2009-10 NHL Season Recap
As you sit there in your favorite team jersey waiting for it to be October, let's recap and vote on our favorite moments on the season that was. The 2009-10 NHL season was one of the most thrilling ever, featuring a Stanley Cup playoff race that was wide open. The 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs smashed many ratings records on the way to crowning the Chicago Blackhawks as Stanley Cup champions. Most, if not all, of the twitter tending topics that night were NHL related. Hockey is definitely on an upswing. Some of the points below I didn't go into as much detail as I would like to have. However, I already wrote about most of it in previous columns, so sometimes it's hard to re-write. There's a lot to read and videos to watch, so I hope you enjoy it! (Trust me when I say it's really long)
To break this article down, in the first part I recap the season of the Stanley Cup Champions, then I go into the biggest surprises, disappointments and awards of the season and other miscellaneous stuff. I end it with voting for the goat and the fight of the season, compiled from the best of those during the regular season from my weekly Between the Pipes column. Which I hope you all come back to read next season.
The 2009-10 Stanley Cup Champions
What an unusual season it was for the Chicago Blackhawks. Their offseason certainly wasn't boring. First you have Marian Hossa signing a huge contract worth 62.8 million dollars over 12 years. That alone brings up many questions like won't he be 42 by the end of it? How do you even know how he will perform towards the end of the contract? Then the good/bad of the signing, Hossa wanted to play for a contending team and he viewed the Blackhawks as the team with the best chance to do so. Well that's great but then you wonder, didn't he think that with the Penguins and the Red Wings as well? How did that turn out? Next up you have Patrick Kane and his cousin assaulting a cab driver for 20 cents. Wait he what? There’s nothing like having one of your top players being involved in a ridiculous incident like that. Still the Blackhawks pressed on and opened the season a talented loaded team with one huge albatross around their neck, what about your goaltending?
Cristobal Huet was the number one goaltender by default, despite not being the number one last season, because the Blackhawks didn't have enough money to sign Nikolai Khabibulin. As the starting goalie, Huet certainly didn't make the regular season boring. First you had his 25.29 GAA average against the Flames in October, where he gave up three goals on five shots in seven minutes. Though to speak to the resiliency of the Blackhawks this season, Niemi actually came in and gave up two more goals in the 1st period to put the Blackhawks in a 0-5 hole at intermission. But the Blackhawks ended up scoring six unanswered goals to win the game in overtime. Then there was the game against the Stars in which Huet gave up four goals on ten shots. Finally he gave up 14 goals over a span of three games, when the Blackhawks finally said the hell with this and made Antti Niemi the starting goalie. He did have some high points, putting together a seven game win streak and posting four shutouts. But he will mostly be remembered for plays like this:
Despite their goaltending issues, Chicago came within one point of the best record in the West. They boasted a balanced scoring attack with six players each having 20+ goal seasons. They also boasted one of the top defensive pairs in the league in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Antti Niemi started to develop into a number one netminder, hopefully vanquishing the albatross in the process.
The Blackhawks opened the 1st round of the playoffs against the perennial stepping stone Nashville Predators. The Blackhawks lost the 1st game at home and then the 3rd game on the road to find themselves in a 1-2 hole. They seemed disinterested in the series and they weren't getting the basics right. They managed to win Game 4 but then Game 5 happened. Game 5 was the kind of game that everything just went right, even when things looked bleak. It was the turning point of the series and the Blackhawks season. It was the game in which the Blackhawks got their swagger back. Let's set the stage. Down in the important Game 5, 4-3, in the final minutes the Blackhawks try a final push only to have Marian Hossa get called for boarding. It appeared that Hossa was already working his curse magic. Instead it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as the inexperienced Predators played aggressive on the power play, looking for the kill goal. The Blackhawks were able to get a lucky bounce on the rebound and storm the other way and then pull their goalie to make it five on five. Then in some eerie foreshadowing, Patrick Kane scored the game tying goal off of a rebound in what would be his second most important goal of the playoffs.
After opening the overtime period shorthanded the Blackhawks ended up in the Predators zone and Hossa jumps out of the box and sets up right where Patrick Kane scored the previous goal. The puck once again took a fortuitous bounce and Hossa capped off the impromptu comeback.
In the decisive Game 6 you could tell it would be the Blackhawks year after Brent Seabrook gets an unexpected goal against Pekka Rinne.
