When the NHL changed the playoff format to include wild-card teams last season, it’s unlikely even they could have imagined a scenario in which the races for the final playoff berths in each conference would be this tight.
With less than 10 games remaining on the schedules of all playoff hopefuls, only six points separate teams in the Western Conference, while a three-team race separated by five points in the Eastern Conference could come down to the final night.
What’s on the horizon for each of the teams, and who stands the best shot at making it in? Read more
It may seem like this hasn’t been the kind of season we’ve come to expect from Jason Spezza, but rest assured he still has an incredible pair of hands and he put them on display Wednesday night.
Midway through the second period of Dallas’ tilt with Calgary and with the Stars on the power play, Spezza received a pass in the right wing circle. As Flames defenseman Kris Russell slid out to attempt to shut down Spezza’s passing lanes, he perfectly toe-dragged the puck around Russell, waited for a passing lane to open up and put a tape-to-tape feed past Calgary’s Dennis Wideman and onto the stick of Jamie Benn for a tap-in: Read more
For months now, hockey fans have slowly built their anticipation for one of the most highly-consequential NHL draft lotteries since the process was introduced in 1995. And now it appears the league has settled on a date people can circle on their calendars.
According to a Sportsnet.ca report, the league has decided to hold this year’s draft lottery Apr. 18, as part of a Hockey Night In Canada playoff broadcast. That leaves a little more than three weeks for fans of sad-sack teams to firm up viewing party plans and binge on lottery simulation websites – and when you look at some of the teams with a decent chance of drafting nascent superstars Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel (and the stakes involved if they fail to win the lottery), you’ve got near-perfect conditions to deliver what could very well be hockey’s most drama-packed off-ice night in history.
For one thing, the increasingly-improving chance the Maple Leafs have at McDavid is going to push TV ratings to record levels. Like them or not, the Leafs have millions of fans, and after their brutal free-fall through the NHL standings this season those fans are going to try every superstitious trick in the book in the hope it allows fortune to smile on their beloved Buds. If that does happen, the city of Toronto is going to instantly explode in the biggest hockey-related celebration since a Stanley Cup was won here in 1967.
And for as dramatic as that result would be for the Leafs franchise – it would almost certainly tempt team management to fast-track their rebuild – think of the ripple effect it would have on the rest of the league, and on Toronto rivals in particular: Read more
As much as a story like the resurgent New York Islanders or the Andrew Hammond-led Ottawa Senators pleases us, there will always be teams or players that fail to meet expectations.
Be it simply a down year or a minor – or major, when it comes to a team – injury, no NHL season goes by without teams and players facing their fair share of difficulties. If they respond positively, they’re heralded for their efforts. But, if things go sideways in a hurry, we’re left wondering how exactly our predictions could have been so wrong.
And these are the predictions that were the farthest off — the teams and players still making us wonder how prognostications could have been so misguided. These are the 10 most surprising struggles of 2014-15:
By Denis Gibbons
Terry Crisp bent over backwards to show Sergei Makarov respect when the great Soviet winger came to play in the NHL for Calgary in 1989. One day the Flames coach was drawing up a play on the board, illustrating to Makarov how to position himself. Suddenly, Makarov grabbed the chalk, crossed everything out and started making his own diagrams.
“Tikhonov bad guy, good coach,” he said to Crisp (in reference to the late Soviet bench boss). “You? Good guy, bad coach.”
Crisp, who had led the Flames to a Stanley Cup the year before, said Makarov, who played in the Soviet Union on the KLM line with Vladimir Krutov and Igor Larionov, probably had more talent than anybody he had ever coached. Read more
Since last season, the Dallas Stars’ fortunes have risen or fallen based upon the goaltending of Kari Lehtonen. In 2013-14, Lehtonen’s solid performance (33-20-10, 2.41 GAA, .919 SP) was instrumental in the Stars reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The 31-year-old’s struggles this season (30-14-10, 2.87 GAA, .906 SP) put the club’s playoff hopes on thin ice.
It’s also prompted some questions over Lehtonen’s future in Dallas. There’s been speculation Stars GM Jim Nill could consider finding a more reliable starter, but replacing his current one (who’s earning $5.9 million annually for three more seasons) won’t be easy. Lehtonen also has a partial no-trade clause. Read more
When it came to pre-season predictions, the Dallas Stars were supposed to be the next big thing in the Central Division. They added big names, had promising depth and the playoffs seemed certain. Now, 70 games later and with their playoffs hopes all but dashed, how does Dallas turn things around next season?
The answer, or so most people thought early on, would have been to replace what looks like a mediocre defense corps. Sure, Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley are Dallas’ bigger names, but top-flight, Norris Trophy-contending defensemen? There are none in the Stars’ lineup. But as it turns out their defense has held up about as well as, if not better than, could be expected for a team that has no standouts on the backend.
The real issue for Dallas lies between the pipes. You need look no further than the Minnesota Wild for proof. Read more
Andrew Hammond’s run between the pipes for the Ottawa Senators is one of the best stories of the season. He won’t, however, be getting a nod for the Calder Trophy anytime soon. It’s not because he’s undeserving, but rather because he doesn’t technically qualify.
Hammond was 26 before September 2014 and, as such, was too old to be eligible for the trophy as the league’s best rookie. He may have just had an outside shot at winning the thing if he were to muscle the Senators in the postseason, too. Alas, he’ll have to settle for free McDonald’s for the rest of his life.
So, while Hammond won’t be on this list of the top five unexpectedly good rookie seasons, here are several players who are turning heads in their freshman years: Read more