5. Edmonton Oilers
The Northwest proves to be a tough division and the Oilers end up at the bottom of it, again. What the offense lacks, the defense fails to make up. Lindback ends the season mid pack in terms of goalies, but cannot help the Oilers move upwards in their division.
Despite an array of talented wingers which, when the season comes to a close is led statistically by Milan Lucic, they fail to put together a productive campaign. The trouble for this offense is the lack of depth at center. It was a concern going into the season but the Oilers were unable to acquire first line talent. It haunted them throughout the season. Despite valiant efforts by Lucic and Kessel, the lack of a commanding presence sunk this potentially potent offense. About midway through the season, a slumping Kane took a serious hit from defenseman Nicklas Kronwall. The resulting concussion kept Kane out the remainder of the season, dashing any hopes of a late season rally. The hit also resulted in the end of the season for Kronwell via suspension and injury.
Josh Bailey had another less than stellar campaign seeing only a marginal increase in points. His lack of production forced Ralph Krueger to put Talbot into the role of second line centerman. Despite Talbots heart and leadership, his point production was little better than Bailey’s.
Jack Johnson, while providing plenty of effort, was unable to anchor a sub-standard blue line. Lindback, on his first full season, was unable to stem the tide.
4. Vancouver Canucks
Fourth in the division is unfamiliar territory for the often dangerous Canucks. A lack of offensive chemistry combined with an injured Mike Richards took a toll on the Canuck’s record.
Vancouver’s first line, while gritty, was one of the least productive [first line] units in the game. The benefit of the line, however, was the fact that it didn’t give up goals and was used against opponent’s best lines, much like a third or fourth line unit. Moulson led the scoring attack with 35 tallies, one less than his previous season. Richards saw a small offensive reemergence early in the season but fell victim to a mid-season concussion that limited most of the second half. The fall of Richards took a toll on the already pressed offense. Granlund, MacArhtur and Alex Burmistrov were unable to make the necessary improvements in their offensive games.
The Canucks defense was streaky, led by Drew Doughty. Both Doughty and Tallinder would see a few minor injuries during the season, but nothing significant. Still it continually threw off their defensive chemistry putting too much pressure on Bieska and Boychuk. Jonas Hiller continued his average play, winning a few games while losing a few. In a tough division, it wasn’t enough.
3. Calgary Flames
Evgeni Malkin wills his team to third in this tough division. Still, for his efforts, he is unable to solidify a playoff spot.
Nevertheless Malkin allows Gabriel Landeskog to make giant leaps forward offensively. Landeskog puts up career numbers and avoids the notorious sophomore slump. However, Malkin puts up some of his worst numbers by comparison. When Malkin slumps, so too does the team.
The Flames lack secondary scoring. When teams begin to key in on Malkin, they quickly learn that it is near impossible. Instead they focus on Landeskog, whose numbers tail off the latter portion of the season. When the first line’s production slows, the second line collapses. The second line is easily overcome forcing the Flames to squeak out production from its bottom two lines.
The defense, claimed by many to be overrated performs above standards. Yandle and Hjalmarsson play surprisingly well together. However a lack of depth behind that pair create holes.
Mike Smith plays well below his numbers last year. Despite his efforts, Malkin and Landeskog keep the Flames in contention, albeit loosely.
2. Colorado Avalanche
Colorado cashes in on a reinvigorated Vinny Lecavalier and, of course, a dangerous Steve Stamkos. Colorado uses a mixture of explosive offense with smart defense to climb to second within the division.
Kyle Okposo solidifies his game and finds a nice medium. He sees his point totals increase across the board, notably in the assists column. Stamkos continues to score at a vigorous rate and is able to notch another healthy season. However it is Lecavalier that bumps this offense upwards. Despite streaky line mates, Vinny finds his scoring touch and helps the Avalanche’s secondary scoring. After another season of growth for the young centerman Couturier, benefiting immensely from Vinny Lecavalier, the Avalanche trade Horcoff at the deadline and install Sean as their permanent third line center.
It is a line that only reinforces a solid corps of defense. Shattenkirk and Subban make a surprisingly good pair, which sees Subban mature as a player. Meszaros plays a full season and returns to pre injury production levels helped by the steady Ryan Whitney. Ryan Miller plays average further lending to the idea that he is in fact an average and often overrated goalie.
It becomes an intense battle down the line between the Avalanche and the Wild, in the end the grit of the Wild beat out the Avalanche in the final game of the season on April 27.
1. Minnesota Wild
A preseason trade which landed the Wild Gaborik certainly changed the dynamic of the team. The Wild lost Dustin Brown, who added to a very gritty team. Gaborik removes some of that grit but adds a terrific offensive punch. The combination lands the Wild first in a tough division.
Nicklas Backstrom has luck. He starts his career by centering Alexander Ovechkin and then moves on to prolific goal scorer Marion Gaborik. Brad Marchand adds to the effect providing another goal scoring winger that can draw attention away, albeit annoyingly, from his line mates. What the second line lacks in offensive explosiveness it more than makes up for in toughness. Shane Doan and David Backes open up the ice for developing Matt Read who continues to produce at rates well above what he was projected. Injuries plague the team’s third line as both Cullen and Stempniak miss significant time. Nevertheless the holes are felt minimally as the offense continues to produce.
