The 2016-17 NHL regular season is over, and it’s time for us fans to prepare for and embrace the postseason. There are plenty of intriguing storylines to follow. Will the San Jose Sharks win their first championship as the window of opportunity closes? What about Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals?
Can any of the five Canadian teams who qualified end The Great White North’s 24-year Stanley Cup drought? Will the Chicago Blackhawks add to their dynasty? There are so many reasons to be excited for the playoffs.
But we also aren’t ready to move on from the regular season. A lot of us (myself included), aren’t very happy with how our fantasy teams turned out. Many people (including myself), feel silly for overlooking certain teams/players while ove rhyping certain teams/players.
With the regular season behind us, let’s take a look at the 10 biggest surprises and the 10 biggest disappointments.
20. Surprise: Senators Revival
The Senators have been one of the most frustrating teams to watch since their loss to the Anaheim Ducks in the Stanley Cup Final. They keep alternating between making and missing the postseason. Owner Eugene Melnyk expressed frustration about the inconsistency last year, and fired head coach Dave Cameron — replacing him with Guy Boucher.
The Hockey News projected Ottawa to finish seventh in the Atlantic Division. Ditto for USA Today, who projected the Senators to finish with 74 points.
Well, the Senators transformed into a more defensive sound team under Boucher. Erik Karlsson should win another Norris Trophy, while Kyle Turris, Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone provided valuable offence. Craig Anderson took multiple leaves of absence while his wife Nicholle battles cancer, and he finished with 25 wins, a 2.28 goals against average and an insane .926 save percentage.
Ottawa finished with 98 points and finished second in the Atlantic. What a remarkable turnaround after missing the postseason last year, and when most prognosticators expected another long season in the nation’s capitals.
19. Disappointment: Johnny Gaudreau
Johnny Gaudreau didn’t exactly enter the 2016-17 campaign on a proper note. He had a brief contract holdout before the Calgary Flames extended him for six years on Oct. 10. Gaudreau suffered a slump early in the season and later fractured one of his fingers. He missed 10 games in 2016-17, which prevented him from building off of a career season.
After scoring 30 goals 78 points in 2015-16, Gaudreau couldn’t find much consistency in his game. He scored just 18 goals and 61 points, struggling to put a hot streak together. Though the Flames qualified for the playoffs, it was a regular season for ‘Johnny Hockey’ to forget.
18. Surprise: Peter Budaj
Jonathan Quick suffered a lower body injury and missed most of the 2016-17 season. This caused the Los Angeles Kings to call up career journeyman backup Peter Budaj from the minors. As Quick tried to get back onto the ice, Budaj did a tremendous job filling in for the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner.
Budaj went 27-20-3 with a ridiculous 2.12 goals against average, .917 save percentage and seven shutouts. While he was the starter, Budaj had the Kings in playoff contention. But then general manager Dean Lombardi made a questionable call in trading Budaj to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a deal that brought Ben Bishop over to the west coast. Once Quick returned and Bishop was a King, Los Angeles (for whatever reason), simply fell apart and missed the postseason.
17. Disappointment: Claude Giroux
Scoring 58 points is no joke, but if you’re Philadelphia Flyers franchise star Claude Giroux, you can’t you were satisfied with how 2016-17 played out.
For the third time in five years, the Flyers are watching the postseason from home. A lot of that has to do with Giroux’s struggles. His 58 points were the lowest Giroux posted in an 82-game season since 2009-10 — his first full campaign in the NHL. This is a guy who has four 70-point seasons since 2010-11, including a 93-point campaign in 2011-12 that nearly gave Giroux the Hart Trophy.
Philadelphia’s identity is offence, and they often struggled to light the lamp. Giroux isn’t getting any younger at 29 years of age, so fans can only wonder if we’ve already seen the best of the Flyers star.
16. Surprise: Richard Panik
Drafted 52nd-overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2009, Richard Panik didn’t make the NHL until the 2012-13 season. Through his first four NHL seasons, Panik only had 25 goals and 47 points. It looked as though Panik was destined to be nothing more than an average third or fourth liner.
