The NHL’s regular season is over and we have had a real eventful season. But what really happened? Let’s try summarize some things and see where we are.
Five teams who had a great season:
- Washington Capitals once again had a great regular season in the NHL. Finishing 1st in the league with 118 points (55-19-8), 3rd in scoring (263 goals) and 1st in goals against with 182. “Surprisingly” it hasn’t been Alexander Ovechkin leading the team as strongly this season (finished below point per game), but Nicklas Backstrom who ended 4th in scoring and drove their play while Braden Holtby held the fort between the pipes. Another President’s Trophy for the contender.
- Columbus Blue Jackets didn’t have any expectations from the general hockey fans or media, expect being a team fighting for a playoffs spot. Well the Blue Jackets surprised everyone and at a point mid season had a 16 game winning streak, one shy of the record the Penguins set in 1993. Coach Tortorella after several seasons under scrutiny should see a nomination. Lead by Cam Atkinson (35 goals), Alexander Wennberg, Sergey Bobrovsky and the 2nd best defense in the NHL
- Minnesota Wild hired Bruce Boudreau as their new head coach prior to this season, and that showed. The Wild scored at will this season, ending 3rd in scoring in the league and 7th in goals against. That’s a solid feature without having any 30-goal scorers on the team. Scoring were spread out with 14 players above 20 points. Eric Staal lead the team with 28 goals, Mikael Granlund had 43 assists while Ryan Suter & Jason Zucker were a +34 on the plus/minus statistics.
- Toronto Maple Leafs were expecting more “pain” this season, but under head coach Mike Babcock they actually surprised everyone by taking a big leap from last season, where they were competitive on most nights, this season they were competitive every night. Rookie Auston Matthews lead the team with his 40 goals, which by all likelihood will earn him the Calder Trophy as “Rookie of the Year”. But the Maple Leafs also had William Nylander, Mitchell Marner, Nazim Kadri & James van Riemsdyk hit above 60 points as the only team in the NHL with 5 guys above 60.
- Edmonton Oilers are for the first time since 2006, in the playoffs after a 100-point season for the NHL’s newest superstar Connor McDavid and a 103 points season for the team. McDavid far and away the team’s biggest contributor with Leon Draisaitl in second at 77 points this season. Next to these guys, new guy defenseman Adam Larsson played a quietly and solid season at a +21 while Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera were the two biggest contributors on the blueline with 38 and 35 points.
Five Teams who had a “terrible” season:
- Tampa Bay Lightning yet again were missing their biggest star Steven Stamkos for much of the season. Adding to that Tyler Johnson and Anton Stralman missed games. GM Steve Yzerman were dealing with the issue of when to trade players to make cap space for signing RFA’s Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat & Jonathan Druin among others. Ending up trading goalie Ben Bishop and forwards Valtteri Filppula & Brian Boyle for picks and prospect, in the end even Victor Hedman’s Norris Candidate season couldn’t help the contender Lightning make the playoffs.
- Buffalo Sabres hoped for more improvement over the season standings-wise. That they would be closer to compete for a playoffs-spot. However way to many players missed games here and there, among them Jack Eichel. They struggled all year to get something going on a consistent basis and that’s why this season is a bit of a disappointment for the Sabres. On the good side, a lot of players scored 20 points or more, and they likely get a better player in the draft. Tim Murray will have to continue to have some patience with his roster and coaching staff.
- Los Angeles Kings are also among the teams which have to be really disappointed after this season. The Kings never got it going and you just don’t make the playoffs when your best two-way center-man and your 2nd d-man pairing don’t get the job done. Anze Kopitar only had 52 points and were a -10, while Muzzin and Martinez were -17 and -21. Obviously there are also other contributors who didn’t perform to their level, but it has to start with your best guys performing.
- Detroit Red Wings deteriorating level on their roster finally sent them out of the playoffs before it started for the first time since 1990. That made GM Ken Holland trade several players for picks at the deadline and the team now is pretty far from for example their 2006 team which saw eight 20-goal scorers and eight 50+ points scorers compared to this year’s roster who only had Henrik Zetterberg hitting 50+ points and Tomas Tatar hitting 20+ goals.
- Colorado Avalanche basically collapsed this season. Only three players scored more than ten points on the power play and the whole team were really bad at even strength all year. It didn’t help that their starter goalie Semyon Varlamov got injured and missed half the season. The Avs were just bad all over, and only managed to scrape together 22 wins and 48 points. Just terrible. At least they will be drafting high this off-season.
Coaches & GM’s HIRED or FIRED:
- Vegas Golden Knights hired their first head coach in franchise history the other day. Former Florida Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant will serve as the franchise’s first bench boss in their inaugural 2017/18-season. During the offseason prior to the season the Golden Knights hired former Capitals-GM for 17 years (1997-2014), George McPhee as their first GM.