From there it was the highly anticipated rematch with the Vancouver Canucks. Personally I found the series to be disappointing, as most of the games were pretty one sided. It had some comical moments though, like when the Canucks self destructed in Game 5 and committed four penalties in the span of four minutes and 40 seconds. There was also Roberto Luongo being himself hot, a 1.00 GAA in the two Canucks wins and cold, 5.25 GAA in the four losses. The soon to be Conn Smythe winner, Jonathan Toews was simply sensational against the Canucks. He was also in the midst of a 13 game point streak in which he amassed 25 of his 29 points.
Next was the highly anticipated match-up between the number one seeded Sharks. The win total of the two teams far surpassed any of the other match-ups in the 2010 playoffs. Oddly enough, it was also the only sweep of the playoffs. I'll write more about it below in the disappointing section.
Then it was onward to the Blackhawks first Stanley Cup appearance in 49 years to face the Philadelphia Flyers and their 35 year drought. The series was very good and each game had a point in the 3rd period, except for Game 5, where there was only a one goal differential. I don't know about you but that's hockey I want to see. Nobody on the Blackhawks had a truly remarkable series. They won as a team as it should be in hockey, the ultimate team sport. Some players did have remarkable games though, as Dustin Byfuglien did in Game 5 and Patrick Kane did in Game 6. The thing I love most about hockey is watching each player on the team hoist the Stanley Cup and skate around with it. You don't see anything else like that in any other sport, period. Just the player, the Stanley Cup and the moment. It's something every player in the NHL hopes to achieve but very few get too. An experience so awesome that it brings tears to those that didn't get to achieve it, like Jeremy Roenick the great Blackhawk for eight seasons and 20 NHL seasons overall.
You shouldn't be surprised that the Blackhawks won the series, as we still haven't had a team with a regular season goal differential of less than a +25 win the cup in the past 20 years, maybe longer (This is my favorite hockey stat). The Flyers had no chance with their +11. It also wasn't all bad for Huet. As many of you know, Niemi was the first Finnish goalie to win the Cup. Despite not really playing, Huet was also the first Frenchman to win the Cup.
Finally for shits and giggles here are some of the best user comments on Yahoo by fans after the Blackhawks were down 1-2 to the Predators after their Game 3 loss.
A Yahoo! User Thu Apr 22, 2010 03:02 pm PDT
“I can't wait next year for the Hawks 50 year anniversary since the last cup we won! We're not gonna win it this year cause we won't get out of the 1st round but when they bring those guys from the 1961 cup team come out on their rascals i will stand up and salute them. I hope they make snow tires for rascals. Maybe the Caps will let us borrow the cup next year for the ceremony. We probably won't make the playoffs next year with a new coach and we play in a division with the Red Wings, Preds, (who are embarassing us) and the Blues and Jackets will be better next year so we might be last in the central. I also can't wait to hang that central division banner next year. The Caps can have the cup we have the central division! That's most important.” (This guy feels really stupid right now)
tom c Wed Apr 21, 2010 10:40 am PDT
“I don't care who wins the cup if Detroit doesnt all I do know is it won't be CHICAGO....1961...hahaha. Get used to it and the Wings will win another cup or two before you do if ever again...Love hossa now don't ya...”
Biggest Surprises/Best of the Year
Phoenix Coyotes – How many of you had the Coyotes getting home ice in the 1st round and then coming within a game of knocking off the perennial contending Red Wings? Nope nobody did and if you said you did, you're lying. Apparently Wayne Gretzky was holding them back. Kidding aside this plucky group gave it their all. They even did it with the possibility of being sold at any moment during the season and having to possibly relocate at the end of the season. Ilya Bryzgalov, who had a few previous outstanding seasons, finally became a somewhat household name. He was 2nd in the league with eight shutouts and he was nominated for the Vezina Trophy. The rest of the squad collectively overachieved. Shane Doan was the leading scorer with a whopping 55 points and only one other player had over 50 points (Matthew Lombardi). Radim Vrbata was the only Coyote to have over 20 goals during the season with 24. Despite losing in the 1st round, the season was definitely something to build on. More importantly it may have finally sold hockey in the Phoenix desert.
