Well, the 2016-17 NHL season is in the books.
Was the season all that special? It depends on who you ask. The common fan will say seeing the Pittsburgh Penguins beat a non-traditional hockey market team (the Nashville Predators), to win the Stanley Cup once again wasn't all that exciting.
But there was plenty of excitement to go around this season. The wonderful country of Canada got to see five of its teams make the playoffs after zero made it last season. That included the rise of the Edmonton Oilers -- led by scoring champion Connor McDavid.
There were plenty of pleasant surprises, too. Nobody thought the Columbus Blue Jackets would make the playoffs, let alone finish fourth-overall in the NHL standings. Nobody thought Stanley Cup favorites like the Tampa Bay Lightning would miss the playoffs. It was another unpredictable yet thrilling year in the NHL.
Like any season, the 2016-17 campaign had many ups and downs. Here's a look at 10 things that went right and 10 that went totally wrong.
20 Right: Trade Deadline Deals
Though the 2017 NHL trade deadline didn't feature many big names on the move, a number of the deals really helped out a number of teams. For example, the Ottawa Senators traded for Alex Burrows and Viktor Stalberg. Both players provided crucial depth and helped Ottawa come within one game of reaching the Stanley Cup Final.
The Edmonton Oilers traded for struggling forward David Desharnais, who scored a clutch goal in overtime of Game 5 during their first round matchup against the San Jose Sharks. The Vancouver Canucks stockpiled their prospect pool by landing Jonathan Dahlen in the Burrows trade, along with Nikolay Goldobin in the Janik Hansen trade.
The Pittsburgh Penguins traded for veteran defenceman Ron Hainsey, who was critical in helping their banged-up blue line win the Stanley Cup once again. These are just some of the many trades that actually worked out for at least one party.
19 Wrong: Winnipeg Jets Lack of Progress
Despite featuring stars like Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and rookie sensation Patrik Laine, the Winnipeg Jets continue to show zero signs of progress with so much young talent.
Winnipeg has made the playoffs just once since relocating to the Great White North five years ago. Management did nothing to improve the inconsistent goaltending tandem of Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson. They also chose to stick with head coach Paul Maurice, though he hasn't shown any signs of commanding the confidence and support from his players.
The Jets don't have a high draft pick this year, and they aren't a team to make big trades or free agent signings. As such, this young roster is going to have to gel together and start winning games. They've had more than enough time to show signs of turning it around.
18 Right: The Playoffs
The NHL playoffs have been quite a dud over the last few seasons. It's gotten quite boring seeing the Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings or Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final most years. Having zero Canadian teams in the 2016 postseason also made for an extremely boring spring in the country that lives and breathes hockey.
Yes, the Penguins repeated -- so much for parity. But five Canadian teams made the playoffs. The Edmonton Oilers were within one game of reaching the final four, but the Senators went on a run for the ages and nearly unseated the defending champion Penguins.
Seeing the Nashville Predators sweep the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks was also a stunner yet a pleasant surprise for the common NHL fans. We saw a record 18 overtime games in the first round. Both Conference Final series were also thrillers.
The NHL playoffs chose a great year to be especially exciting, considering how boring the NBA playoffs have been.
17 Wrong: Everything in Colorado
The Avalanche barely missed the playoffs in 2016, so many thought they'd at least be a bubble team in 2017. But last year's offseason didn't start out well, as head coach Patrick Roy chose to resign after the front office refused to trade specific players at his request. They hoped that new head coach Jared Bednar would turn things around in the Mile High City. That didn't happen.
Colorado was far-and-away the NHL's worst team, finishing with a 22-56-4 record. It's widely expected that they'll trade away star players Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Tyson Barrie.
The Avs have been stockpiling on young stars for nearly a decade now, and now they're going to have to restart. Given the attendance problems in Colorado and a lack of a bright future, things won't be pretty for the Avalanche any time soon. This was one disastrous season for a team that was once among the top in the NHL for a decade.
16 Right: Rise of Smashville
Despite fielding many great teams in the post-lockout era, the Nashville Predators struggled to make hockey big in the Music City. A popular pick to win the Stanley Cup at the start of 2016-17, the regular season didn't go as planned for the Preds. P.K. Subban was injured and this team barely got into the playoffs as the eighth seed.