But then 2016-17 came along, and things changed. Panic quickly caught eyes in October, scoring six goals in nine games. Even though many thought it was just a mirage, Panik was indeed beginning a breakout year.
He scored 22 goals and 44 points, as Jonathan Toews and Artem Anisimov found ways to make the most of Panik’s talents. He’s only 26 years of age, too. There’s plenty of reason to believe that Panik will make opposing defencemen and goalies panic for a long time.
15. Disappointment: Winnipeg Jets
Many people, including yours truly, projected the Jets to get back into the postseason this year. The Hockey News projected them to earn the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, while USA Today had them finishing with 91 points.
In a way, some of the Jets did live up to the hype. Four players scored 60-plus points, including Mark Scheifele (32 goals, 82 points), and rookie sensation Patrik Laine (36 goals and 64 points). But a contract holdout from Jacob Trouba led to a disappointing campaign for the talented blueliner. The Jets goaltending also disappointed, and head coach Paul Maurice somehow found a way to stay behind the team bench the whole year.
14. Surprise: Eric Staal’s Resurgence
Eric Staal is a former 100-point scorer, Olympic gold medalist and Stanley Cup champion. But Staal, who put up 70-plus points every year from 2006 to 2012, saw an unexpected and significant regression in his stats. Between 2013-14 and 2015-16, he didn’t post more than 61 points in a season.
Nonetheless, the Minnesota Wild took a chance on the fading star, signing Staal to a three-year deal worth $10.5 million. Staal immediately found new life in Minnesota and helped them become one of the league’s highest-scoring teams.
Staal finished second in team scoring during the regular season, scoring 28 goals and 65 points. Just when he looked like he wasn’t even a capable top-six forward any longer, Staal has shown he still has it. Meanwhile, what a huge bargain for the Wild.
13. Disappointment: New York Islanders
The Islanders qualified for the playoffs in 2013, 2015 and 2016. A year ago, they upset the Atlantic Division-winning Florida Panthers to win their first playoff series in 23 years. The Islanders were eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the postseason, but everything appeared to be looking up in 2016-17.
New York needed more grit and leadership, so they signed Andrew Ladd to a seven-year deal worth $38.5 million. The Islanders were among the worst teams in the East until they fired head coach Jack Capuano and replaced him with Doug Weight. A late season surge wasn’t enough for the Isles, who missed the postseason by one point.
This was despite having 20-goal scorers and another great year from John Tavares — who had 28 goals and 66 points. Anders Lee had a career-best 34 goals as well. The Islanders were supposed to contend for the Metropolitan Division, but they didn’t even make the postseason.
12. Surprise: Edmonton Oilers Are Back!
Everyone knew it was only a matter of time until Connor McDavid made the Edmonton Oilers great again, but not many thought they would rise to being one of the top teams in the Western Conference.
Edmonton is just a year removed from finishing 29th in the NHL. Trading Taylor Hall away for defenceman Adam Larsson had many scratching their heads, and goalie Cam Talbot hadn’t shown that he was capable of being a true number one yet.
But here we are. McDavid won the scoring title with 30 goals and 100 points, Talbot won 42 games, Patrick Maroon’s 27 goals were a career best and Leon Draisaitl broke out with 29 goals and 77 points. The Oilers narrowly missed out on winning the Pacific Division, but their 103 points are something to celebrate in its own.
11. Disappointment: Florida Panthers
The Panthers took home the Atlantic Division last year with 103 points, and were widely expected to qualify for the playoffs once again. But despite great years from young guns Aaron Ekblad, Vincent Trochek, Aleksander Barkov and another guy we’ll name later, the Panthers missed out on the postseason.
Many were puzzled by the team’s decision to fire head coach Gerard Gallant after an 11-10-1 start to the season. He was replaced with Tom Rowe, who registered a disappointing 24-27-10 record. Gallant turned around the Panthers a year ago and the team let him go when they weren’t even that bad of a team.