Ryan Suter anchors an average at best blue line. Suter himself struggles at times but is aided by a ferociously back checking offense. Marc Andre Bergeron anchors a third pair and plays a full season, providing much needed and surprising relief to a sometimes poor defense.
The real surprise is goaltender Ondrej Pavelec who plays well above himself. Finally on a team with potential, Pavelec exceeds expectations and puts himself in top ten talks. It is the final push the Wild need to claim first in the Northwest.
5. Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars have the making of a team that should be good. For whatever reason, most likely a poor defense, the Stars have a woeful season and finish last in the West.
The first line can never find the correct chemistry. Iginla and Spezza quickly find themselves at odds. It proves disastrous for the team and leads Iginla to swap lines with PA Parenteau, the only player to seemingly benefit as a result. To make matters worse both Michalek and Stalberg miss lengthy portions of the season. The Stars’ best line ends up their third line as Steve Ott and company shine through darkness.
Unlike the Flames, the Stars have no issue trading Iginla who finds himself on a new squad at the All-Star break. The Flames shop Spezza but cannot find a viable suitor.
Sbisa and Ehrhoff play well, but the lack of depth kills of the defense and, as a result, makes those two look bad. Pronger is on an off the IR during the season and generally looks out of place whenever on the ice. Ehrhoff also finds a new team at the deadline.
4. LA Kings
The Kings have a talent filled roster and a hall of fame goalie. Sadly the team is fundamentally flawed which leads to a poor, unsatisfying finish to the season.
The first line, centered by Richards fails to live up to expectations. James Neal’s career year is not repeated as he no longer has the likes of Crosby and Malkin feeding him the puck. While Richards is no slouch, he cannot match the production. What is worse is the lack of a transition game on defense. Marc Staal’s offensive output fell drastically last season, even taking injury into account. This season is little different leading many to question the youngest Staal’s talent. Zidlicky adds little more and the pairing often limit the offense’s production.
The second line scores despite itself. JVR continues with another below average season, having yet to actually break out or live up to expectations. Chris Kreider’s playoff performace last season is not repeated, though he does play well enough to warrant second line minutes over Jamie Langenbrunner and Marc Foligno. Jordan Staal puts up his average numbers, but it is not enough for the goal scoring cursed Kings. Brayden Schenn continues improvement but looks a year or so away from truly breaking out.
The defense plays well but provides little offense. Even Tomas Kaberle is unable to produce significant numbers. Brodeur plays well but his age shows its head as his numbers tail off as the season plays on.
3. Phoenix Coyotes
The Coyotes succeed only because of the Stars and Kings failures. The team suffers from a lack of depth at center, often a death blow to a hockey club.
Ryan O’Reilly doesn’t appear to have taken a step forward as his production levels out at least year’s numbers. The affect can be seen most notably on Corey Perry who can’t seem to find the scoring touch he did in year’s past. David Perron steps up and leads the team offensively, proving him to be one of the more underrated players in the league. A healthy Mike Green enjoys resurgence in his offensive game, greatly aiding a struggling offensive core. A bit of depth go a long way as Legwand and Booth play full seasons and notch a respectable amount of points.
Their defensive core, while not much on paper, mesh well and provide a solid blue line for the club. While not the league’s best, they provide just enough relief to allow Jaroslav Halak to produce a Vezina nomination.
2. San Jose Sharks
There is much to be said about Cam Ward, perhaps the greatest goalie…no…athlete in the history of mankind. In all honesty, however, he is in fact a solid goalkeeper, one capable of stealing a game or two. He does just that during this season, helping out a defensive core that begins to fade late into the season.
Ilya Kovalchuck leads an unorthodox offense which, while streaky, finds players that step up when another fades. A trade for a Mike Fischer midway through the season allows young rookie Nail Yakupov to gain offensive momentum. During this offensive outburst he surpasses Lupul on the first line to play with fellow Russian superstar Kovalchuk.
The blue line plays well, though not exceptional. Being backed by Cam Ward helps, allowing the offense to keep games interesting. A weaker Pacific division allows the Sharks to sneak into second, despite a team that doesn’t look all that flattering on paper.
1. Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks weakness is in goal or, at least, that’s what you’d think by looking at the team on paper. But, in this write up they land in first, so obviously it wasn’t a glaring weakness. In fact, Devan Dubnyk plays extremely well as does Neuvirth in relief.
The Ducks have depth that the rest of the division simply cannot match. As a result they glide rather effortlessly through the season, picking up points against weaker opponents. A trade based around Setoguchi lands them Christian Ehrhoff to bolster their back line at the deadline. It puts the Ducks in a prime position for a cup run come the playoffs.