Montreal Canadiens – The Canadiens magic season can be summed up with two words, Jaroslav Halak. If it wasn't for his emergence the Canadiens would have had just another 1st round exit. But he did emerge out of the shadow of Carey Price. I'll admit Carey Price doesn't cast a very large shadow but Halak had mostly been his backup until this year when they evenly split time in the regular season. Come the playoffs Halak was named the starter but he really didn't flourish until after he was benched for Game 4 and then he came back with a vengeance. He even faced 134 shots over a three game span against the Capitals, not an easy task. It wasn't all Halak though, Michael Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez and Tomas Plekanec led the Canadiens offensively in the regular season and postseason. Though Gionta and Cammalleri combined for almost half of the 46 postseason goal total with 22 goals. There was also the emergence of P.K Subban who stepped in for the injured Andrei Markov and perhaps even surpassed his level of play. Subban was loved in Montreal for his hustle, determination and skill and hated everywhere else for his big mouth. The 2009-10 Canadiens returned the storied franchise to the Conference Finals for the first time since 1993. Even a 1st round series win is celebrated like they just won the Stanley Cup in Montreal. I'll leave with two videos, one the crazy but tame celebration and one not so tame.
Best Game 7
Washington Capitals vs. Montreal Canadiens
I can't think of a game that had me at the edge of the seat like this one, in quite some time. Despite the Canadiens winning the previous two games, I didn't really give them much of a chance. First you had the Canadiens taking the early 1-0 lead on the power play, just 30 seconds into the game. But it was still early and the Capitals had plenty of time to come back. Only after the second intermission it was still 1-0 and then you start to wonder, maybe the Canadiens can pull it off. When Montreal scored with about four minutes left in the game to take a 2-0 lead, you realized you were watching history in the making. About a minute and a half later the Capitals finally score to cut it to 2-1 and then you think maybe they can come back. All you know is the final two minutes would be the most intense you've ever seen in your life. Then Montreal gets called for a penalty to make 5 on 4. The Capitals pull their goalie to make it a 6 on 4 and you think surely the number 1 offensive team can score a goal with a two man advantage to save their season. But no Halak comes up huge the time runs out and see Alex Ovechkin slumped over to end another season. Relive the final two minutes here.
This one was really hard for me to pick so I decided I'll name four and you can vote. I didn't include the Stanley Cup Finals because well it's the Stanley Cup Finals so it would be memorable even if it sucked, which in this case it did not.
Vancouver Canucks vs. Los Angeles Kings
This was an awesome series that we were sadly deprived of a Game 7. It featured lots of open ice action, some high scoring and sometimes some great saves. Watching Doughty shut down the Sedin twins was also great to watch.
Detroit Red Wings vs. Phoenix Coyotes
This series was also great. The enthusiasm in the Jobing.com Arena (dumb name) was awesome and Detroit matched it. There was a ton of open ice as well in this series and high scoring. Game 7 took a little bit of the luster off of the series. Favorite moment is the Shane Doan face after his Game 2 goal, who could ever forget that.
Boston Bruins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Game 1 was truly spectacular and featured a lot of pretty goals and an overtime win. Game 4 featured the same 5-4 score as Game 1 and another overtime. This series will mostly be remembered for the Flyers and their great series comeback and never give up attitude.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Hard to pick this series over the Canadiens vs. Capitals series but I did because you didn’t really know what you were witnessing at that point, plus I missed a lot of the games because there were so many other series going on. Other than Game 7 (more on that below) I thought this series was pretty evenly matched with great intensity and an always great Montreal crowd. Just love that atmosphere in the Bell Centre.
Biggest Disappointments/Worst of the Year
Anaheim Ducks – After coming within a game of the Western Conference Finals last season, Anaheim made the off season trade of sending Chris Pronger to the Flyers for Joffrey Lupul and Luca Sbisa. They had hoped to bolster their offense while securing another blueliner of the future for Pronger. They felt the addition of Lupul coupled with the signing of Saku Koivu would give them the offense they needed in order to make another run at the cup. Unfortunately while that looked great on paper, absolutely nothing worked out for the Ducks. Sbisa, while he will probably be on the Ducks blueline for the next decade, at only 19 was not ready for the big leagues especially with the crowded Ducks defenseman corp; he wouldn't have cracked the top two pairs. Coach Carlyle felt it was important Sbisa received playing time, so down to the minors to dominate he went. Lupul was reunited with the team that drafted him but a happy reunion it was not meant to be. He ended up playing in only 23 games and was out the rest of the year with back spasms and a subsequent herniated disk surgery. While in the long run the trade might look kindly on the Ducks, they essentially traded Pronger and received nothing in return.
