Another year, and another great Stanley Cup Playoffs has come and gone.
Another year, and for the second year in a row the Pittsburgh Penguins are the Stanley Cup Champions.
For the Penguins, it was a very similar story as well. Sidney Crosby won his second Playoff MVP award (the Conn Smyth Trophy) in a row, the Penguins captured the Cup on enemy soil in game 6, this year in Nashville and last year in San Jose, for the second year in a row. Last year they were forced to Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Tampa Bay Lightning. This year, the Ottawa Senators did the same. And before that? The Penguins went through the (this is our year, finally) Washington Capitals both times.
There were some differences however. This year stand out rookie from Omaha, Nebraska, Jake Guentzel lit up the score sheet at a record pace for an American rookie in the playoffs. This year the crease belonged to Marc-Andre Fluery after Matt Murray went down in the warm ups of Game 1 of their opening round series against the Blue Jackets, but it was Murray who took back over during the Conference Finals when he was healthy and Fluery stumbled. This year Crosby scored a goal in the Stanley Cup Final, something he hadn’t done since he first won the Cup in 2009. This year staring defenseman Kris Letang didn’t play a single game in the playoffs. But none of that matters now, now that they have won their 2nd Cup in the same amount of years. The Penguins are the first back to back Stanley Cup Champions since the Detroit Red Wings captured two in a row in 1997 and 1998. They are the true winners of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There are other winners that came out of the playoffs however. It can be hard to label yourself a “winner” if you don’t ultimately lift the Cup over your head at the end of it, but some teams should be excited about what they did and what the future may hold. For other teams, they don’t care about what happened anymore in these playoffs either, and they don’t want to look back on them.
Nashville Predators – It can be especially hard to label yourself a winner after the playoffs when you make it to the Stanley Cup Final and are two wins away, and lose. But even in that sentence you can break down some positives…it was the first time in Nashville’s history that they had even made it past the 2nd round, let alone the Final. They did so with relative ease as well, blowing through the Blackhawks in 4 games in round 1, then taking out the Blues and the Ducks after 6 games each in rounds 2 and 3. They went an outstanding 11-2 in Nashville and all the while they were a 16 seed, if you will, as they were they playoff team with the least amount of points to make it to the playoffs. Their teams was a joy to watch and they created hockey fans out of country music stars who probably couldn’t tell you what the difference between and icing and a intermission was before this postseason. Hold your heads high, Smashville.
Edmonton Oilers – The first playoff stint of Conner McDavid’s young career was a success. He helped his Oilers team reach the postseason for the first time since 2006 and Edmonton fans sure did appreciate it. The first round was quite the journey for the Oilers as they had the task of taking on the defending Western Conference Champions, San Jose Sharks. Minus one major hiccup, a 7-0 shellacking in San Jose, the Oilers proved to not only themselves but the hockey community that they could hang with playoff style hockey. After taking out the Sharks, they moved on to the Anaheim Ducks where they would be tested even more, and if not for a collapse at the end of game 5, it’s not hard to believe it would have been the Oilers moving on the to the Eastern Conference Finals instead of the Ducks. But, they would ultimately fall in Game 7. The only reason they should be kicking themselves though is if not for a few stumbles, the West was theirs for the taking. Instead, the lost at exactly the right time to prevent prolonged heartbreak and ‘what ifs.’
Toronto Maple Leafs – Yes, another Canadian team, but they had a lot to cheer about a year after zero teams north of the border got an invite to Lord Stanley’s Playoff Party. Plus, this was the team that just picked first in the 2016 NHL draft. They were not supposed to be here. Then, when Auston Matthews and his band of misfit rookies made the playoffs to face the Washington Capitals, they weren’t suppose to win a game. Well, after an overtime loss in game 1, the young Leafs took the next two games and had themselves a 2-1 lead in the series they weren’t supposed to win one game in. Plus, Leafs Nation had found this hidden gem in Dart Guy and there was no way they were going to lose again. But not even Dart Guy could help them inch their way through the Capitals and the Leafs would end up on the wrong side of a closer than anyone thought 4-2 series victory for the Caps. Even though that was the end of the Leafs first playoff run since 2013, it was not the end of the season for rookies Mitch Marner and William Nylander. The two would go on to play for their countries in the 2017 IIHF World Championship and meet in the Gold medal game, where Nylander and Team Sweden would win in a shootout. This Leafs team is going to be good, real good, and when they weren’t even suppose to be that good, they were good enough to make the playoffs and put a real scare in the heavily favored Capitals. Yikes.