Then they swept the top-seeded Blackhawks, possibly ending their dynasty once and for all. Next thing you know, this team reached its first-ever Stanley Cup Final. Many NHL writers have emphasized how they've never seen a more epic atmosphere than the one they saw in Nashville this spring.
The fact this non-traditional hockey market is now becoming one of the most passionate in the NHL is quite a story. The Predators have come a long way since nearly relocating to Canada a decade ago.
15 Wrong: Los Angeles Kings Dethroned
It's hard for the Los Angeles Kings and their fans to complain. After decades of misery, this team won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014. Many talked about how the Kings and Blackhawks would battle for dynasty status for years to come, but things have rapidly gone downhill for the Kings.
They missed the playoffs altogether in 2015. The Kings were then embarrassed by the San Jose Sharks in the opening round of last year's playoffs. They then missed the playoffs by wide margins in 2017.
Head coach Darryl Sutter and general manager Dean Lombardi were both fired. The Kings have no up-and-coming prospects to lead the future. They carry incredibly expensive and/or immovable contracts; including Jonathan Quick, Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik and Dustin Brown.
The Kings won a Stanley Cup three years ago. Now, it looks like this team is going to have to restart and rebuild the roster sooner rather than later.
14 Right: Montreal Canadiens Rebound
The Canadiens reached the Eastern Conference Final in 2014. They won the Atlantic Division in 2015. They started out 9-0-0 in 2015-16, but Carey Price's MCL injury sidelined him for most of the season. Montreal fell apart entirely and missed the playoffs after their record-setting start.
GM Marc Bergevin got busy in the offseason. He traded away P.K. Subban for Shea Weber, signed Russian star Alexander Radulov and traded for gritty two-time Stanley Cup champion in Andrew Shaw.
Most importantly, Carey Price stayed healthy. The Habs won the Atlantic Division and finally chose to move on from head coach Michel Therrien -- replacing him with the well-respected Claude Julien. Though the Habs turnaround season ended in a first-round loss to the New York Rangers, this team has a lot to be content about. They'll be a force in the East for many more years.
13 Wrong: Vancouver Canucks Downfall Continues
Despite finishing third-last in the NHL last season, there was optimism for the Vancouver Canucks to turn things around in 2016-17. They signed Swedish star Loui Eriksson to a six-year deal worth $36 million -- assuming he'd score 20-30 goals with the Sedin twins.
The team was also ready to hand more responsibility over to young players like Bo Horvat, Troy Stecher, Ben Hutton and others. Standout centre Brandon Sutter also played well at the start of the year, and Vancouver was in the playoff race for the first couple of months,
Then the Canucks completely fell apart. The Sedin twins had their worst seasons in over a decade, the Eriksson signing flopped and most of the young players failed to step their games up. Vancouver finished with the second-worst record in the NHL. Ticket sales and viewership went way down -- not good in a mega hockey market.
Reality set in. The Canucks should have rebuilt four years ago. They're just starting now.
12 Right: Rookie Sensations
Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin each hit 100 points in their rookie seasons. Evgeni Malkin put up 85 in his 2006-07 rookie season. Ever since these three stars made their NHL debuts, however, most rookies haven't exactly lit it up. But 2016-17 was a completely different story.
Auston Matthews scored 40 goals and 69 points as he led the Toronto Maple Leafs to the playoffs. Patrik Laine scored 36 goals and 64 points for the Jets -- showing he's truly ready to be the next Alex Ovechkin. William Nylander and Mitch Marner each added 61-points for Toronto, too.
Jake Guentzel of the Penguins leads all players in 2017 playoff goals. Matt Murray went 32-10-4 and helped Pittsburgh reach its second-straight Final. It was a thrilling year for many NHL rookies. Here's hoping next year's rookies can provide just as much excitement.
11 Wrong: 2016 Playoff Teams Regress
The Tampa Bay Lightning were among the favourites to win the Stanley Cup at the start of the season. But an injury to Steven Stamkos early in the season turned out to be far too much to overcome, and Tampa missed the postseason by a single point.
After winning their first playoff series in 23 years, big things were expected for the New York Islanders. They were the NHL's worst team early on, and narrowly missed the playoffs after a strong finish in the second half. With John Tavares entering a contract year, 2017 didn't do much to help management in negotiations with him.
The Florida Panthers young stars finally broke through and led them to the Atlantic Division in 2016. Their defence and goaltending were mediocre at best, and they finished in the Eastern Conference basement.
