2013-14 NHL Season Recap
The 2014 NHL season has one of the best postseasons in recent memory. We came as close as you possibly can to having the same final four as last year. Something I’m pretty sure hasn’t been done ever in the modern era. Looking back, this was one of the closest regular season and playoffs in some time, especially out West. Only a few points separated most teams out West and a majority of them probably could have won it all. This was also the first season with the new playoff seeding format. While for the most part it was a success it created some pretty uneventful play down the stretch. Most teams were either locked into a spot or would just flip flop home ice against the same opponent. It was nowhere near the same feel of a team going from like the 7th to the 3rd seed with just two wins. Overall it was a success though. My biggest fear is, more than likely, the matchups will be the same next year, especially out West. But that’s net season. Let’s recap this season.
The 2014 Stanley Cup Champions
Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings won their 2nd Stanley Cup in two seasons but it sure wasn’t easy. Just like the last time they won it, they had a so so season with ups and downs. But in 2012 they dominated the postseason, losing only four times along the way. This time around they made it almost as difficult as possible to win the Stanley Cup. They played the most amount of games of any Stanley Cup champion in history. They only needed two more games to play the max amount of games possible. The won three game sevens on the road, something that has never been done before. Although I thought the Ducks could beat them, and they almost did, after they pasted the Sharks in Game 4 and then Game 5 and then… you get the idea, it seemed like they had their championship swagger back and they were going to win it all again.
The Kings actually started the season hot but you wouldn’t know it as the Ducks and Sharks both started hotter (not to mention the Blackhawks and Blues). But the middle of the season they settled into the middle of the Conference standings, a place they were at even with their hot start. Dodger Stadium hosted the first outdoor hockey game in Southern California which ended up being a loss for the Kings against their crosstown rivals the Ducks. The Kings looked lethargic and just not ready for the occasion. By the end of the season, with the new playoff seeding format, the Kings were pretty much locked into the 3rd playoff seed in the Pacific Division. So needless to say their last few games were pretty pointless. The Kings ended the season giving up the fewest goals in the NHL but they also scored the fewest goals of any team in the playoffs. Something that usually doesn’t translate into much postseason success. But they scored the fewest goals of any team in the playoffs when they won the Stanley Cup the first time so it wasn’t something to worry about for them.
Things looked really bleak for the Kings in the 1st round against the San Jose Sharks. The Kings were demolished in San Jose in Games 1 and 2 by a score of 13-5. Jonathan Quick didn’t look himself and the Kings couldn’t generate any offense. But then things shifted back to Los Angeles and the Kings played a really solid game against the Sharks where they ended up losing in overtime. But they felt like they should have won that game. So despite being down 0-3 in the series, they were still very much in it. The Kings came back for a big win Game 4 that they mostly controlled. In Game 5 in San Jose the Kings shutout the Sharks and that’s when doubt probably crept into San Jose and it looked like the Kings would do it and complete the comeback. Games 6 and 7 weren’t very close and you wonder why the Sharks couldn’t muster much more of an effort after winning so big in Games 1 and 2.
The next series was against the Anaheim Ducks in a much anticipated and first matchup between Southern California teams in the playoffs. Game 1 was very entertaining and could have went either way. The Ducks probably should have won the game but the Kings forced overtime with the tying goal in the final seconds of the game. They were then able to win it in overtime. Games 2 and 4 weren’t really close and were won by the visiting team. Game 3 was close, which the Ducks won. The pivotal Game 5 was won by the Ducks at home, for the first home win of the series. The Ducks seemingly had the series in hand with two chances to wrap it up. The Ducks came very close in Game 6 but the Kings eked out the win for the series tie. That set up the all important Game 7 in Anaheim. Despite the Kings success in San Jose you had to give the Ducks the upper hand going into the game. How wrong you would be. The Kings pounced on the young inexperienced Duck players early and often, who just seemed slow to get to the loose puck. Before they knew what hit them, it was 3-0 Kings and you could tell that it was over. The likelihood of scoring four goals against Quick in a Game 7 was pretty slim.
Next was the highly anticipated Western Conference Finals rematch from a season ago between the last two teams to win the Stanley Cup. In other words, something you wouldn’t want to miss. I won’t go to much into detail in this series here because I talk about it a bit later on in the column. But suffice it to say this series had everything you could want in a series and then some. It will go down as one of the best series of all time. Los Angeles was able to get the advantage in this series because of their ability to shut down and frustrate Jonathan Toews.
