Part 1: Stanley Cup Winner Recap and NHL Awards
Part 2: Best of the Year
Part 3: Worst of the Year

The 2019-20 Stanley Cup Champions

Tampa Bay Lightning

It started with a hat. After suffering one of, if not the most, embarrassing playoff sweeps in NHL history, coach John Cooper bought a Virginia Cavaliers hat. The Cavaliers lost in the first round of March Madness as a top seed and won it all the following season. Cooper thought if they could do it, why not us? Why not indeed. Nikita Kucherov had no idea who they were, but it didn’t matter. It was hope. And that’s what they needed. Having been tantalizingly close the last few years, they could come up just short yet again or finally breakthrough. And what better time to do it than in a bubble.

The Lightning had no significant losses or acquisitions besides J.T. Miller leaving. They had a decent regular season but not as good as the previous season. I’m more impressed they were able to play even this well after what transpired. But they did start understandably slow. They got hot at the start of 2020 before faltering down the stretch. The season saw the Lightning lead the NHL in goals scored for the third season in a row. Steven Stamkos hit 400 career goals, 150 power-play goals, and 800 career points. Then he had surgery right before the season abruptly ended in March and was done.

Nobody knew if and when the NHL would return after COVID and in what form. The NHL decided to return in August with round-robin seeding games for the four top seeds and a qualifying tournament for the rest of the teams. The Lighting won their first two round-robin games before losing to the Flyers in the final game. They ended up with the second seed.

They fittingly opened up their traditional playoff run against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team that humiliated them last playoffs. They played a thrilling five-overtime classic in Game 1. It was the fourth-longest game in NHL history. The Lightning were able to escape with an important win. It’s safe to say if they lost that game, they probably would not have recovered. Even though they won the series 4-1, every game was close, and a lone goal decided all but one game. The hope had now become confidence.

In the second round, the Lightning faced their arch-nemesis, the Boston Bruins. The first two games were tight, and each team won one. But the Lightning creamed the Bruins in Game 3 and never lost again. Game 5 was close, but the Lightning persevered in overtime again. One of the teams that suffered the most in the bubble were the Bruins. If they had met in the second round without the COVID break, the series probably would have been different. However, it seemed to be the Lightning’s year, so it may not have mattered.

In the Conference Finals, the Lightning faced the New York Islanders. The Lightning were making their fourth appearance in the Conference Finals in the last six years. The Islanders had excelled at playing in the bubble, but that was in Toronto. The Conference Finals shifted to Edmonton, and the Islanders weren’t the same. The Lightning clobbered the Islanders in Game 1. The Islanders rebounded in Game 2 but lost before winning in Game 3. The Lightning won again in Game 4 before playing a double-overtime Game 5 that they lost, and a single overtime Game 6 they won to win the series.

The Stanley Cup Finals set up arguably the most talented and inconsistent team in the Dallas Stars against a Lightning team that used to be the most talented team but now was only trying to redeem themselves. The Stars won fairly convincingly in Game 1, and it looked like they might run away with it. But the Lightning opened up hot in Game 2 and held on for the win. They started hot again in Game 3 and were boosted by a Steven Stamkos cameo where he scored a goal before disappearing the rest of the series. The Lightning routed the Stars. Just like the Islanders series, we got an overtime Game 4 that they won and a double-overtime Game 5, which they lost—setting up a ho-hum Game 6. It felt like the Lightning were going to win the whole game, and they did.

This Stanley Cup will always be extra special for the Lightning. It was the culmination of so many seasons of work. It happened during a pandemic and right after being swept in the first round. They played in a whopping eight overtime games, going 6-2 in them. It’s pretty eerie they played in exactly two overtime games in each series. And it was always one single overtime and one multiple overtime game. They also did it without their so-called best player in Steven Stamkos. It’s fitting the Lightning finally won it when he wasn’t playing. I’ve stated many times he doesn’t add value to a team, and he doesn’t. Just being great isn’t enough. Certain great players make others better, like Lebron James, Michael Jordan, and Sidney Crosby. Others don’t, like James Harden, Bryce Harper, and Steven Stamkos. Yes, he did score a goal, but they were winning that game anyway. Here’s to the Lightning, who fought hard and never gave up.