Koivu and Teemu Selanne, Team Finland linemates, never really developed the chemistry the team was hoping for when they acquired Koivu. Selanne also suffered two of his worst injuries in his career almost in succession, further dampening the Ducks hopes of a potent second line. Towards the last few weeks of the season, the duo finally blossomed and showed their potential but it was to late. But give credit where it's due, Koivu was the Ducks MVP for the last two weeks racking up 11 points in the final five games. On the back-end the defensive core seemed to be okay with the trade of Pronger because the Ducks had acquired James Wisniewski and Ryan Whitney last season. Wisniewski played adequately but found himself suspended a few times, causing the group to not be at full strength. Ryan Whitney did not fit in well, especially at the power play point where the Ducks had hoped he would fill Pronger's skates. He did not and the Oilers and Ducks swapped Olympians with the Ducks receiving Lubomir Visnovsky (further giving me another beyond complicated name to type when I recap the past weeks Anaheim Ducks games). Lack of chemistry and injuries really were the downfall of the Ducks. Next year looks promising though if they can bring back all of the key players next season.
Washington Capitals – There's an old adage that goes “defense wins championships”. Apparently the Capitals have never heard of it. Coasting through the regular season playing in the weakest division and racking up goals like nobody's business, these Capitals seemed destined for great things. They were the Goliath of the NHL. But unfortunately for the Capitals, there was also a David lurking named the Montreal Canadiens and their mighty stone Jaroslav Halak. Now don't get me wrong the Capitals had a 3-1 series lead at one point, so it's not like they played horribly throughout. It's just when you play four series in three seasons and they all go to even games and you only win one of them, people start to wonder many things. I don't blame the Capitals for only getting three goals by Halak in games five, six and seven, because lets face it, the line of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull in their primes probably wouldn't have scored any more goals either. I more concerned with their lack of heart and their willingness to do whatever it takes to win. I'm also concerned with their defense. Mike Green is probably the premier offensive defenseman in the league but he's nowhere near the top of defensive defenseman in the league. That's really where the Capitals need him to be. He just completed his fourth season though, so barring something drastic on his part I really don't think he will improve. The NHL really needs to do him a favor and stop nominating him for Norris Trophies he doesn't deserve. The Capitals need to acquire better defensive talent and they need to become a more dynamic offensive team. I will give props to Semyon Varlamov who had a pretty good postseason. Unfortunately not many noticed it. Who knows though, the Sharks had a 1st round exit last year and made it to the Conference Finals this year. The same could happen to the Capitals.
Worst Game 7
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens
This Game 7 was somewhat reminiscent of last years 2nd round game between the Penguins and Capitals in which the Penguins destroyed the Capitals 6-2 in the 2nd round in a hugely disappointing game as well. This time the Penguins were on the losing end. I'm still not really sure how the defending Champions would show up so flat footed at home, but they did. They lost the game 5-2 and were even down in the 2nd at one point 0-4, yikes. As awesome as this series was, and it was one of the best of the playoffs, this game couldn't have been anymore anticlimactic. It also showcased none of the things that made the series great, other than Halak playing well again. Marc-Andre Fleury was awful, the Penguins defense was awful, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin had no points and the game wasn't close.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. San Jose Sharks
I alluded to it in the Blackhawks season recap but this certainly was the most disappointing series in some time. Normally you don't get the 1 vs. 2 match-up very often and considering what we got in the East, I expected so much more from this series. The Sharks had just come off a dismantling of the Detroit Red Wings and the Blackhawks looked strong coming off their Canucks series win. Now none of the final scores had more than a two goal win but you just got the vibe the whole series that the Sharks didn't have much of a chance, especially after they dropped the first two games at home. The score in those games were a lot closer than the game actually was. Nobody on the Sharks came to play except Patrick Marleau and they never scored more than two goals in a game. You can't expect to win the series when you average 1.75 goals a game in the series. The Sharks also took a bunch of dumb penalties in Game 4 when it was tied 2-2, basically handing the game to the Blackhawks on a silver platter. Evgeni Nabokov didn't play well and now I hear the Sharks want to resign him, yikes. He's a regular season goalie, not a playoffs goalie.