- St. Louis Blues fired head coach Ken Hitchcock a bit past midway through the season after after being just barely above .500 in wins percentage. They promoted assistant Mike Yeo and made the playoffs.
- Dallas Stars could have been on the list of the most disappointing teams this season. Just as the season ended, the Stars and head coach Lindy Ruff decided to go their separate ways. Not long after, the Stars decided to hire Ken Hitchcock as their new head coach. By coincidence, Lindy Ruff were the head coach for the Buffalo Sabres in their Stanley Cup Final loss against the Stars in 1999. The Stars Stanley Cup-winning head coach back then? Ken Hitchcock.
- Since the Los Angeles Kings missed the playoffs, they decided to fire GM Dean Lombardi after 10 seasons and head coach Darryl Sutter after 6 years and a half year coaching the team. Rob Blake was hired (promoted) as the new GM and Luc Robitaille got promoted to President of Hockey Operations.
- Halfway through the season the Boston Bruins fired Claude Julien from his position after a cup and 9 seasons, and hired Bruce Cassidy (promoted). The Bruins since made the playoffs and GM Don Sweeney is most likely more than happy with his gamble.
- Straight after the Bruins fired Claude Julien, the Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin fired Michel Therrien as head coach and hired Claude Julien who just got fired from arch rivals Boston Bruins.
- The New York Islanders fired Jack Capuano midway through the season and hired Doug Weight as interim head coach, recently he has been given a permanent head coach title, but there probably are some questionmarks in terms of if GM Garth Snow will be given another season or not behind the controls of the team’s future.
- The Florida Panthers did a lot this season. Prior to the season they re-arranged and gave GM Dave Tallon other duties. They also fired Gerard Gallant and hired Tom Rowe as head coach and a GM-title. Some trades later and a missed playoffs and the Panthers missed the playoffs. Re-structuring again, Tallon is back as GM. Rowe in a advisory role and they are looking for a new head coach. Lindy Ruff perhaps?
- After a terrible season for the Vancouver Canucks, their GM Jim Benning fired head coach Willie Desjardins just after the seasons last game. Rumor has it that Darryl Sutter could be a plausible option for the Canucks? Alternatively Lindy Ruff, we will have to wait and see how this plays out.
- Prior to the preseason training camp, Patrick Roy the former hall of fame goalie and head coach at the time chose to quit because of what he called disagreements in regards to the future of where the team was headed. For this season at least, it was a good call. Jared Bednar was hired, a man with success on the other levels he has coached, winning a Kelly Cup in the ECHL and the Calder Cup in the AHL. This season however, it all went south. Hopefully GM Joe Sakic still have faith in the man.
Players cementing themselves as the NEW STARS of the NHL:
- Connor McDavid (Center – Edmonton Oilers)
– One could say McDavid’s rookie season was his breakout season, and this season he cemented himself as the new star in the league after winning the Art Ross Trophy for his 100-point season while carrying the Edmonton Oilers to the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. McDavid had 30 goals and 70 assists this season.
- Mark Scheifele (Center – Winnipeg Jets)
– The Jets missed the playoffs, but Mark Scheifele has in his 4th season made a clear stand that he will be among the best centermen going forward. He ended the season at 32 goals and 50 assists for 82 points in 79 games.
- Nikita Kucherov (Right Wing – Tampa Bay Lightning)
– Surprisingly the Lightning missed the playoffs all together this year. However, it was not because the lack of effort from Nikita Kucherov. For those who were unsure of Kucherov being a star after two 65+ points seasons and stellar playoffs-performances, wonder no more. 40 goals and 45 assists for 85 points makes Kucherov take that step up into stardom. A fun player to watch.
Breakout Season for players:
- Victor Arvidsson (Left Wing/Right Wing – Nashville Predators)
– The 24-year old Swedish winger got his debut last year, playing more than half the games and putting up 16 points on the board. This season however, he has surpassed that by far and managed to score 61 points in 80 games (his first full season), with 31 of the being goals and 30 being assists. He was also a +16 on the season and gave the Predators a much needed addition in high scoring players.
- Rickard Rakell (Center/Winger – Anaheim Ducks)
– One could argue that Rakell got his breakout last season, considering he passed 20 goals and 40+ points, but this season the 23-year old Swede has put 33 goals and 18 assists for 51 points on the board and been a welcomed contributor to a Ducks team who needed the younger players to contribute even more.
- David Pastrnak (Right Wing – Boston Bruins)
– One could that Pastrnak has had a little breakthrough prior to this season, but this is his first full season and this truly has been the Czech’s breakout season. 34 goals and 36 assists for 70 points in 75 games this season is by far better than a lot of experts expectations, probably including the Bruins-staff.