Although nobody really gave the Rangers much of a shot and the series ended 4-1, it was really way closer than the series record dictated. Games 1, 2 and 5 were classic hockey games. All went into overtime and two of them went into double overtime. It’s a testament to the Rangers will since they didn’t have the overall depth, scoring power or defensive pairings that the Kings did. Basically the were outmatched in most aspects. Although the teams were even in the coaching and goaltending departments. But you knew the Rangers never really had a chance, even int eh games they went to overtime in, and the Kings made short work of them. The Kings had main players that played huge roles in winning their 2nd Stanley Cup. Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick, just to name a few. But Justin Williams was a great choice as he really delivered in key moments especially in Game 7’s and the Stanley Cup finals. The time when you really need someone to step up the most. It’s says a lot about someone when they have never lost a Game 7 in the career.
This Kings team wasn’t as dominate as the the 2012 Stanley Cup Winners but yet it was better. Going from scoring the least amount of goals to scoring the most amount of goals when it matters most takes a lot of skill not many teams have. The depth of the team was unmatched, as evident by the fact that Mike Richards was on the 4th line. Winning all of those Game 7’s on the road against arguably three of the top 10 teams in the league is not an easy task. Especially when two of those three weren’t even close. It’s unlikely you will ever see a run like the Kings just had again.
Biggest Surprises/Best of the Year
Colorado Avalanche – I’m not really that surprised because the Avalanche have the talent. But anytime you have a 63 point swing, that’s impressive. What impressed me more was the fast start and strong finish to the season for the Avs. Not only that, is was the first professional coaching season for Patrick Roy. Roy juggled a bunch of young green talent and got them to buy into a very selfless system. He also started the trend on pulling the goalie earlier. Which quite frankly makes you wonder why it took so longer to happen. They also squeezed out of Semyon Varlamov his best SV% ever and his second best GAA of his NHL career.
Marian Gaborik – Los Angeles Kings
Just like the last time the Kings won the cup, they traded for a veteran sniper who wasn’t fitting in on his current team to shore up their offensive needs. And just like last time, it paid off big time. The Kings gave up a 2nd and 3rd pick to the Kings and Matt Frattin for the eventual playoff leading goal scorer. While the picks or Frattin could end up being something, the team that gets them usually doesn’t end up getting the better end of the deal. Time will tell. Dean Lombardi should have won GM of the year not Bob Murray. Lombardi knows the pulse of his team well and it shows.
Los Angeles Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks
This series was a no brainer. If you didn’t like watching it, you don’t enjoy hockey and you never will. These two teams have been the best two teams over the past several years and ii showed. Last year, when they also met in the Conference Finals, the Kings didn’t put in their best efforts and were banged up, this year was a different story. In three of the first four games the Blackhawks didn’t play very well. But like any great contender they made adjustments. Unfortunately for them, it was too late. But four of the seven games, including the last three, were all one goal games. Two of which went into overtime. Game 5 was probably one of the greatest games ever played and was also the longest of the series with two overtimes.
Best Game 7
Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild
I’m not going to put the Blackhawks and Kings Game 7 here, since it won best series already, although it was the best Game 7. The Avalanche and Wild were probably the 2nd best series behind the Blackhawks and Kings. Which is surprising because I find the Wild to be a pretty boring team. Every other game in the series went into overtime, including Game 7. Because of the overall closeness of the series and the relative inexperience of the Avalanche you weren’t exactly sure who would win the series. You figured the Avalanche would since they were at home and the higher seed. But the Wild came back from four one goal deficits, including tying the game with under three minutes left in the 3rd. With about five minutes gone in overtime Nino Niederreiter scored his second of the game to cap a wild game and series.
Biggest Disappointments/Worst of the Year
New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs – What happened here? To make matters worse, I picked both of these teams in my “Teams on the Rise” section last year. So naturally neither team made the playoffs. Egg on my face. Toronto has a decent team and were hoping to build on their almost first playoff series win in some time. All the pieces were there but when you go 2-12 down the stretch, it’s hard for any team to make the playoffs. This epic fall falls on the coaching staff, which was surprisingly retained. If they had just gone 7-7 down the stretch they would have made the playoffs. Leading scorer Phil Kessel had only 7 points in those 14 games which isn’t good enough. Still they Maple Leafs have plenty to build on. James van Riemsdyk notched his first 30 goal season, Nazem Kadri continued to improve and Leafs have two good young goalies. They should rebound next season.
