2018-19 NHL Season Recap – Part 1 – St Louis Blues Stanley Cup Champions and Awards
I was not a huge fan of the 2019 NHL playoffs. There were too many upsets, too many match-ups I didn’t get to see (I realize those things happen) and more importantly way too many missed calls that affected the outcome of games/series. This brings me to the Stanley Cup Champion St Louis Blues. In my mind there will always be a giant asterisk next to their name.
There’s no way to know if the Blues would have beaten the Golden Knights in a conference final. The team that should have beaten the Sharks in the first round because the NHL admitted they got the penalty call wrong. The Blues may not have even made it to the Stanley Cup. Then we don’t know if they really even won Game 5 against Boston. What turned out to be the game winning goal should not have counted. The NHL deemed it a judgement call. Right. Well my judgement says your judgement sucks NHL. The guy that was hit illegally on the penalty you didn’t call left the game and went into the concussion protocol. It should have been a power play for the Bruins. The Bruins didn’t play great in the game but who knows what would have happened. Maybe they score on that power play and change momentum. Maybe they don’t and they score that later goal like they did and they win it in overtime. Maybe they then win it all in Game 6. Maybe the Bruins win Game 5 and Blues and Binnington rebound, like he does so well, in Game 6 and the Bruins beat the Blues in Game 7 instead because Binnington isn’t in a rebound game. We will never know. We should know but we will never know.
I don’t think a team that was in last place, has no stars and is boring to watch and wins it all is a great ending for the NHL. We’ll always remember the back to back Stanley Cups by the Penguins, the year Alex Ovechkin finally won it all but nobody will remember this team winning it, except for the people in St. Louis. It’ll be like the Hurricanes winning it all in 2006. All we will remember will be the terrible officiating. To further prove the NHL can’t get anything right, Ryan O’Reilly was named Conn Smythe winner. Really? Jordan Binnington is the only reason the Blues made the playoffs, besides coach Craig Berube, and he is the only reason they won the Stanley Cup. He should win every award there is. O’Reilly did score five goals against the Bruins but he only scored one against the Sharks and Stars. Not to mention there’s no way the Blues win it all with Jake Allen as their starting goalie. Like go ahead and try that. Ryan O’Reilly, give me a break. If I had to grade the NHL this season, they would get a big fat F. I know the media votes for the Conn Smythe winner, they deserve an F too.
I will not be bias with the rest of the column but you can tell I’m really glad this season is finally over.
The 2018-19 Stanley Cup Champions
St. Louis Blues
The expectations for the Blues coming into the season were very low. They didn’t make the playoffs the previous season and they weren’t really expected to this season. Their pitiful start pretty much confirmed they weren’t a playoff team. And Jake Allen played like Jake Allen. They officially bottomed out on January 2nd when they were in last place in the NHL. Things looked bleak to say the least.
Prior to bottoming out, the Blues fired coach Mike Yeo in late November and replaced him with Craig Berube. Berube was the Blues assistant coach and was briefly the coach of the Blues AFL affiliate. Initially, the coaching change didn’t help. At that time I wrote I don’t see why it would make any difference. The problem was talent and they didn’t have much of it. But the change would surprisingly help turn everything around in a major way. Besides Berube, the biggest catalyst for their turnaround was Jordan Binnington. He was called up to the NHL in December but he wouldn’t make his first start until January 7th. Fittingly, his first start ended up being a shutout of all things. A foreshadowing of what was to come. Although he didn’t win any trophies this season, Binnington did win Rookie of the Month in February and March.
Buoyed by Binnington and Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues ended up the hottest team in the second half of the season. They racked up 70 points in the second half, including a 11 game winning streak. Tarasenko has his own 12 game point scoring streak, racking up 22 points during the run. The Blues came within one win of winning the division. A remarkable turnaround made even more remarkable because the Blues made no major trades all season. They only made changes from within.
The Blues opened up their playoff run against the Winnipeg Jets who made the Conference Finals last season and were hoping to build on it. But you kind of got the feeling that wasn’t going to happen when they sputtered down the stretch and were unable to win just one more game to win the division. They just barely hung on to the second seed. In hindsight, it may have been better for the Jets to have sunk to the third seed as the Blues proved to be a much better road team than home team during these playoffs. The Blues won all their road games in this series but lost two of three home games. The Jets at times look good but except for Game 3, they mostly looked lost against Binnington. Fittingly, the two hotter central division teams took out the higher seeded yet colder teams.