Florida finished with just 81 points, and with goalie Roberto Luongo having one of his worst years yet, you wonder if this team isn’t as close to contending for championships as we thought. This season suggested that this team may have been a one-year wonder at best in 2015-16…
10. Surprise: Viktor Arvidsson
Viktor Arvidsson was a second-round draft choice of the Nashville Predators in 2014, and he had just eight goals and 16 points in 56 games last year. Though he was early into his NHL career, Arvidsson didn’t show many flashes of being much of a star. But he broke out in 2016-17, and figures to be a big part of Nashville’s success in the long run.
Arvidsson scored 31 goals and 61 points, helping the Preds make the playoffs for the third-straight year after a couple of slow months to open the season. He tied Ryan Johansen for the team lead in points, too.
The slick Swede is listed at just 5-foot-9, 180 pounds. That didn’t stop the speedy sniper from wreaking havoc on the opposing teams, however. Nashville has a pure goal-scorer to build around for the long term. Arvidsson was overlooked early in his career, but we know how he’s a superstar in the making.
9. Disappointment: Loui Eriksson
The Vancouver Canucks couldn’t score a lot of goals in 2016-17, and it led to a 28th-place finish in the league standings. Desperate to find a pure goal-scorer, general manager Jim Benning signed Swedish sensation Loui Eriksson to a six-year deal worth $36 million. Eriksson was a consistent 30-goal and 50-point scorer during his days with the Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins, so there was every reason to believe he would flourish with Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
But injuries and an all-around frustrating year for the Canucks led to a dismal season for Eriksson. He appeared in just 65 games and finished with 11 goals, 24 points and a porous minus-nine rating. The expectation was that he’d score 25-plus goals with his fellow Swedes while providing more defence to a soft Canucks team.
Eriksson turns 32 in the offseason, and with the Canucks set for a full rebuild, the last thing they want is to have to pay a past-his-prime player $30 million for five more years. There was no reason for them to overpay him in the first place.
8. Surprise: Paul Byron
Paul Byron certainly wasn’t someone anybody thought much of heading into the 2016-17 season. He was drafted 179th-overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2007, and many overlooked his 5-foot-8, 158-pound frame. He had never scored more than 21 points in a season, so few paid much attention when the Montreal Canadiens put him on their roster to begin the season.
But for Byron, it was just about finding his niche — and he did just that in Montreal. He brought a lot of speed and character to the Canadiens during the regular season. Byron scored 22 goals and 43 points, helping the Habs win their second Atlantic Division title in three years.
When an undersized NHLer is 27 years of age and has already played for two teams without much to show for, he usually is out of the league quickly. But Byron has found a real home in Montreal. Just remember kids, it’s never too late to succeed.
7. Disappointment: Joe Thornton
Joe Thornton is a shoe-in for the Hockey Hall of Fame. He won the Art Ross and Hart Trophy in 2006, is an Olympic gold medalist and is one of the finest playmakers we’ve ever been fortunate to watch. Thornton has 384 goals and 1,391 career points in 1,446 NHL regular season games.
Thornton put off father time a year ago with 19 goals and 82 points, leading the Sharks to their first-ever trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Though the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated San Jose in six games, many thought that Thornton had at least one more strong season in him.
Well, 2016-17 was a major letdown for ‘Jumbo Joe’. He had just seven goals and 50 points — his lowest totals since the 1998-99 season. That sort of decline is expected when you’re 37 years of age, but many thought Thornton would at least reach 70 points.
6. Surprise: Jonathan Marchessault
26 years of age, 5-foot-9, 174 pounds, undrafted and 49 games under your belt? Yeah, like Jonathan Marchessault was going to develop into one of the league’s top scorers. Oh wait, he totally did!
Despite a disappointing 2016-17 season from the Florida Panthers, this little-known hockey player named Jonathan Marchessault turned out to be the nicest part of their season. He came out of nowhere to score 30 goals and 51 points, forming quite a scoring unit with the likes of Vincent Trochek and Aleksander Barkov.
The Panthers simply took a chance on Marchessault with nothing to lose. He had just seven goals and 18 points in 45 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning a year ago, but Marchessault made his old team pay big by lighting it up with Florida. He’s a great story and looks to be on the path to many great things.