The Dallas Stars won the Central Division in 2016 and were one win away from the Western Conference Final. They wound up with the second overall pick instead. Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Detroit all missed the playoffs this year after making it last year.
Bottom line: Many of the top teams in 2016 were absolute disasters.
10 Right: Underdog Stories
There weren't a whole lot of surprises during the 2016 season. One of the major beauties in all of sports is when we fans have a feel-good underdog story to cheer for. There were aplenty of those in 2016-17.
Canadian teams like Ottawa, Edmonton and Toronto were supposed to be in the middle of their rebuilding phases. Instead, the Senators nearly reached the Stanley Cup Final. This came while goalie Craig Anderson helped his wife Nicholle fight cancer.Edmonton reached the second round of the playoffs. Toronto nearly upset the Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in the opening round.
The eighth-seeded Predators reached the Stanley Cup Final. 2014 fourth-round pick Viktor Arvidsson scored 31 goals for them. Career journeyman Paul Byron scored 22 goals for the Canadiens this season. Undrafted forward Jonathan Marchessault was a 30-goal scorer in Florida. Fading veteran Eric Staal finished second in scoring for the Minnesota Wild.
You could write an entire book series on the feel-good underdog stories of 2016-17.
9 Wrong: End of an Era in Detroit
The Red Wings entered 2016-17 looking to make the playoffs for the 26th-straight year. GM Ken Holland signed veterans Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen to load up on another playoff year. But virtually everything went wrong for Detroit in 2016-17.
Many of their key players like Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist regressed after great 2015-16 seasons. Goalie Jimmy Howard was having an excellent seasons before injuries sidelined him, and Petr Mrazek failed to shoulder the load.
Detroit missed the playoffs and had their worst season in over two decades. This happened as the team said good-bye to the legendary Joe Louis Arena. Well-respected owner Mike Ilitch passed away during the season, while legend Gordie Howe passed away last June.
Your heart just breaks for this organization. It was the end of an era in so many ways. Losing your streak is one thing. Losing your historic arena is another. But losing two countless legends within a year is just devastating.
8 Right: Oilers Finally Break Through
NHL fans had been waiting for the Edmonton Oilers to take it to the next level since they drafted Taylor Hall with the first selection in 2010. That was followed by first-overall pick, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Then they added Nail Yakupov with the first selection in 2012. But it was the same old story: Edmonton just couldn't win games.
Two years after drafting Connor McDavid, and the whole narrative has changed. The Oilers made the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. They unseated the defending Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks in the first round. They were one win away from reaching the Western Conference Final.
Cam Talbot won 42 games while McDavid took home the scoring title. As far as we're concerned, the Oilers rise to dominance is just getting started. Those loyal fans in Edmonton will be treated after a decade of misery.
7 Wrong: The Draft Lottery
You know, the worst team in the NHL used to win the draft lottery more often than not. The worst team would get nearly a 50 percent chance of winning it all, but the league decided to tweak up the draft lottery system a few years ago. It was an absolute disaster in 2017.
The New Jersey Devils had an 8.5 percent chance at winning the lottery -- and they did. The Philadelphia Flyers had a 2.4 percent chance at winning second. They did, even though they were closer to reaching the playoffs than finishing 24th in the NHL. Doesn't make a lot of sense.
The Dallas Stars had a 6.4 chance at landing the third overall selection, and they did. Meanwhile, the three worst teams -- Colorado, Vancouver and Arizona -- will pick fourth, fifth and seventh, respectively.
This entire draft lottery system was simply ridiculous and unfair to the worst of the worst teams, while mediocre clubs get the top selections!
6 Right: Maple Leafs Turn it Around
The Maple Leafs were less than two minutes away from reaching the second round of the playoffs in 2013. Then they fell apart in Game 7 against Boston. Toronto had a 2014 playoff berth locked up, until they lost 14 of their final 16 games to miss the postseason. They were off to a great start in 2014-15, but finished miserably in the second half to miss the playoffs. They decided to tear it all down and rebuild, and finished last in the NHL a year ago.
Even though they drafted world class star Auston Matthews first-overall last year, nobody on earth expected them to compete for a playoff spot. These young kids (Matthews, Marner, Nylander, Connor Brown and others), brought the long-suffering Toronto sports fans to their feet.
The Maple Leafs barely won the final playoff spot in the East, then pushed Washington to six games before narrowly being eliminated. Toronto fans were expecting a long-term rebuild, but making the playoffs in 2016 was only the start of what will be a great era under Matthews and Mike Babcock.
