A memorable season

June 22, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Jasen Obermeyer

With the National Hockey League season finally over, it’s time to look back at this very entertaining and surprising NHL season, really the season of the underdogs.

Yes, the dominant team, Pittsburgh Penguins, the defending Stanley Cup champions, was able to claim the Cup again (though the only team to do so in 20 years), but this season saw younger teams rise up to the challenge, many Davids beating Goliaths.

Let’s start with the bad, get that out of the way. In the Eastern Conference, the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 years. They finished 15th in their conference, barely ahead of the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils.

In the Western Conference, the Vancouver Canucks finished second last, this from a team that for a few years was able to penetrate deep in the playoffs. The Los Angeles Kings finished eight points out of the last wild-card spot, firing head coach Darryl Sutter and GM Dean Lombardi, leaders during the Kings’ two Stanley cup victories in three years.

Let’s move to the good, (there was a lot more of that this season), which trickled down from the teams to the individual players.

Firstly, five Canadian teams made the playoffs, which was much better than last year, when none of them made it.

In the Eastern Conference, the Columbus Blue Jackets set numerous franchise records. One of those records was their 16-game winning streak, from November 29 to January 3, the secondlongest the league has seen. They went undefeated in December, and by the end of the season posted a franchise record 50 wins and 108 points, 32 points better than their last season. They finished third overall in their conference, but were defeated in the first round of the playoffs by the Penguins.

Of course, the most surprising club was the Toronto Maple Leafs. Snatching the last wild-card spot, the Leafs finally made the playoffs for the first time in a full season since the 2004-05 lockout. Auston Matthews, the first overall draft pick, led the team in scoring and points, starting his NHL career with a record four goals in his first game.

Other rookies, like Mitch Marner and William Nylander, both set numerous team rookie stats. Though the team lost to the first-place Washington Capitals in six games, all were decided by one goal, five of those going into overtime. The season for the Leafs was a sign of good things to come.

Over to the West, you had the Edmonton Oilers making the playoffs for the time in 11 years, with Connor McDavid in his first full season winning the Art Ross Trophy, leading the league in scoring with 100 points (the only payer to reach 100 points this season). Though the Oilers lost to Anaheim in the second round of the playoffs, they were like the Leafs, this season giving a glimpse that they will be Stanley Cup contenders for some time.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was the Nashville Predators. You think of Nashville, you think Country Music and rural farm area, too warm for hockey. But that’s not true. The Predators, for the first time in franchise history, made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. Along the way they shut out the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, the first time in league history an 8th-seeded team swept the top-seeded. I mean; it’s the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that won three Cups in six years, a modern day dynasty.

The Predators then beat the St. Louis Blues in six games in the second round, taking down a team that have been Cup contenders for some time, and here the Preds showed like they’d been doing it forever. After that, they edged out Anaheim in seven games to face off against the Penguins.

Although Predators goalie Pekka Rinne posted numerous shutouts and a very impressive save percentage during the run, he and the team struggled against the Pens, eventually loosing to the defending Staley Cup champs in six games. David finally succumbed to Goliath’s strength, but certainly put up a fight.

If the Predators, the lowest-placing team, had been able to beat the Pens, one of the top-seeded teams, and lift the Cup, the season wouldn’t have been much better, because the Davids were able to pull off impressive records and turn-arounds this season, and penetrate deep in the playoffs, almost putting these veteran teams to shame.

This season was certainly enjoyable, fresh young talent playing like they’re veterans, the dominant teams falling aside. Who knows what next season will have to offer, but it will certainly be entertaining and competitive.

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