In the second round, the Blues faced the Stars in one of the better series of the playoffs. Every game was close except for Game 6. The Blues looked like they were done after Game 5. But like so many other teams have done after winning Game 5, the Stars failed to show up in the next two games and the Blues made them pay for it. Game 7 was an overtime classic that we’ll get into in more detail later. The Blues took advantage of the Stars many bad decisions and dominated the shot count. Binnington didn’t look that great at times in this game but his teammates bailed him out for once.
In the conference finals the Blues faced the San Jose Sharks. At this point the Sharks were pretty beaten up and just skating by on luck. Something that carried over into this series when they won in overtime on a pretty badly missed hand pass goal to take a 2-1 series lead. The Blues were rightfully pissed but they only turned that into motivation because they did not lose again in this series after this. They even crushed the Sharks in Game 5 and 6. Tarasenko got into a groove in this series. Scoring in all the games and starting his eight game point scoring streak.
Fittingly, the Stanley Cup Finals pitted the team with the longest winning streak this season, the Blues, versus the team with the longest point streak this season, the Bruins. Simply put, it paid to be hot this season.
This series was a bit odd because the three Bruins losses were very close but the three Bruins wins were by a large margin. Naturally, you would think that would give the Bruins an advantage because they were the better team overall. But the Bruins losing Game 5 messed up the pattern of alternating wins. The Bruins had been winning the odd games and then losing the even games because of the Binnington rebound effect. But they didn’t play well in Game 5 and then they got screwed by the missed penalty call. In Game 7, the Bruins played better but Binnington stopped everything. Most of the saves weren’t spectacular but his was sharp. This coupled with Marchand’s terrible change with a few seconds to go in the first period (Seriously, why are you even changing? There’s seven seconds left. Suck it up.) swung momentum and doomed the Bruins.
Ryan O’Reilly played strong in this series and scored a point in every game but Game 1. He also scored five goals in the last four games. And because people only remember what you’ve done lately, he won the Conn Smythe for those goals and for finishing tied for first in playoff points. Even though only one of those was a game winning goal.
The Blues winning the Stanley Cup is strange because the Stars and Bruins have way more star power. But they all failed to show up in their respective Game 7’s. Even stranger about their win is all season long the NHL was dominated by trios of high scorers on a team. The Blues did not possess anyone even close to being on that list. They only had one player with over 30 goals (Tarasenko) and only one player with over 70 points (O’Reilly). I don’t want to take anything away from their win though. They beat four really good teams that were arguably more talented than them. Their run also showed that defense and more importantly goaltending still wins championships.
I do not expect a repeat from the Blues. This is partially due to it being such a unique run but also because the Central Division will be extremely difficult next season and most goalies suffer through a sophomore slump. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Blues ended up fifth in the division and a wild card. More importantly, don’t confuse being lucky with being good. The Blues got lucky.
The Binnington Award
Jordan Binnington – St. Louis Blues
I’m giving him his own award because he could technically win rookie of the year, best goalie and MVP but that just wouldn’t be fair. It would also give me a lot less to write about. He gets his own award because he was just that awesome this season, even if it was for only 30 games in the regular season. Goalie is the hardest position for a rookie to play and he led the NHL in GAA and he was tied for fourth in SV%. He had five shutouts which probably would have doubled to nine or ten and the NHL lead if he had played the full season. And then there was his amazing playoff run. Simply put, it’s hard to do much better than Binnington did in his rookie season even if nobody in the media thought so.
Breakout of the Year
Alex DeBrincat and Jake Guentzel – Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins
I’ll cope to a tie here. Both DeBrincat and Guentzel had decent seasons rookie seasons (I’m not counting Guentzel’s half season) but in their second full season they really broke out. Guentzel increased his point production by 28 points and he hit the 40 goal mark for the first time. Of course playing with Sidney Crosby will do that but it’s not always easy to develop chemistry with a superstar. Guentzel net-front presence was also tremendous this season but he struggled in the playoffs like the rest of the Penguins. DeBrincat increased his point production by 24 points and he hit the 40 goal mark for the first time with 41 goals. It won’t be long until he becomes the Blackhawks top scoring threat. Not bad for a 5’ 7” player. But DeBrincat has yet to see the playoffs. Both had 76 points this season and there’s a good chance they’ll get close to 100 next season.