Breakout of the Year

Tony DeAngelo – New York Rangers

DeAngelo hasn’t had a typical career. Drafted in 2014 by Lightning in the first round, he didn’t make his NHL debut until 2016 with the Coyotes. He only played in 39 games for them before being traded to the Rangers in 2017. He only played in 32 games that season and scored no goals. Sure he’s a defenseman but still. It wasn’t until the 2018-19 season that he finally played over 60 games and scored 30 points. In 2019-20, he had his breakout season. Playing in 68 games and scoring 53 points. He’s found a home in New York, and it’s a good thing because he has the quintessential New Yorker name. The Rangers rewarded him with a two year 9.6 million contract extension.

Rookies of the Year

Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar – Vancouver Canucks and Colorado Avalanche

It’s hard to imagine two rookies having as big of an impact as these two did. Both of them made their teams go. As good as they were in the regular season, they were even better in the playoffs. Hughes had 53 points in 68 games. Makar had 50 points in 57 games. Hughes had 16 points in 17 games in the playoffs. Makar had 15 points in 15 games in the playoffs. They aren’t slouches on defense either. You can count on them making a few key stops a game with their speed and wit. Considering they both played essentially their rookie seasons, it’s scary how good they will become.

Goalie of the Year

Connor Hellebuyck – Winnipeg Jets

Tuukka Rask was great for the Bruins, but it’s hard to ignore what Hellebuyck accomplished. He was on a vastly inferior team. He shouldered most of the workload while playing on a team that gave up the 7th most shots on goal. Despite that, he led the NHL in shutouts with six and had the 7th highest SV%. He tends to alternate between having an average and great season. Expect a down year this season. All in all, not bad for a fifth-round pick.

Best Player

Leon Draisaitl – Edmonton Oilers

It’s hard to put into words how dominate Leon Draisaitl has become ever since he broke out in the World Cup tournament. It’s also hard to imagine being the NHL’s leading scorer when you are teammates with your generation’s greatest player. But Draisaitl gives you a different dynamic than Connor McDavid and is exceptional in his own way. But there’s nothing like seeing the two skate together in a four on four overtime or in the closing minutes of a game with their goalie pulled. Although he didn’t crack 50 goals this season, he might have in 82 games. He did increase his point total by five points in 11 fewer games for 110. The sky is the limit for Draisaitl. Eventually, he’ll score over 120 points. But I think he and McDavid just want a Stanley Cup.

Most Valuable Player to his Team

Nathan MacKinnon – Colorado Avalanche

I often say the best player and the most valuable player aren’t the same things. You can make a strong case that if you took Leon Draisaitl off the Oilers, they wouldn’t be as good. But they would still have McDavid, and they also lost in the qualifying tournament with Draisaitl. It’s pretty safe to assume if you took MacKinnon off the Avalanche, they would be nowhere near as good. Considering there’s decent talent around him, that’s saying something. But you only had to watch him in the Dallas Stars series to see how valuable he is to the Avalanche. MacKinnon is the heart and soul of that team. Amazingly he has yet to score 100 points in a season. He will, just not in the upcoming shortened season. MuellerSeason RecapsBoston Bruins,Cale Makar,Colorado Avalanche,Columbus Blue Jackets,Connor Hellebuyck,Connor McDavid,Dallas Stars,Edmonton Oilers,Leon Draisaitl,Nathan MacKinnon,New York Islanders,New York Rangers,Nikita Kucherov,Quinn Hughes,Sidney Crosby,Stanley Cup,Steven Stamkos,Tampa Bay Lightning,Tony DeAngelo,Tuukka Rask,Vancouver Canucks,Winnipeg Jets
Part 1: Stanley Cup Winner Recap and NHL Awards Part 2: Best of the Year Part 3: Worst of the Year The 2019-20 Stanley Cup Champions Tampa Bay Lightning It started with a hat. After suffering one of, if not the most, embarrassing playoff sweeps in NHL history, coach John Cooper bought a Virginia...