What's behind Nazzie's decline?

BARRY MACDONALD -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 7:10 AM ET

It has grown as tiresome as it is persistent. It is the question. What is wrong with Markus Naslund?

Much like his slump, the question won't seem to go away and you can't ignore the cold, hard truth provided by the ultimate measuring stick for most pro athletes: Statistics.

Following Tuesday's loss in Minnesota, where Naslund was held to one shot and without a goal for the ninth consecutive game, his place among the NHL scoring leaders was not terribly prominent. Forty-six players, including the likes of Dustin Penner and Jason Blake, have more goals.

Ninety-eight players had more points. Markus is looking up at such luminaries as Brad Boyes, Chris Clark and Kyle Weldwood in that department.

So what is behind Naslund's declining productivity?

The loss of his sidekick is certainly a factor. Naslund had chemistry with Todd Bertuzzi when it came to puck movement, and Bertuzzi's presence - when the spirit moved him - created a distraction for defenders and more ice for Naslund.

Does he miss Bert? Certainly? Does he need Bert to excel? No. Naslund is talented enough to impact a game on his own but it isn't happening often enough.

Much has been discussed regarding the system of the new head coach, and how it involves a blue-collar commitment. Naslund has "bought in," but has his defensive responsibility come at the expense of his offensive creativity? Certainly. But to the point of being the 99th leading scorer in the league? No way.

Alain Vigneault's system, when executed, involves pursuit of the puck. Pursuit of the puck, and ultimately possession of it, should result in more opportunities.

There is, of course, that tired old refrain suggesting Naslund is not captain material, and would be better served have the "C" removed.

The idea is that he would no longer be burdened by the responsibility that goes with wearing a letter.

Rubbish. Since being appointed captain more than five years ago, Naslund has had three 40-goal seasons, and two more in the 30s. Leading by example is not a bad thing and I have never been convinced that the captaincy is a piano on the back of Markus.

The most plausible explanation for me is injury. He is simply too good to have the same number of points as Mike Sillinger and Todd White. But of course the culture of the NHL dictates that you don't discuss in any great detail any ache or pain that you may have.

Upper body injury could mean a fractured wrist. Lower body injury could mean torn meniscus in the right knee. Who really knows from an injury standpoint what might be getting in the way of Markus being Markus?

Only Markus knows actually. And only he will be able to find his "A" game. Easier said than done apparently. But it's a little early to write off a guy with 196 goals over the previous five seasons. Even if he is making $6 million per year.

Barry Macdonald is co-host of BS in the Morning on the Team 1040 from 6-9 a.m. E-mail Barry at: barry.macdonald@24hrs.ca


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