As for the Islanders… well I guess I shouldn’t have expected much, since they are the Islanders after all. But after making the postseason for the first time since 2007 and giving the Penguins a run for the money, you figured they would be destined for greater things. Evgeni Nabokov was basically a disappointment which isn’t really all that surprising and more importantly he’s not a good fit. But now he’s gone. John Tavares was injured, which clearly didn’t help, but at that point the Islanders were already done. Lubomir Visnovsky was also injured and Michael Grabner didn’t progress as expected. If Tavares can return healthy and take his game to the next level and new goalie Jarolsav Halak can come in and shut the door the Islanders have a chance to contend for a playoff spot. If not it will be another long season on the island.
Montreal Canadiens vs Tampa Bay Lightning
This was the only sweep in the playoffs which is one of the biggest reasons it got the nod. Game 1 one opened the playoffs and it was fantastic. But Game 2 was pretty much a dud. Games 3 and 4 were both closer but the Canadiens jumped out to 3-1 leads in both cases. Game 4 brought the drama especially with the Max Pacioretty goal in the final minute. But that ending showed you that the series could have been so much more and we were all shortchanged. The Lightning should be better next year especially if Ben Bishop can actually play.
Worst Game 7
Anaheim Ducks vs Los Angeles Kings
Where should I even begin? I turned it off when it was 3-0, because I was so upset, so I don’t really know how a lot of the game went. However it got worse before it got better, if you can even say that. Its just to lose that badly at home in a Game 7 is quite frankly inexcusable on so many levels. I don’t even care if you were playing the eventual Stanley Cup champion. You can tell how inexperienced the Ducks defense was as their gaffes led to the Kings jumping out to a big lead. Most of this loss falls squarely on the coaching staff. More on that in another section below…
Ryan Miller – St. Louis Blues
When this trade happened I wrote what a bad trade it was and would be. Most critics praised it, ironically the same ones that panned it after it didn’t work. Although I agve reasons why it wasn’t good back then, I’ll go over it again. The Blues have two very good goaltenders already in Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott. Granted they aren’t the top goalies in the league but they are a top 10 duo. Heck they won the Williams Jennings trophy as a duo a few seasons ago for having the lowest team GAA. My point is Ryan Miller wasn’t need, wasn’t an upgrade and it’s not like either of the goalies they had were the reason they lost in the playoffs last season. And that is really the key part in all of this and shows you that somebody in the Blues front office didn’t do their homework. When was the last time Miller was in the playoffs? 2011. That’s kind of a long time ago. Now lets look at his playoff record to that point: 25-22. Now, obviously, he wasn’t playing on the most skilled Sabres teams but it does beg the question, Has Ryan Miller ever single handily won a playoff series? No he has not. Ironically the man he was replacing, Halak, had done that as a member of the Montreal Canadiens when they famously upset the Washington Capitals a few season ago. Am I saying the Blues would have beaten the Blackhawks if Halak was there? No, but that Game 6 sure would have been closer.
Playoff Teams with Problems
A lot of things went right for the Ducks this season. They had the 3rd deepest team behind the Kings and Blackhawks. They scored the most goals in the league and they won the big stadium series game. However, they lost in the playoffs in the 2nd round in Game 7 at home after being up 3-2 in the series in disastrous fashion. Why is that important? It’s important because a coaches job is broken down into these main areas. Get the team to start out strong to avoid having to crawl out of a hole later, keep the stars and lines gelling with each other and make changes if they aren’t, finish the season strong so you have momentum going into the playoffs and get your team ready for game sevens. Notice that last one on the list? And what is the record of the man in charge, Bruce Boudreau, of that last part in Game sevens? 0-5. Yup, that’s awful. Chances are, until he goes, they will lose again in seven next year. I hope the Ducks wake up and realize that. Also the biggest blunder Boudreau made was not sticking with Jonas Hiller the whole way. He is the only goalie on that roster with any playoff experience. I don’t care if Josh Gibson won Game 4 for them, he was awful in Game 7 and shouldn’t have been in that situation to begin with. The Ducks played three goalies in the playoffs. No team has ever won the Cup with a goalie carousel. Just ask the Philadelphia Flyers how it worked out for them. The other thing the Ducks need is a defenseman with extensive playoff experience. Other than Francois Beauchemin, no one on that team does and it was quite evident in Game 7.