BONUS NON PLAYOFF TEAM – Dallas Stars – How can a team that doesn’t make the playoffs be labeled a winner during the playoffs? Let me tell you how. First of all, they lost zero games…ok just kidding, but it’s true! A year after they were blown out of their own building in Game 7 of the second round by the Blues due to goalie issues, the Stars traded for the rights to goalie Ben Bishop during the playoffs. They then signed him to a 6 year, $29.5 million dollar contract. While that might sound like they just muddied the water a bit more, now with 3 goaltenders signed for this year taking up almost $15 million of their cap space, they have the opportunity to “ditch” one of their other two goalies (Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi) at the Vegas Expansion Draft. How? When the Stars traded forward Patrick Eaves to the Ducks, they were awarded a compensation pick, that pick turned into a 1st rounder after the Ducks made the Conference Finals. Now they own two first round draft picks and their other one turned into the 3rd overall pick after they won big at the Draft Lottery. They are now in a position where they can dump a contract, keep a 1st round pick, have their goalie they want, and still field a very solid team. Don’t be surprised if the Stars pull off a nice playoff run this coming year similar to the Predators.
Washington Capitals – It is really just getting too familiar for the Capitals. Every year they think it is their year, but in the end it is back to the drawing board. After they went down early in their 1st round series to the Leafs, the Capitals bounced back in a big way and really looked like they hit their stride and were ready to take on the Penguins. But they came out on home ice and lost their first two games to the Pens, and even though they came back and forced a Game 7, they probably shouldn’t have. In that Game 7, the Capitals couldn’t solve themselves or Marc-Andre Fleury and were shut out 2-0. After the game, there were interesting comments made by players talking about how they were already beat before the game and that they just can’t shake their playoff choking ways. Now, there’s talks of blowing up the team. Rumors of face of the franchise and super star winger Alex Ovechkin being traded swirled almost immediately. Another winger, TJ Oshie, is now a Unrestricted Free Agent and is due a big contract that the Capitals may not be able to afford. Also, the defenseman the Capitals desperately needed and signed at the trade deadline, Kevin Shattenkirk, didn’t play overly well in the playoffs and now may walk in Free Agency, after the Capitals gave up a 1st and 2nd round pick for him. Now, currently with no draft picks in the first three rounds of this years draft, and nothing but sadness in their bellies, the Capitals are in for another long off season.
Minnesota Wild – Hard to believe, and remember, that this Wild team won 12 straight games in the regular season, and then won a total of 1 in the playoffs. The Wild just couldn’t find their way in the postseason, or leading up to the postseason as they went 7-13 in their final 20 games, and it lead to a disappointing exit after there was so much hype and hope throughout the winter. To make matters worse, they traded their 1st round pick and next years 2nd round pick to the Arizona Coyotes at the trade deadline for rental centermen Martin Hanzal (who did not look very good in a Wild uniform). Now without those picks, and this years 2nd round pick as well, the Wild are stuck with a aging veteran core, Hanzal who will either walk or will need a new deal, and a shortage of draft picks. The Wild are also at risk of losing a valuable asset during the Expansion Draft. Not good things for a team that tried to go all in this year and got burned.
Anaheim Ducks – It’s hard to call the Ducks losers of these playoffs because they actually did quite a few things right. For starters, they finally won that Game 7, at home, that they just could not do in the past. They swept the Calgary Flames in the first round, even though it was a lot closer then it seemed on paper, and they were only 2 wins away from the Stanley Cup Final. But for a Ducks team that has been Pacific Division Champions in the regular season for 5 straight years; with their top guns getting older, this was a missed opportunity. Ryan Getzlaf was very good in these playoffs but his side kick Corey Perry was not when he wasn’t on a line with Getz. That proves that these Ducks are a deep team, but like many this off season, that isn’t necessarily a good thing with the Expansion Draft looming and it is possible the Ducks lose a valuable player for either nothing or at a costly price via trade with the Knights or another team. They also lost their 1st round pick when they traded the Stars for Patrick Eaves, who was a solid performer for the Ducks until he got hurt in the playoffs, but now they face a future with no Eaves and no first round pick. That on top of what may happen at the Expansion Draft, plus no Cup or Stanley Cup Final appearance, isn’t what the Ducks had in mind.
BONUS NON PLAYOFF TEAM – Colorado Avalanche – Have you ever heard that saying, “Don’t kick someone when they’re down?” Well, Avalanche fans have for sure after the season of misery they had. They were really, really bad in the regular season, the worst since the shootout was brought into the league in 2000, so it’s almost cheating and mean to put them here like this. It’s just not funny anymore….but during the playoffs when they should’ve been putting this awful season behind them, things got even worse. For a
bad terrible team, the future usually gets brighter, almost instantly once the playoffs begin; you’re not losing anymore, everyone forgets about how bad your games were and can focus on playoff hockey, you get the best chance at the first pick in the upcoming draft, etc. Well, that wasn’t exactly the case for the Avalanche. When the Draft Lottery rolled around, they watched as they fell to 4th overall…in a Draft that isn’t overly deep and the top 3 is where you wanna be. Then, if that wasn’t enough, their star defenseman Tyson Barrie went on to play for Team Canada in the 2017 IIHF World Championship after seasons end, and he injured himself while wrestling with a teammate in a hotel room. Seriously. Hopefully there is no where to go but up for the Avalanche and their fans after their terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year.