Bergeron, Gagne, and Havlat make a surprisingly effective first line. What is even better, the three remain healthy throughout the season, putting to rest injury concerns regarding the trio. What this does is open the ice for the second line which puts forth some surprising point totals. Berglund makes giant strides forward centering the always dangerous Pominville. Blake Wheeler’s size finally comes into play, allowing the line to find an exciting chemistry.
The blue line, though not without its flaws, plays well providing size and offense for the team. A mid-season trade solidifies its defensive capabilities. Finally the team is full of playoff veterans which make them a threat moving forward.
5. Detroit Red Wings
The Wings simply don’t have the offensive guns to compete in a division that, while not explosive, is solidly built.
Their first line strikes fear in just about zero opposing squads. Their second line reads more like a third (a good third at that). Essentially their offense is comprised of three third lines which makes the team hell to play against but thwarts any generous offensive output. The Wings grind out a few wins here and there during the season, but cannot string enough together to escape the gutter.
The defense plays the same way. The unit is solid and tough to play against but simply cannot put enough points on the board. They can only do so much and Kari Lehtonen does no favors in net.
The team struggles all season despite terrific efforts. Sadly come the deadline, Elias is traded along with Fisher. The team debates trading Pietrangelo but opts to build around him instead. A wise decision in the long run.
4. Nashville Predators
Age catches up to the Predators in all the wrong places. A solid team on paper cannot compete in the long run that is a grueling NHL season.
Pavel Datsyuk is the first to fall, missing significant time with both lower and upper body injuries. He manages only a paltry 58 games. Kimmo Timonen is the second, suffering from a nagging lower body injury that limits his time in the second half of the season. Teemu Selanne finally succumbs to the injury bug as well with two weeks left in the season though, at the point, they’ve been eliminated from the playoffs.
Matt Duchene steps up and plays well though his wings remain rather quiet. Semin’s numbers fall but only a few and RJ remains quiet. Andrew Shaw finds minutes on the first line but doesn’t take the steps offensively that he was expected to. The two biggest bright spots are Cory Schneider and Braydon Coburn.
While Braydon’s offensive game is missing he puts in a bid for the Norris, stepping up into a first line role he was been building to for some time. Cory solidifies himself as an above average starter in the NHL posting solid numbers across the board. With some youth on the roster, the unhappy ending to the season isn’t so bleak.
3. St. Louis Blues
It is an up and down season for Crosby and the Blues. One marked by a streaky offense, and a crumbling defense.
Two key injuries hit the Blues which limit their season point total. Petr Sykora goes down early, unable to return for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. This forces Ken Hitchcock to place Teddy Purcell on the first unit. While great for Teddy, it is not so for the team which loses vital secondary scoring. Essentially the offense is the first line and nothing beyond. This is not remedied until the deadline when they snag a winger. Crosby misses a total of 15 games throughout the season, though still manages to produce as he always does.
Nevertheless the streaky offense has trouble holding up a weak defensive core, on that suffers even more when Dennis Wideman goes down for 20 games. Jimmy Howard places well, but completely collapses at times drawing boos from a frustrated fan base. It leaves the Blues fighting for a bottom seeding.
2. Columbus Blue Jackets
Its grit over glam in Columbus, one that had many experts agreeing that if this team made it to the playoffs, they could be a threat. When all was said and done, they had achieved part one of the plan…the playoffs.
Nobody on this squad, outside of Shea Weber, was going into the season expected to light the score sheet on fire. Again, much like what was expected, nobody did…outside of Shea Weber. Kesler missed the start of the season but was able to remain healthy throughout, a much needed boost to the offense. Joe Pavelski lead the team in scoring…outside of Shea Weber (there is a theme building), with Pacioretty a close second (or third). They developed a tough style of play that left other teams bruised if nothing else. They were able to muscle their way into second in the division.
Shea Weber led the blue line and earned himself another Norris nomination. Perhaps the biggest benefit of having Shea Weber was for young defenseman Erik Johnson who thrived. While Erik hardly saw ice team alongside Shea, the guidance both on and off the ice allowed Johnson to finally blossom into the player he was touted to be. The extra pop on defense allowed Nabokov the luxury of a few mistakes without getting burned. Nabokov, however, went down early in the season with nagging groin issues. Crawford stepped in and stepped up, providing better play then his predecessor.
1. Chicago Blackhawks
The young core of the Chi-Town stepped up to the plate. Led by breakout Adam Henrique who proved his fine playoff performance of a year ago was no flash in the pan, the Blackhawks were able to sneak into first with consistency and energy.
It was unexpected depth that helped the squad maintain their winning ways throughout the season. Scott Hartnell continued his fine play, putting to rest doubts of his talent and determination. Patrick Sharp, now with more offensive responsibility, was able to deliver the desired results. Milan Hejduk, while not offensively productive, seemed to have an effect on line mates Hodgson and Hagelin who continued their development.
Karlsson, while not repeating his Norris caliber season, played well enough to dismiss allegations of a one and done. The rest of the defense played solid, though not perfectly. Holtby, another young player, continued his development, providing much needed relief in net.
It was a scenario of everything going right for the young Blackhawks. However, the young core has its fair share of doubters for a playoff run.