He scored one goal in his first 30 games.

“I wasn’t putting the puck in the net very much early on. As a team, it was a tough year to get it going. We had Pierre-Luc Dubois traded early on. That didn’t help anything, starting with that drama in training camp,” he said.

“It’s tough to have great stats when your team’s not playing the greatest. Missing Zach [Werenski] for a while in the middle of the season, I had to find another way to play with the team struggling. So I had to dig deep and try to do more than I wanted to. So maybe that could have been another reason.”

There were other factors, too. Ones that had nothing to do with deployment or locker room adversity. The kinds of factors we’ve all been dealing with for more than a year now. Feeling disconnected. Feeling isolated. Feeling the interruption in routine and relationships due to the pandemic.

Ask around the NHL, and you’ll hear general managers explain that poor performances in the 2020-21 season aren’t to be judged too harshly. Especially when it comes to traditionally strong players who had absolute clunkers this season.

Is some of that excuse-making or providing cover to struggling players? Perhaps. Is some of that an honest assessment of a freak season played in the time of COVID-19? Absolutely.

“I think you have to give them a fresh start. A new opportunity to show what they can do in a normal year. I think that’s the best way to put it,” Jarmo Kekalainen, Jones’ general manager with the Blue Jackets, told ESPN. “We have some players we’ve seen for a long time that we believe in. If they have a down year, you have to give them a bit of a hall pass. It’s been a demanding year in many different ways, for all of us.”

Here are a few players we believe will bounce back from their bad 2021 seasons, proving them anomalous.

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