The good news, for Penguins fans anyway, is that after several seasons the Penguins finally realized there were problems and decided to fire their GM and coach. Well done. Unfortunately, I still don’t think they understand the problems with the team. So I will help them out and explain it to them now. The Penguins goaltending in the playoffs is awful. You can’t win games if your goalie can’t stop the puck. However, Marc-Andre Fleury actually played well in this postseason and when he did have a blunder he bounced back well from it, unlike in previous playoffs were it would just start a downward spiral. However, one good playoffs since the Penguins won the Stanley Cup is not enough evidence to say that he will play well again next postseason. This needs to be addressed. If Fleury played like he did last postseason, the Penguins would have lost in the 1st round. Their defense is also awful. Kris Letang is not the player he once was and Brooks Orpik is just beyond useless at this point. Nobody else on the team knows how to play defense. They seem uninterested and they turn it over. Against the Rangers in Game 1 after the initial game wining goal, which at the point we didn’t know if it went it, you had all of the Penguin players staring at the puck. None of them skating towards it or covering any of the Rangers. So of course the Rangers knock in the rebound for an easy goal. The fact that they had already won the game at that point, is irrelevant. Other Penguin defensive blunders are quite evident in recent postseasons. Another issue is Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby both seem easily frustrated. With Crosby, especially, it seems like something is really bothering him or he’s injured. He didn’t score any goals in the Olympics and he scored only one goal in two playoff series. Not good. Which brings me to the last problem. The Penguins don’t have anyone else able to generate their own offense. When Crosby and Malkin struggle so does everyone else because they need those players to create for them. Chris Kunitz is decent but he just mops up everything the stars do. I thought James Neal could generate his own offense but he showed he can’t and he was just as invisible as Crosby was in the playoffs. Nobody else on that team strikes any fear into a defense. Losing Jordan Staal was a bigger blow then anyone will ever admit.
Teams on the Rise
Columbus Blue Jackets – Something is brewing in Columbus and for once it’s not a terrible team. It hasn’t been an easy road to get there and most of the bigger names didn’t work and were all shipped out. But the Blue Jackets have laid the foundation for something much bigger after notching their first franchise playoff win. Sergei Bobrovsky had another stellar season. Ryan Johansen and James Wisniewski led the Blue Jackets offensively in the regular season. Johansen, Jack Johnson, Boone Jenner and Brandon Dubinsky paced them in the playoffs. The recent Claude Giroux trade really makes things interesting. If Nathan Horton can come back healthy, he and Giroux could really give the Blue Jackets the necessary veteran presence to go to the next level.
Breakout of the Year
Tyler Seguin – Dallas Stars
It took a little bit longer than was expected but Tyler Seguin finally had a season worthy of being the 2nd overall pick. Granted the system the Boston Bruins play doesn’t take advantage of Seguin’s talents. But in his first season in Dallas, Seguin scored over a point per game and a netted over 30 goals for the first time in his career. Even more impressive, with the help of Jamie Benn, he took the Dallas Stars to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. It wouldn’t surprise me if he gets close to or ,reaches, 100 points next season. I still think the Bruins regret/will regret trading him.
Goalie of the Year
Ben Bishop – Tampa Bay Lightning
Best goalie, as always, is tough. If you think Tuukka Rask deserved it, you wouldn’t hear an argument from me. He posted by far the best numbers in all of the important categories. He also lead the NHL in shutouts. The only reason I’m giving it to Bishop is because his numbers were similar but he played in front of a much poorer team, especially defensively. Coupled with the fact that this was basically his first full season in the NHL, and the first one where he was the main man in net, it’s hard to argue against him. Plus without Bishop, the Lightning would have a lot fewer wins.
Most Value Player to his Team
Ryan Getzlaf – Anaheim Ducks
Even though Crosby won the Hart trophy, Ryan Getzlaf should have. Sometimes I think they reward the Hart to whoever has the best stats but that’s not what the trophy is for. It’s bad enough it’s only for forwards, usually. What they should do is make a trophy for best offensive forward or best forward. And then the Hart is whoever is the best player to his team, which is what it should be. But I digress.
Getzlaf piloted a young team, soon to be a lot younger next season, all the way to the top seed in a very tough and formidable Western Conference. That alone should have net him the Hart trophy. Don’t forget five of the top seven teams in the NHL were in the West. Getzlaf played against top centers (Toews, Kopitar, Thornton) frequently. He also had seven game-winning goals (two more than Crosby) and had over 100 hits to set the tempo for the Ducks hitting. Only Kopitar and Corey Perry had a higher +/- from the top 20 scorers in the NHL. Even though the Ducks were a lot deeper than they had been they surely wouldn’t have gotten the top spot without Getzlaf on their team. I still think thy would have been a playoff team but probably the sixth or seventh seed. You can see how valuable he was to the Ducks when he willed his way through beating the Stars in the playoffs. He was generally involved in all the key moments in that series.