- Leon Draisaitl (Center/Winger – Edmonton Oilers)
– The German winger did get past 50 points last season after scoring 19 goals and 32 assists for 51 points. However, he really had his breakthrough season this year after scoring 29 goals and 48 assists for 77 points in 82 games. Draisaitl will live in the shadow of McDavid for a while, but if he continues with this kind of improvement, he will be a star “on his own” in a few seasons. Which would also be important for McDavid, in terms of have several players taking tough workloads in Edmonton.
- Nikolaj Ehlers (Left Wing/Right Wing – Winnipeg Jets)
– The young 21-year old Danish winger has together with Patrik Laine taken a solid spot in the Jets top six forwards lineup. Last season he had a mini-breakthrough with 15 goals and 23 assists for 38 points in 72 games. This season he improved to 25 goals and 39 assists for 64 points in 82 games. The Jets are more than happy to have two first round picks who have gone into the lineup and proven themselves as future cornerstones of the franchise. Next stop? Further improvement and back in the playoffs for both the Scandinavians and the Jets.
Rookies of the Year (Calder Trophy):
- Auston Matthews (Center – Toronto Maple Leafs)
– Matthews has taken the NHL by storm, his four goals in his first game gave some early glimpses of what he can do for this franchise. Ended the regular season by taking the Maple Leafs to the playoffs after scoring 40 goals and getting 29 assists for 69 points on the year. The most likely candidate to win because they made the playoffs and he was the biggest contributor to that.
- Patrik Laine (Right Wing – Winnipeg Jets)
– Laine was among many probably the heaviest favorite to win this prior to the season, and he didn’t disappoint on the ice. He missed nine games, but the big Finnish winger had 36 goals and 28 assists for 64 points in 73 games. It could be good enough to edge Matthews, but his four goals more, five points more and the Maple Leafs making the playoffs and not the Jets is against Laine’s favor.
- Zach Werenski (Defenseman – Columbus Blue Jackets)
– The 6’2” big 19-year old defenseman from the surprise team Columbus Blue Jackets will probably be the third Calder Trophy candidate. The young man has had an absolute stellar performance on a solid team defensively this season, and adding to that has put up 11 goals and 36 assists for 47 points and a +14 through 78 games.
- The other candidates would be:
– Mitchell Marner (Center/Right Wing – Toronto Maple Leafs) – 19+42 for 61 points
– Matthew Tkachuk (Left Wing – Calgary Flames) – 13+35 for 48 points
– William Nylander (Center/Wing – Toronto Maple Leafs) – 22+39 for 61 points
Players with a “bad” Year:
- Andrew Ladd (LW – New York Islanders)
– It’s hard to say that a player with 23 goals has had a bad season, but Ladd only had 31 points in total in his 74 games played. That’s way below his $5.5M caphit and it wasn’t good enough by the assistant captain to get the Islanders to the playoffs.
- Daniel & Henrik Sedin (Left Wing & Center – Vancouver Canucks)
– Even though the age is against them and they are on a decline, the Sedins this season were not good enough by their own standards. 44 & 50 points respectively is not good enough for them when playing 82 games, and especially when Zetterberg scored 68. They were also a -16 and -27 on the season.
- Anze Kopitar (Center – Los Angeles Kings)
– 29-year old Kopitar has had his worst “full season” as a King (missed six games). He still put up over 50 points, but for a guy that never has been below 64 points while playing near all the games, he and the Kings never got it going at all. Only 12 goals on the season with his 40 assists for 52 points in 76 games is not good enough for one of the best two-way centers in the game with two Stanley Cups on his resume. Unconveniently happened in his first season as captain for the franchise.
Norris Trophy Candidate Defensemen:
- Brent Burns (San Jose Sharks)
– Burns has had another great season, this one even better than last year and become the first d-man who managed 75+ points two seasons in a row since Brian Leetch did it in 1996 and 1997. Burns have been a big part of the Sharks build up play and considering that the forwards have been worse this year, he carried the Sharks for most of the year with his 29 goals and 47 assists for 76 points and a +19 in 82 games this season. That with his solid defensive play, I think he will win the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman this season.
- Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators)
– Karlsson was once again the best player on the Ottawa Senators, and this time he got enough help to get them to the playoffs as well. Karlsson scored 17 goals and 54 assists for 71 points in 77 games in addition to being a +10 on the season. This was good enough to yet again be the team’s top scorer in addtion to providing solid defense throughout the season.
- Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning)
– Hedman has been stellar all year. 16 goals and 56 assists for 72 points and together with playing great defense he will most likely be the third nominee for the Norris Trophy as best defenseman of the year. The knack on Hedman is that his team didn’t make the playoffs, and that will affect the voting to some degree.
- Other defensemen to receive votes?
– Duncan Keith (Chicago Blackhawks) – 6 goals + 47 assists for 53 points and a +22.
– Ryan Suter (Minnesota Wild) – 9 goals + 31 assists for 40 points and a +34.