2015-16 NHL Season Recap – Part 3
Best of the Year
Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino – Pittsburgh Penguins
Through three trades during last off season and this season, the Penguins put together their best line. It’s hard for anyone to envision a team’s best line would ever consist of players who weren’t even on the team the season before but that is what ended up happening here. Kessel came with Tyler Biggs, Tim Erixon and a 2nd round pick. The Penguins gave up Scott Harrington, Kasperi Kapanen, Nick Spaling and a 1st and 3rd round pick. So the Penguins didn’t give up much to get Kessel. Bonino came over from that awful trade the Canucks made, which was discussed in part 2 of the season review. Hagelin was not fitting in with the Anaheim Ducks halfway through his first season there. Mostly because the Ducks know nothing about line combinations. The Penguins gave up David Perron and Adam Clendening (acquired in the Bonino trade) to acquire him. Two players who, not surprisingly, aren’t even on the Ducks anymore. It’s not hard to see why GM Jim Rutherford was named general manger of the year with these moves. Kudos to him for a job really well done.
Martin Jones – San Jose Sharks
This is one of those trades where you just hope for the best. The Sharks haven’t had the best luck with goalies. Evgeni Nabokov was great in the regular season but faded in the playoffs. Antti Niemi was acquired for that very reason, since he proved he could deliver in the playoffs with a Stanley Cup to his name. But he managed to wilt in the playoffs too and progressively became worse each season. So out went Niemi and in came Jones. Jones was the primary backup in Los Angeles behind Quick but was dealt to Boston, where he would also have been a backup. The Sharks knew they could get a backup goalie, if the price was right. They traded Sean Kuraly and a 1st round pick to get him. It was hard to tell what you were getting in Jones, even though he played really well in Los Angeles. The Kings have a top defense and former backup Ben Scrivens also played well in relief but not so well when thrust into a number one position on an inferior team. Although that wasn’t all his fault. But the gambled more than paid off for the Sharks. Who now have their number one goalie and one that can preform in the playoffs.
Florida vs. N.Y Islanders
This series was so good you never wanted it to end. In fact, pretty much every series the Islanders have been in that last two playoffs has been great. But they have only won one of them and this was the one. Five of the six games, in the series, were one goals games and three of those went into overtime. But the best part of the series was the way it ended. Back to back nail biting double overtimes both times won by the Islanders. The goaltending of Thomas Greiss, who filled in for Jaroslav Halak, and Roberto Luongo was superb throughout, as were the hitting and scoring chances. John Tavares was money in the series and added to his lore by scoring two late goals in the Game 6 double overtime clincher. Can we have an encore next year?
Pittsburgh vs. Tampa Bay
I decided to go with two series. As this was a close second. Just like the Islanders, pretty much all the series the Lightning have been in lately are entertaining to watch. Except for Game 6, this was a really entertaining series to watch. This was the only the series in the Eastern Conference to go to seven games. The score of the games were generally really close. Each team rarely had more than a two goal lead. Two of the games went into overtime. Momentum shifts were frequent in the series and in each game. So you never really knew what you were getting until you watched each game. The only downside was the way it ended. The first four games were split. With each team winning one tight game and one two goal game. Game 5 was a barnburner with the winner likely having the upper hand. The Lightning prevailed in overtime after coming from behind and seemed likely to wrap up the series going home. But they laid an egg at home in Game 6. While it was unlikely they could have beat the Penguins in three straight games, their performance was troublesome and you worried about momentum going into Game 7. Game 7 was close but you could tell the Lightning didn’t have much of a choice. Although if it wasn’t for Bryan Rust, the Lightning probably would have won the game and advanced to the Stanley Cup.
Best Game 7
St. Louis vs. Chicago
This one was a dandy of a Game 7. You had one team trying to repeat as Stanley Cup champions and another team trying to beat their rivals and finally advance further than usual, as of late. Throughout the whole game you could feel and cut the tension with a knife. Former Blackhawk Troy Brouwer scored the game winning goal for the Blues, to add to the intrigue. The Blackhawks had a few chances to tie but always came up just a bit short. Brent Seabrook’s double post shot was most notable. But the fact that it was a one goal game brought the suspense all the way to the end. It was really all you could hope for.
