The 2015-16 season yielded an outstanding and deep rookie class, one of the best in recent memory. Obvious can’t-miss stars like Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, the top two picks of the 2015 draft, delivered, but they weren’t alone by any means. We saw an intriguing blend of stars in the making doing what they were supposed to do; late bloomers bursting onto the scene; and a wild-card rookie flourishing after arriving from the KHL.
The rookie crop included a 30-goal scorer, five 20-goal scorers and 12 players with at least 15 goals. Eight rookies topped 40 points. Two played in the All-Star Game. Eight started at least 20 games in net, and three had multiple shutouts.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been attempting to rebuild the right way under the Brendan Shanahan/Lou Lamoriello/Mike Babcock regime and in winning Saturday night’s draft lottery, the most important piece has become available to them.
With the second round of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs underway, the remaining casualties from the opening round are taking stock. For the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks, considered by some to be Cup contenders, their early exit raises questions about off-season changes.
A lack of skilled defensive depth proved the Blackhawks’ undoing against the St. Louis Blues. Chicago Tribune pundits Chris Kuc and David Haugh, along with USA Today’s Kevin Allen, believe addressing this issue should be GM Stan Bowman’s priority this summer.
Following Chicago’s Game 7 loss, Blackhawks star Patrick Kane said exiting the post-season in the first round didn’t feel right. And that’s true. As the post-season rolls on without the Blackhawks, something will feel amiss. Chicago has made the Western Conference final in each of the past three seasons, twice taking home the Stanley Cup. They’ve become a staple of playoff hockey, a regular contender seemingly one bounce away from getting back into the winner’s circle.
They didn’t get that bounce in Game 7, though, and Blackhawks fans may have to prepare themselves for earlier summers going forward. Unlike years prior building back to consistent contention is going to take some time.
Before the post-season began, parallels were drawn between this season’s Blackhawks and the team that lost in the first-round in 2011. Both entered the playoffs as defending champions, both entered with high expectations and both were missing key pieces of what made them a contender the year prior. The comparisons will run deeper — and last longer — than this post-season, though.
Following the 2011 exit, which came via a 3-2 loss in Game 7 to the then-rival Vancouver Canucks, the Blackhawks were forced to say goodbye to Brian Campbell, Tomas Kopecky and — this one is going to hurt today — Troy Brouwer. What followed was a 2011-12 season in which Chicago stumbled again in the first round and were sent packing by the Phoenix Coyotes. And though the team recovered in time for the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season, the quick turnaround isn’t going to be as easy to come by this time. Read more
The Chicago Blackhawks’ season ended with an incredibly hard fought Game 7 against the St. Louis Blues, but the defending Stanley Cup champions didn’t go away without putting at least one final scare into the Blues.
With the Blackhawks trailing 3-2 in the final five minutes of the third period, Andrew Shaw collected a loose puck behind the Blues net and shovelled a pass back to defenseman Brent Seabrook. Blues goaltender Brian Elliott had to look through several bodies in front, so Seabrook unloaded a shot from the blueline with the hope he’d find the back of the net or catch a favorable bounce to set up a scoring chance. He got a bounce, all right, but it wasn’t exactly the one he wanted.
Seabrook’s shot eluded everyone on the way to the net, got past a screened Elliott and came inches from tying the contest. Watch as the puck hits the post, rides the goal line and exits the net after clanking off the opposite post: Read more
The St. Louis Blues are a long way from winning the Stanley Cup, but it can’t be understated just how big the 3-2 victory in Monday’s Game 7 was.
The mantra in St. Louis for the better part of the week, and maybe for the duration of the first-round series, was that this time things were going to be different. This time the Blues weren’t going to fall apart, they were going to close out a series and finally advance after three consecutive first-round exits. But a loss in Game 6 saw doubt creep in for the Blues, if not from the players then from those who’ve watched this team fail to get the job done in Round One for the past three campaigns.
However, following Game 6’s second period collapse, the Blues entered Game 7 with the same emotion they displayed in the first frame of Saturday’s game. The difference-maker was that this time the Blues didn’t fall apart at the seams. No doubt there was a scare — an early 2-0 lead was squashed by the rival Chicago Blackhawks — but with the game tied, the Blues didn’t blow coverages, they didn’t let a weak goal turn the tide and they didn’t give the Blackhawks one single Grade ‘A’ scoring chance. That all led to St. Louis’ Troy Brouwer scoring midway through the final period, and that marker stood as the goal that sent the Blues to the second round. Read more
It’s deja vu, except it isn’t.
Many powerhouse St. Louis Blues teams have disappointed with shockingly early playoff exits in the past five seasons. They got swept by the Los Angeles Kings in Round 2 of the 2012 playoffs; led L.A. 2-0 in the series only to lose in the first round in 2013; led the Chicago Blackhawks 2-0 only to lose in the first round in 2014; and bowed out to the No. 7 seed Minnesota Wild in six games in the first round of 2015.
A loss at home to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 tonight thus wouldn’t blow our hair back. At this point, early-round disappointments feel like second nature for the Blues. There’s a difference this time, however. The stakes are higher. Important heads stand to roll if St. Louis buckles under the pressure once more and loses a series it led 3-1.
Status: New York Rangers goaltender.
HT: 6-0 WT: 192 pounds
DOB: May 12, 1989 In: Rauma, Finland
First Hockey Memory: “I think when I went first time on the ice, I got my players skates and stepped on the ice. That was the biggest celebration when you fell all the time, skating a little bit forward and I didn’t fall down. So I think that was my first memory. If you think about games, I think ’95 when Finland was in the World Championship, that’s the first memory I remember about the hockey and winning something.”