5. Disappointment: Los Angeles Kings/Anze Kopitar
When the Kings won their second Stanley Cup in 2014, fans were raving about them and the Chicago Blackhawks battling to become a dynasty. But the Kings missed the playoffs in 2015, were bounced in the first round by the San Jose Sharks in 2016 and failed to qualify for the postseason again in 2017.
This led to the team firing general manager Dean Lombardi and head coach Darryl Sutter, who both had impressive runs in L.A. But just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Kings.
Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik reminded the Kings that they’re essentially robbing them of money by barely scoring any points. Goalie Jonathan Quick suffered a lower body injury and only played in 17 games. Meanwhile, star Anze Kopitar had his worst season yet — 12 goals, 52 points and a minus-10 rating.
The Kings Stanley Cup window officially closed this season. With so many disastrous contracts on their hands, the team that has two Cups since 2012 may be bracing themselves for three-five years of painful rebuilding. Also, perhaps Kopitar is well past his prime, for all we know…
4. Surprise: Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto was far-and-away the NHL’s worst team a year ago, and though they landed generational Star Auston Matthews with the first-overall selection last June, nobody thought even he was capable of turning them into a playoff-hopeful squad.
But the Maple Leafs came out of nowhere and wreaked havoc in the Eastern Conference. Matthews should have an easy Calder Trophy after scoring 40 goals and 69 points, but he got plenty of support. James van Riemsdyk had 29 goals and 62 points, while Nazem Kadri, William Nylander and Mitch Marner all registered 61-point seasons. Five different Leafs scored 20-plus goals, with two other guys adding 18.
Goalie Frederik Andersen also had a great year with 33 wins. The Maple Leafs clinched a playoff spot on the second-last day of the season, just when they were supposed to be in year two of a very long rebuilding plan.
3. Disappointment: Dallas Stars
Powered by the high-scoring lineup of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp, the Dallas Stars took home the Central Division in 2017 with 109 points. They came within one game of reaching the Western Conference Final as well. But the Stars had an uninspiring offseason, losing their three best defenceman via free agency in Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers and Kris Russell.
Well, Seguin and Benn all had great years, but Spezza and Sharp began to show their ages and declined significantly. The Stars allowed 3.17 goals per game — second most in the league. The woeful goaltending performances from Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi accounted for a .893 save percentage.
Dallas was supposed to compete for not only the Central Division, but the Stanley Cup as well. They are instead in the draft lottery contention. That is not what you expect from defending division champions.
2. Surprise: Columbus Blue Jackets
Earlier in the season, I wrote 15 bold predictions here at TheSportster for the 2016-17 season. My number one prediction? For humour’s sake, I projected that the Columbus Blue Jackets wouldn’t fire John Tortorella. He became a laughingstock to many after coaching Team USA to a winless showing at the World Cup of Hockey.
Well, my projection was right. Torts surely is about to win his second Jack Adams Award, transforming the constantly losing Columbus Blue Jackets into the NHL’s third-best team with 108 points.
Brandon Saad, Zach Werenski, Nick Foligno, William Karlsson, Alexander Wennberg, Boone Jenner, Josh Anderson and Cam Atkinson all benefited from Tortorella, who many believed was too out-of-style to be an NHL coach. Sergei Bobrovsky owned the league’s best save percentage (.932), and goals against average (2.06).
1. Disappointment: Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning reached the Eastern Conference Final in 2016 with Steven Stamkos missing all but one playoff game last year. This was a year after the Lightning came within two victories of clinching their second Stanley Cup championship. They were expected to be Washington’s biggest challenger in the Eastern Conference.
But a torn meniscus for Steven Stamkos in November essentially ended Tampa Bay’s season, though nobody thought of it at the time. He wound up playing in just 17 games. Ben Bishop struggled and was traded to the Los Angeles Kings at the trade deadline. Despite breakout years from Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay couldn’t make up for the loss of Stamkos.
They missed the playoffs for the first time in four years, needing just one point to snatch the eighth seed from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Tampa was supposed to be among the top Cup contenders, but they’re instead watching the playoffs from home.
Not what Steve Yzerman or anyone expected this year.
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