5 Wrong: Expensive Free Agent Signings
Some of the top free agent signings of the 2016 offseason worked out. Milan Lucic, David Backes, Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Eric Staal earned every penny of their respective deals. But some of the other marquee free agent signings turned out to be massive disappointments in their first years on their new teams.
The New York Islanders signed Andrew Ladd to a seven-year deal worth $38.5 million. He managed just 23 goals and 31 points -- his lowest point total in nine years. The Canucks signed Loui Eriksson to a six-year deal worth $36 million, and got just 11 goals and 24 points out of him.
The San Jose Sharks signed Mikkel Boedker to a four-year deal worth $16 million. He had just 10 goals and 26 points. Dan Hamhuis went to Dallas on a two-year contract worth $7 million, and he was often a healthy scratch. Florida also gave James Reimer a five-year contract worth $17 million. He went just 18-6-5 with a 2.53 goals against average.
Lesson to NHL general managers: Try to be a little more conservative this offseason when free agency begins.
4 Right: John Tortorella Resurges Career
John Tortorella appeared to be just about finished as an NHL head coach. His only year with the Vancouver Canucks in 2013-14 was a mega disaster, and he was fired just one season into a five-year pact. The Columbus Blue Jackets hired him out of desperation early last season. Many (including myself), didn't understand how he was kept on for this season.
Torts was also coach for Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey. They went winless in the tournament, and many thought it was time for the Jackets to move on from him.
But no sir. Tortortella led Columbus to 108 points -- fourth most in the NHL. This long-time losing Jackets team learned from Tortorella and had far-and-away their best season in franchise history. Tortorella should be a shoe-in for the Jack Adams Award. Amazing how a few short months can change things so quickly.
3 Wrong: Capitals Blow It Again
The Capitals won the Presidents' Trophy in 2016, but fell to the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins. But many felt like this would be their year once and for all. They were my pick to win the Stanley Cup at the start of the season.
Washington won yet another Presidents' Trophy and looked poised to finally break through in the playoffs. That seemed especially true when they erased a 3-1 deficit from the Penguins in the second round to force Game 7.
But despite a dominant effort on home ice, the Caps were shut out by Pittsburgh. It was supposed to be Ovechkin's time. But once again, it turned out to be Sidney Crosby and company's time. At this point, it appears as though Washington blew their best chance at winning a championship in the Ovechkin era.
2 Right: Coaching Changes
The Senators hired Guy Boucher to replace Dave Cameron last spring. Ottawa finished second in the Atlantic and reached the Eastern Conference Final for the first time in 10 years -- a pretty impressive feat for a team that missed the playoffs last year.
The Minnesota Wild hired Bruce Boudreau, and he led the team to its best ever regular season: A 49-25-8 record and 106 points -- good for second in the Central Division. The struggling New York Islanders replaced Jack Capuano with Doug Weight, who went 24-12-4 in his first head coaching gig. The Isles fell just short of the playoffs.
The Anaheim Ducks brought back Randy Carlyle after firing Bruce Boudreau last year. The Ducks came within two games of reaching the Stanley Cup Final. The Calgary Flames fired Bob Hartley last year and replaced him with Glen Gulutzan -- who took his team right into the postseason.
St. Louis (Mike Yeo), Montreal (Claude Julien), and Boston (Bruce Cassidy) all brought new coaches in late during the regular season. All three of them made the playoffs.
It was a good year for the teams that chose to hire new bench bosses. They totally saw the results -- and positive ones at that.
1 Wrong: Officiating Mistakes
It used to be the NFL that was always getting heat for constant officiating errors. With the NHL recently implementing coach's challenges, there was hope that fewer mistakes would be made by the men in stripes. But unfortunately, the NHL playoffs were often overshadowed by the referees.
For starters, the Ducks' epic third period comeback against Edmonton in Game 5 shouldn't have happened. The referees missed clear goaltender interference on the play:
The Penguins got a crucial goal in the third period of Game 7 against Ottawa, because the referees bought Phil Kessel's theatrics well:
And oh, the referees made the worst call of the season that cost Nashville a possible Stanley Cup:
Credit to the Penguins on defending their Stanley Cup. But half the story will be how lucky they were from officiating mistakes like this. It was arguably the worst season ever for NHL officiating quality.
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