Well, my predictions for this season were completely off this year.
Who would have thought Vegas Golden Knights would pull off an inaugural season for the history books?
Who would have anticipated the late season injuries to Ben Bishop and Mike Smith would lead to late season downfalls to the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames?
Who would have anticipated to complete 180 downswing by the Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers and Ottawa Senators?
Clearly not me.
Yeah, the 2017-2018 season was a very interesting season to say the least. Every season is different for varying reasons. However, there were three storylines that captivated my interest this past year. However, this season was special, particularly with the start of the Vegas Golden Knights era.
Despite the tragic events in Las Vegas that had occured prior to the start of the season, the Vegas Golden Knights were on a mission. In a team filled with many teams’ castoffs, grinders, and overpaid underachievers (i.e. Jason Garrison), understandably many people like myself thought this team could be competitive for a while before they started to sell off their prospective UFAs for draft picks and even younger players to build their organizational foundation of talent for the future. Well, clearly the Golden Knights had other ideas.
Marc-Andre Fleury (despite early season injuries) turned back the clock with a very solid season and showed glimpses of his old self from his prime years in Pittsburgh. William Karlsson and Erik Haula, 3rd/4th liners with their former teams, showed their remarkable skill with breakout seasons in their own right. Jon Marchessault, who is continuing to dazzle us and proving to all of us that size is not an issue in being a productive player in the league. Malcolm Subban finally get his opportunity to shine in prime time where the sky is the limit for one goalie to watch out for in the next few years in my opinion.
From First to Worst
Well, if you finish an 82 game season set with 48 points, I don’t think you can do worse. Unless you are the Washington Capitals from their inaugural year back in the 70s.
The Colorado Avalanche had a season to forget in 2016-2017. It’s quite baffling especially with a solid core of players in Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Matt Duchene, Landeskog, and Tyson Barrie. However, combined with personnel changes, injuries to key players like Semyon Varlamov and Erik Johnson, and lack of overall depth have led to the absyml season for the Avs. You think they would be a lock to win the draft lottery with their odds. Well, the hockey gods had other ideas.
Aside from the low key signings of Jonathan Bernier (coming off a bounceback season with the Ducks) and Nail Yakupov, the Avs were going into the season with pretty much the same roster. Oh, did I mention the persistent Matt Duchene trade rumors that we kept hearing over the past 2 years to the point where we begged Joe Sakic to pretty much do something. The team had a surprisingly nice start in October and then the hammer came. On November 5, after years of trade rumors, Matt Duchene finally got his wish and was traded to the Ottawa Senators in a major 3 team trade with the Nashville Predators (with Kyle Turris traded to the Preds). On paper, it seemed like the Avs didn’t receive much for a caliber player in Duchene. Traditionally, pundits pegged this as the start of a full rebuild in Colorado. However, this trade was a blessing in disguise of what was to come in the Mile High City.
The team remained relatively pedestrian over the next 20 games. However after Christmas, the team started to go on an unbelievable run. With solid goaltending from the duo of Varlamov and Bernier, it gave the Avs an opportunity to win every night. After the Duchene trade, Nathan MacKinnon finally had his coming out party and finally demonstrated his potential and worth after being the 1st overall pick in 2017. Combined with instrumental growth Mikko Rantanen and the return of form in Gabriel Landeskog, the trio carried the offense of the Avs on a nightly basis throughout the second half of the season. As the teams like the Blues, Flames, and Stars began to falter, the Avs remained consistent in their playoff push. Even after the injuries to Erik Johnson and Semyon Varlamov, the Avs would not let their guard down. Their feel good story reminded me of the Leafs from 2016-2017, as they pretty much had nothing to lose as they were early in the Shanaplan. Although the Avs stumbled to the finish line, it was worthwhile in their one game, winner moves on victory in the season finale vs the Blues.
As previously mentioned in the beginning, anything can happen in a season. With the competitive parity and fixed salary cap in the NHL, any team can be part of the playoff discussion. Even if you finish last in the previous year, anything can happen to change the fortunes for any team. Heck, it will be nice seeing some new teams in this year’s playoffs that are not the Blackhawks, Blues, or Rangers (Shoutout to my favourite goalie, Henrik Lundqvist for sticking it out with their rebuild).
The second season is upon us. 2 more months of the best hockey you will watch for this season. Heroes will be born and goats will be made. So, whose going to take the Cup this year?
As long as it’s not the Penguins, for the sake of the game, anyone but the Penguins. With all due respect to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and even Phil Kessel, just any team but the Penguins.