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

The 2020-21 Stanley Cup Champions

Tampa Bay Lightning

Last season started with a hat and ended with a championship in a pandemic. This season started in a pandemic and ended with back-to-back Stanley Cups and a drunken press conference by Nikita Kucherov. I highly recommend you seek that out if you haven’t seen it.

The Lightning had no significant losses or acquisitions besides losing Kucherov for the season due to injury. Although they did waive Tyler Johnson because of his five million cap hit but luckily for them, he went unclaimed. The second COVID NHL season featured all-new divisions. The Lightning ditched the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins for the Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars. Essentially the old Southeast Division reunited minus the Washington Capitals. The Lightning finished third behind the Florida Panthers and Hurricanes, despite being in first place a large chunk of time and the three teams leapfrogging all season. They finished the season in the top ten in goals, goals against, power play percentage, and penalty kill percentage.

The Lightning opened up their playoff run against their new arch-nemesis, the Florida Panthers. Based on how the Lightning finished the season, losing three in a row, including two to the Panthers, and not having anything to prove, the Panthers had a great chance to win. But that was not the case. The Lightning dominated and jumped out a to 3-1 series lead. There were a few close games, and the Panthers won one in overtime and pushed it to six, but the series disappointed. Kucherov didn’t. He returned in Game 1 and scored two power play goals in the second period. Not bad for a guy who hadn’t played since September.

In the second round, the Lightning faced the top-seeded Carolina Hurricanes. After the first series, it was evident the Lightning were going to at least win their bracket. But I didn’t think they’d win this series in five games. All five games were close, but the Hurricanes have to be disappointed in the outcome. Their only win was in overtime in Game 3. Just like in round one, the Lightning won low and high-scoring games.

In the Semifinals, the Lightning faced the New York Islanders in a rematch of last year’s Conference Finals. The Lightning were making their fifth Conference Finals appearance in seven years. The series was extremely tight except for the 8-0 clobbering in Game 5 by the Lightning. If you take that game out, the Lightning scored 12 goals in the series and the Islanders 11. While Game 7 was decided by a single goal. It doesn’t get any tighter than that.

The Stanley Cup Finals set up the biggest underdog in decades, the Montreal Canadiens, against the defending Stanley Cup champions. Despite barely making the playoffs, the Canadiens beat the team who tied for the best regular season record, the Vegas Golden Knights, and had a net penalty kill over 100%. Despite that, the Lightning beat the Canadiens at their own game. They took away their speed, and their penalty kill was slightly better. The first three games weren’t even close. Based on historical data, the Lightning almost sweeping the Canadiens is what should have happened. I would have predicted five games because it’s hard to sweep had the Canadiens not blown my confidence when they beat the Vegas Golden Knights. Kucherov led all players in playoff scoring for the second straight year, and Andrei Vasilevskiy won the Conn Smythe. The most interesting stat of their Stanley Cup run was their 0-4 overtime record. I believe they are the only team to win a Stanley Cup and not win an overtime game in the playoffs.

A special shout-out goes to coach Jon Cooper. He’s now won six hockey championships, two in the NAHL, one in the USHL and AHL, and two in the NHL. Interestingly, he won one with 18-year-old Pat Maroon in the NAHL and has now won two with him at the NHL level. Although their first-round exit in 2019 showed, it wasn’t always a smooth ride. But Cooper and history have proven if you are a winner at lower levels, you will be a winner at the higher levels. Sadly, some people don’t understand that.

Who knows what’s in the store for the Lightning next. I wrote a few seasons ago we were due for a new dynasty like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, and Los Angeles Kings after the one-offs by the Capitals and St. Louis Blues. I didn’t expect it to be the Lightning, but here they are. It’ll be challenging to accomplish a three-peat, but I wouldn’t count them out. At the very least, they’ll be around in the playoffs and a tough out.

Breakout of the Year

Adam Fox – New York Rangers

Another season, another Rangers’ defenseman winning it. Only this time, I don’t think Fox will be cut. Fox was second in defenseman scoring and scored five more points in 15 fewer games than his rookie season. He was sixteenth in blocked shots and had a fifteen-game point streak in the middle of the season, where he scored three and then five points. The Rangers have assembled a very young and up-and-coming roster. Fox looks to be a part of that for years to come.

Rookie of the Year

Kirill Kaprizov – Minnesota Wild

Kaprizov dazzled with his moves all season long and became the first player in NHL history to have three-plus points and an overtime goal in his debut. So yeah, he’s good. Kaprizov finished first in rookie scoring with 51, six ahead of Jason Robertson of the Dallas Stars, who received a Calder nomination and had a fantastic season in his own right.

Goalie of the Year

Marc-Andre Fleury – Vegas Golden Knights

This is always a difficult award to hand out because there are many quality goalies in the NHL. Alex Nedeljkovic put up the best numbers but only started 23 games. Semyon Varlamov was great but played on an Islanders team that’s always strong defensively. Every goalie always looks good there. Juuse Saros single-handedly resurrected the Predators’ season, but it’s hard not to like what Fleury accomplished. In his 17th season, he posted his highest SV% and his lowest GAA. Not bad for a goalie who wasn’t supposed to be the starter, and the Golden Knights were thinking of trading. Of course, Fleury had his famous blunder in the playoffs, but this is a regular season award. He deserves it after battling back from his dreadful seasons in the middle, and I’m sure he will fight back from his playoff mistake.

Best Player

Connor McDavid – Edmonton Oilers

When you scored over 100 points in a shortened season, it’s almost a no-brainer. McDavid scored his 100th point in his 53rd game, becoming the ninth player to reach the mark in that timespan and the first since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr did so in 1995–96. Finishing with 105, he was first in the NHL in points and assists and second in goals. McDavid is fourth all-time in the NHL in points per game. While he’ll probably pass Mike Bossy, it’s doubtful he’ll ever pass Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky.

Most Valuable Player to his Team

Joe Pavelski – Dallas Stars

I’ve never given this to a player on a non-playoff team, but the Stars came close only because of Pavelski. With Ben Bishop and Tyler Seguin sidelined and Jamie Benn struggling, the former captain of the San Jose Sharks led the Stars in almost everything. Not bad for a 36-year-old. Pavelski tied for 23rd in the NHL in points and tied for second in power play goals. Robertson also stepped up. MuellerSeason RecapsAdam Fox,Andrei Vasilevskiy,Ben Bishop,Boston Bruins,Carolina Hurricanes,Chicago Blackhawks,Connor McDavid,Dallas Stars,Edmonton Oilers,Florida Panthers,Jamie Benn,Jaromir Jagr,Joe Pavelski,Kirill Kaprizov,Los Angeles Kings,Marc-Andre Fleury,Mario Lemieux,Minnesota Wild,Montreal Canadiens,New York Islanders,New York Rangers,Nikita Kucherov,Pittsburgh Penguins,San Jose Sharks,Semyon Varlamov,Stanley Cup,Tampa Bay Lightning,Toronto Maple Leafs,Tyler Johnson,Tyler Seguin,Vegas Golden Knights,Washington Capitals,Wayne Gretzky
Part 1: Stanley Cup Winner Recap and NHL Awards Part 2: Best of the Year Part 3: Worst of the Year The 2020-21 Stanley Cup Champions Tampa Bay Lightning Last season started with a hat and ended with a championship in a pandemic. This season started in a pandemic and ended with back-to-back Stanley...