Team on the Rise
Every year I’ve put a team here they don’t make the playoffs the next season. So I guess I’ll jinx the…
The Flyers are one of those teams that looked like they had no idea what they were doing during the last decade. Every time they would take one step forward they would move two step backs with some truly baffling trades. But they are starting to have a nice nucleus of players. Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek are now joined by the developing Brayden Schenn and Shayne Gostisbehere. Sean Couturier has seemingly been stuck in neutral the last few season but he did miss twenty games this past season. Par for the course with Flyers teams is the prevailing goalie issue. Steve Mason will probably never be the same again after his last playoff performance. This opens up the door for Michal Neuvirth to try and be the top goalie again for the first time since 2011. How well he does with that opportunity will determine if the Flyers can make the playoffs again. If not, the Flyers will need to find another goalie so that this core can continue to grow and rise.
It wasn’t so much that the Panthers made the playoffs, I could have seen them sneaking in as one of the wildcards, but it’s that they won their division and came together as a team so fast. Unlike the last time they rebuilt, with discarded B level veterans, they actually did it the proper way this time. The Panthers drafted well and now have a nice young core of Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau to last for years. But they smartly paired them with veterans Jaromir Jagr, Roberto Luongo and Keith Yandle, he was just added. I’ll admit I also didn’t think Luongo had much left in the tank. The 1st round playoff loss is common for a young team and it’s something to build on for the future. They still need to work on their powerplay and penalty kill but they should be perennial playoff contenders moving forward.
Ageless Wonder Award
Jaromir Jagr – Florida Panthers
Speaking of Jagr, one can’t help but marvel at all that he has accomplished in his NHL career. He just notched his 200th and 201st point in the playoffs. He is 5th all time in NHL playoff scoring. Jagr moved into 3rd all time in NHL regular season scoring. He should pass Mark Messier for 2nd all time in, what will more than likely be, his final season. Jagr isn’t quite a point per game player anymore but he isn’t far off. Of course the big if everyone always brings up is, What if he never went to the KHL? He was only there for three seasons. And at his scoring pace he was on, he probably would have amassed another 200 to 250 points. Since he’s passing Messier regardless, those points would only be needed to pass Gretzky. But even with those points, he’d be at about 2100. He’s not getting 750 points in the reminder of his career to catch Gretzky. So the debate is kind of a moot point. But let’s all marvel at his upcoming final season.
3 on 3 All-Star Game
The implementation of the 3 on 3 format was one of the best ideas the NHL has had in a long time. For the overtime period, I still would have preferred the AHL way of a few minutes of 4 on 4 and then a few minutes of 3 on 3. But the players didn’t want to play a couple of extra minutes of overtime every now and then. Because god forbid. But for the All-Star game, this format was golden. I’ve only watched a few All-Star games, and never the whole game, mostly because the games look like glorified exhibition games. They games were generally lopsided, nobody played defense and the offense wasn’t as fun to watch as it should have been. The arrival of 3 on 3 breathed new life into the game. The lure of winning money probably helped too. But the teams were more even, they actually played defense and the offense was fun to watch as well. It did seem to drag a bit with three games, even if they were only one period a piece. I kind of wish there wasn’t a break between the first two games but they need that Zamboni time. The whole John Scott thing marred this game a bit but next year history, hopefully, won’t repeat itself. But here’s looking forward to next year’s all star game.
Author: Alex Mueller
Alex Mueller graduated from Temple University with a minor in journalism over a decade ago. He’s been writing about NHL hockey, on and off, since the Fall of 2009. He’s written for Pucking Awesome, the Checking Line and now Hockey Recaps. He played goalie at San Diego Ice Arena. His first novel, Bobby Sterling vs Truth, is available on Amazon now.