2017-18 NHL Season Recap – Part 2 – Best of the Season
Best of the Year
Evander Kane – San Jose Sharks
I was skeptical about this trade at first because of Kane’s checkered past and the fact that the Sharks may have given up a first round pick for him. It won’t only turn out to be worth it if he really fit in and delivered. And boy did he ever. He scored nine goals in 17 games with the Sharks. In a full season that would have led to over 40 goals. In the playoffs, he scored another four goals in nine games. He fits in real well on the Sharks because there is so much talent on the team he doesn’t have the burden of having to deliver every night. He then resigned with the Sharks for seven years. At only 26, he is just entering his prime.
Washington Capitals vs Columbus Blue Jackets
To be honest, most of the series this playoffs were pretty awful. This was a little surprising considering how great and close the regular season was. Most series featured some brutally lopsided games. But this series was definitely the closest and most entertaining. Featuring the road team winning five games, including the first four, and four overtime games, it didn’t lack for drama. Game 3 was the most dramatic and the turning point because if the Capitals had lost it in double overtime, the series would have been all but over. The non overtime games weren’t as close but they were watchable. Ovechkin started his playoff scoring off hot, scoring five goals in this series. Evgeny Kuznetsov added four goals. This series also launched the Capitals Stanley Cup run after you thought they’d just lose in the first round.
Best Game 7
Boston Bruins vs Toronto Maple Leafs
These two teams seem to always put together playoff classics. The last time they met in a Game 7 was in 2013. The Maple Leafs had a 4-1 lead midway through the third period and it seemed likely they would win their first playoff series since 2004. But the Bruins had other ideas as they launched an epic comeback. History has a funny way of repeating itself and it did so here a few years later. The Maple Leafs once again had a 4-3 lead in the third period. Nowhere near the lead they had in 2004 but still where you want to be. But the Bruins quickly tied it in the beginning of the third period, only to take the lead a few minutes later and then score two more goals. You never want to give up four goals in the third period. You won’t win many games that way. But with the acquisition of John Tavares, it’s a safe bet the Maple Leafs will win a series next playoffs.
Team on the Rise
I feel like all I ever do is put the Flyers or Maple Leafs here. I’m going with the Flyers again as the Maple Leafs will be hard to beat next season. The Flyers have all the tools to take the next step. They have a great defenseman tandem in Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov. Up front they are loaded with Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds and Nolan Patrick. They only thing they are lacking is discipline and a goalie. You figure they will eventually play more disciplined. The goalie is something they have gotten right in decades. The Sergei Bobrovsky trade will forever haunt them. It’s possible either Michal Neuvirth or Brian Elliott will bounce back but they wouldn’t be the long term solution. If they can’t find a goalie in their system, they will need to make a trade for one.
Vegas Golden Knights
To say the Golden Knights were a surprising team would be an understatement. I thought they would be the best expansion team, because they had a lot of talent, but it seemed unlikely they would make the playoffs. But they broke record after record in their inaugural season. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons they were so successful.
Proven Goalie: It’s almost impossible that a team would have a number one goalie that is still in his prime, although exiting it soon, who has also won three Stanley Cups just handed to you. But that was literally the case as the Penguins gave them a pick to take Marc-André Fleury. The Penguins had two number one goalies and only one net. They couldn’t bare to trade a player who was so valuable to them and logic dictates you keep Matt Murray who is hot and a decade younger. They got lucky here.
Guys that are proven scorers: Although they only had one player score over 30 goals on the team this season, they have three who have done so now in their career on their roster. That isn’t all that common either on most NHL teams that have been around a long time. For comparison sake, the Penguins currently have only four players on the roster that have done so in their career. I’m surprised James Neal wasn’t protected by the Predators but they had a lot of young talent so they get a pass. Then the Golden Knights also picked up Jonathan Marchessault from the Panthers. The fact that he wasn’t protected makes no sense to me. A guy entering his prime coming off his first 30 goal season is not somebody you don’t protect. The Knights jumped on this. The key to all this was William Karlsson though. Somebody really dropped the ball here. The Ducks obviously thought highly of him to draft him in the second round but only gave him 18 games in the NHL to prove himself before trading him. He ended up on the Blue Jackets who, if you know anything about them, they tend to misuse their talent. Not to mention John Tortorella is not all there sometimes.
No Expectations: Let’s face it, this is really key. It’s a lot easier to win games when nobody expects you too. You just go out and have fun. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the Oilers. They came within a game of the Conference Finals last season with minimal expectations. This year many, including me, picked them to possibly win it all. What did they do? They didn’t even make the playoffs. Now other factors were at play too but this contributed mightily. Also see the San Jose Sharks. They never made it to the finals as a higher seed and were labeled as chokers. They were up 3–0 in a series and lost. I mean come on. It wasn’t until they were a lower seed and everyone essentially gave up on them that they finally made it to the finals.
A coach with something to prove: Gerard Gallant was literally fired before entering the Panthers’ team plane to go home. There’s an image on the internet of him waiting around for a cab to get home. I believe the Panthers said he could have taken the plane home. Doesn’t matter. I’m sure Gallant, even if he says otherwise, is pissed that was the last image people had of him. And this was one season removed from him leading the Panthers to the division title.
I hate to bring this up here but it’s unfortunately important. One thing you need when you have a team of players who don’t know each other is something to bring them together. The tragic shooting in Vegas was just that. It happened during the preseason. It forced the players to bond with each other and the community. There are even articles stating that this was a big reason they became so close. In their first home game, they honored the fallen and first responders. This is a classy move but I have a feeling a lot of people who wouldn’t have paid attention to the team or went to the game did so because of this. For many, this was probably their first exposure to hockey and since it was their first pro team in the city they latched on to it. Plus the fact that they won and kept winning helped. We all want to be a part of something that feels good after a tragedy.
The biggest factors for the Golden Knights winning were a bunch of random events that will more than likely never happen all at the same time again. This team was an anomaly.
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.