Rookie of the Year
Elias Pettersson – Vancouver Canucks
Pettersson helped breath new life into the Canucks. He led all rookies in goals, assists, points and game winning goals. He even made the Canucks into a playoff contender. Pettersson was drafted 5th in the 2017 NHL draft behind top picks Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick. Unlike them, Pettersson didn’t go right into the NHL. He played a year in the Swedish Hockey League where he was named Rookie of the Year and Forward of the Year. It probably helped contribute to him producing better numbers in his rookie season than both Hischier and Patrick. Pettersson has a unique blend of size, speed and shooting accuracy. The sky’s the limit for him.
Goalie of the Year
Ben Bishop – Dallas Stars
This was as tough as it’s ever been. It was a banner year for great goaltending. My finalists would have been Jordan Binnington, Ben Bishop, Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss. Binnington only played 30 games and I already gave him his own award. Lehner and Griess were amazing but since they had basically the same season on the same team, they cancel each other out. That leaves us with Bishop. But he just easily could have won it on his own merits. In his first season with the Stars, he lowered their GAA by 38 goals. In his second season with the Stars, Bishop was first in the NHL in SV% this season and second, behind only Binnington, in GAA and third in shutouts. He also set his own career bests in GAA, SV% and shutouts. He arguably got even better in the playoffs. And you only need to watch Game 7 against the Blues to see how spectacular he was this season.
Nikita Kucherov – Tampa Bay Lightning
It’s hard to understate what Kucherov did this season. He put up 128 points which is simply unheard of in this day in age of outstanding goaltending. He was the first o crack 120 since Sidney Crosby in 2006-07. He set personal bests in goals, game winning goals, assists and points. His assists total was more than most player had points. In fact, only 17 other players had more points than he had assists this season. He had 38 multi-point games, tied for 53rd overall in a single season. It’s better than it sounds because if you remove Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, he jumps up about 20 spots. The last three seasons he increased his point total 19, 15 and 28 points respectively. It’s hard to imagine him going up another 15 to 25 points next season but it’s certainly in the realm of possibility.
Most Value Player to his Team
Johnny Gaudreau – Calgary Flames
I always say the best player and most valuable player (MVP) to his team aren’t necessarily the same. Last year both happened to be Taylor Hall. This season it wasn’t the same. The Lightning would have been just fine without Kucherov. Gaudreau, on the other hand, is the little engine that makes the Flames go. And boy did he make them go. The Flames notched their first 100 point season in 13 years. They also scored the second most goals in the NHL this season and he was the catalyst. He had eight game winning goals and most of his goals made the weekly highlight reel too. As we saw in the playoffs, when you take him out of the equation the Flames aren’t much of team. He set career highs in goals, assists, points and game winning goals and he finished just shy of a 100 points. Like Kucherov, he increased his point production by 23 and 15 points respectively the last two seasons. Somehow I feel the best is yet to come. Not to shabby for a fourth round pick either.http://hockeyrecaps.us/2019/07/07/2018-19-nhl-season-recap-part-1-st-louis-blues-stanley-cup-champions-and-awards/2018-19 NHL Season Recap – Part 1 – St Louis Blues Stanley Cup Champions and Awardshttp://hockeyrecaps.us/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/2018-19-Stanley-Cup-Champions-St-Louis-Blues-1024x576.jpghttp://hockeyrecaps.us/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/2018-19-Stanley-Cup-Champions-St-Louis-Blues-300x300.jpgSeason RecapsAlex DeBrincat,Alex Ovechkin,Ben Bishop,Calgary Flames,Chicago Blackhawks,Dallas Stars,Elias Pettersson,Jake Allen,Jake Guentzel,Johnny Gaudreau,Jordan Binnington,Mario Lemieux,Nico Hischier,Nikita Kucherov,Nolan Patrick,Pittsburgh Penguins,Ryan O'Reilly,San Jose Sharks,Sidney Crosby,St Louis Blues,Stanley Cup,Tampa Bay Lightning,Taylor Hall,Vancouver Canucks,Vladimir Tarasenko,Wayne Gretzky,Winnipeg Jets