In the NHL, anyone can have a bad season. It happens to journeymen and it happens to the league's stars - a year when every puck seems to bounce the wrong way, or where every little nagging injury develops into something more. The accumulated effect of such a year on a player can occasionally force some needed introspection. The smart ones go home, crawl under a rock, heal, train harder and prove - to the world - that an off year is just that, a blip on an otherwise successful career trajectory.
Now, two bad years in a row, that's a different story. Two bad years in a row suggest there may be some erosion in his overall game and that the talent once present is slipping away.
This then is the situation facing Alex Tanguay, one of two new/old players recruited by the Calgary Flames in the off-season.
When the Flames last saw Tanguay in 2008, he was playing on a three-year contract that paid him in excess of $5-million (all currency U.S) a season. Tanguay had been rewarded because he was considered one of the premier playmakers in the game, and in the two years he put in with Calgary, he mostly was that player.
Altogether, Tanguay set up 99 goals in that span, many of them for Jarome Iginla. In his second year, that total was all the more remarkable because he earned hardly any power-play time. Most of it went to his fellow softish left winger Kristian Huselius, who admittedly was a wizard when the ice opened up in uneven manpower situations.
So Tanguay asked out, and was dispatched to the Montreal Canadiens. After a pretty good first month, he got injured - and that was it. Moving to the Tampa Bay Lightning the following season was even worse. He signed on, thinking he'd be making plays for Vincent Lecavalier, a former NHL goal-scoring champion who lost his primary linemate when Martin St. Louis was shifted over to play with Steve Stamkos, the young star that they'd drafted first overall a couple of years ago.
Tanguay never was a fit with the Lightning, a team that underwent all sorts of curious turmoil, and eventually cleaned house in the off-season under new general manager Steve Yzerman. Tanguay needed a new NHL home and it turned out to be his old one, Calgary, where the man that he'd had a philosophical falling out with - Mike Keenan - had been replaced behind the bench.
So here is Tanguay, freshly arrived in town for the Flames' annual golf tournament, making the case for why this year will be different, and better.
"Last year was my 10th season in the league," he said, "and looking back after the season, I couldn't believe how poorly I handled the situation. As a player, you're paid to be a professional. I felt mentally I wasn't where I needed to be - and that affected me throughout.
"Halfway through the year, I seriously thought, 'Is this it?' I wasn't liking it very much. At the end of the summer, I realized how much I missed playing in the playoffs and how much I like hockey. I'm in a good place mentally right now and a good place physically. I'm out to prove myself. I'm 30 years old. I've still got lots of hockey ahead of me."
Tanguay wasn't the Flames' only eyebrow-raising off-season recruit. Olli Jokinen is back, too, just a few months after the Flames dumped his salary on the New York Rangers at the trading deadline. Both took serious pay cuts to play in Calgary this time - Tanguay is at $1.75-million, Jokinen $3-million - and they didn't get the security of a 15-year contract. It's one year at a time for both, which provides a fresh level of motivation.
Tanguay, born in Sainte-Justine, Que., can't afford to go backward again. He spent the summer in Quebec City, working out on a daily basis with his long-time skating coach on strategies to improve his foot speed.
Playing with an equally motivated Iginla, whose goal production fall to 32 last season, is the antidote for both to bounce back in a meaningful way, Tanguay believes.
"This year wasn't about money," Tanguay said. "It was about finding a good opportunity to come in and help. Being familiar with the city and the team and most of the players on the team will make the transition that much easier."