The 10 most surprising struggles of 2014-15

Joe Pavelski (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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:

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NCAA Frozen Four: Players to watch from every team in the tournament

Minnesota State goalie Stephon Williams (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

College hockey’s Frozen Four kicks off this week with 16 teams gunning for a spot in Boston, where the semifinal and final will be held in April. Regionals spread the squads across four cities and there is a lot of firepower at this year’s installment. But who are the players to watch for? Here’s a primer for every school, with an admitted bias towards NHL prospects.

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Backchecking: Russian star Sergei Makarov speaks (very) softly but carried a huge stick

Sergei Makarov (Allsport /Allsport)

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

Five backup goaltenders who could find starting jobs next season

Cam-Talbot

In Wednesday’s win over the New York Rangers, Chicago backup netminder Scott Darling showed exactly why the Blackhawks inked him to a two-year extension. And, with the win, he made the backup goaltending job in Chicago that much more interesting.

With the shutout – the first of Darling’s professional career – it adds more credence to the belief that Antti Raanta’s time might be up as Corey Crawford’s backup. But the move from starting AHL netminder to NHL second-stringer, which Darling made, is a common one. Next season, however, could see the rise of more than a few backup goaltenders to first-string duty.

Here are the five goaltenders you can most expect to challenge for a starting gig: Read more

Marleau, Thornton share Maple Leaf Gardens memories as Sharks take ice at legendary arena

The Hockey News
Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau (Don Smith/Getty Images)

By Melissa Wronzberg

It was a Wednesday in February, 1997, when Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton stepped onto Maple Leaf Gardens ice for their first game action at the iconic building. They were highly ranked prospects squaring off against one another in the NHL/CHL top prospects game.

Marleau had one assist for Team Orr in a 7-2 win. Thornton notched two assists on the only goals for Team Cherry.

In the NHL draft several months later it would be Thornton coming out on top as the first overall pick to the Boston Bruins. Marleau would go next to San Jose.

Eighteen years later, on another Wednesday, the two entered the building again, this time as teammates during a practice with the Sharks. Read more

Even if they miss playoffs & end 10-year post-season streak, don’t count Sharks out over long term

Adam Proteau
Sharks teammates Logan Couture, Justin Braun, Patrick Marleau and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. (Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

After their 5-2 loss to Winnipeg Tuesday, the San Jose Sharks fell six points behind the Jets for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference. And with just 12 regular-season games left to play, San Jose could make a last desperate run into the second wild card position, but could just as easily fall to 12th overall in the West. After their infamous playoff collapse last season, the Sharks are now looking like a group that could be on the downside of a fairly productive period.

But don’t cry for the Sharks just yet. Considering some of the young talent on the roster and the pieces GM Wilson potentially acquires in any major trades this summer, San Jose’s downturn could reverse course in very short order and they could be back in playoff contention as soon as the 2015-16 campaign. Read more

Rumor Roundup: Thornton, Kadri face off-season uncertainty

Lyle Richardson
Nazem Kadri (Andy Marlin/Getty Images)

Prior to this season, Joe Thornton‘s future with the San Jose Sharks came under question when GM Doug Wilson stripped him of the captaincy. This followed a summer of speculation over whether the 35-year-old center might be pressured into waiving his no-movement clause.

Scrutiny over Thornton’s relationship with Wilson recently flared up again. The San Jose Mercury News’ David Pollak reports Wilson’s recent remarks to a group of Sharks season-ticket holders suggesting the stress of the captaincy got to Thornton prompted a terse reply from the latter. “He just needs to stop lying, shut his mouth,” said Thornton. Read more