Can only happen in hockey
Duncan Keith loses seven teeth – Duncan Keith, or how he's referred to on the internet Duncan Teeth, showed the world just how tough hockey players are. While trying to keep the puck in the offensive zone on the power play, Keith took a puck to his face from a clearing attempt by Patrick Marleau. Marleau ended up scoring a breakaway goal because Keith was taken out of the play. But showing the true hockey player that he is, Keith returned to the game minutes later. Here’s a nice video on the play and what happened afterwards.
You've got to be kidding me
The Philadelphia Flyers come back from an 0-3 series deficit – This feet was made all the more impressive by the fact that they only got into the playoffs on a shootout win in the final game of the season against the New York Rangers. But the Flyers became only the third team in NHL history to comeback, joining the 1975 New York Islanders and the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs. Not only did they come back down from 0-3 in the series, they also came back down 0-3 in Game 7. Not to mention they had to switch stating goalies in the middle of the series due to injury and they lost their 2nd leading scorer, Jeff Carter, for a month due to injury. I can’t think of a team that had to battle so much to get so far. Many thought this might be a team of destiny but their destiny ran out in the Stanley Cup Finals. Special acknowledgment goes to Danny Briere for leading the whole NHL in postseason scoring and for having some pretty goals along the way.
Iron Man Award
Craig Anderson – Now here's a guy that had never been a starter in the league before or played in more than 31 games. He played in 71 games this season for the Colorado Avalanche, almost the same amount of games he played combined in his first five years in the league. He didn't stop there, as he faced the most shots of any goalie during the regular season with 2233. He was one of the primary reasons the Avalanche rebounded so quickly. In the playoffs he faced the highest shot total of any goalie to play six games and sometimes he faced more than those with a few more games played than him. He finished the playoffs with the highest SV% at .933. Here's hoping he can keep up the pace next year.
Team on the Rise
Los Angeles Kings – Something is brewing in Los Angeles and it isn't the latest motion picture. It's the first legit team the Kings have put together since Wayne Gretzky left town. They're a young and deep talented team. Anze Kopitar at only 22 has seemingly blossomed into an elite player leading the league in scoring for a good chunk of the time. He did severely cool off towards the end of the season. However, I think this season was just a little preview of what's to come. The Kings have a great pair of young defenseman in Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson. Doughty is something truly special and his skilled were acknowledged with the Norris Trophy nomination. While I don't think he will win it this year, my vote is on Duncan Keith, I think Doughty might dominate the award in the future like Bobby Orr, Raymond Bourque and Nicklas Lidstrom have in the past. Doughty was simply sensational in the Canucks series. How quickly the Kings can ascend, falls mostly on the shoulders of Jonathan Quick. Quick was a workhorse this season and will probably need to be again next season. He will need to continue to hone his skill in his 3rd full season if the Kings hope to advance further in the playoffs.
The comeback that never was
Ray Emery – Nobody wanted to take a chance on Ray Emery because of his previous bad behavior but the Flyers desperate for goalie help decided it would be worth the risk. Emery started all of 29 games before suffering a torn muscle. He was later diagnosed with avascular necrosis and was out for the rest of the year. In his absence Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton led the Flyers all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. With the Flyers recently signing Johan Backlund and already having Brian Boucher under contract, its unlikely free agent Emery will return. I don’t think any other NHL team will give him a chance either and I’m not even sure if he is fully recovered to play.
Breakout of the year
Steven Stamkos – I gave it to Stamkos because he had struggled so much the previous year. It’s not easy to come into the league as the 1st overall pick in the draft. Expectations are high and you are expected to perform. Stamkos rose to the challenge in his second year. Playing along side Martin St. Louis certainly helps but Stamkos is a special talent in his own right. Leading the league in goals in your second season is also an impressive feat. Stamkos will only continue to get better. John Tavares was another number 1 pick this year that put up almost identical numbers to what Stamkos did in his first season. I suspect his second season will end up being his breakout year as well. Craig Anderson would have gotten this nod for the regular season but I gave him another award. Jaroslav Halak would defiantly have gotten this award for the postseason but I already wrote about him.
Rookie of the Year (Calder Trohpy)
Tyler Myers – Besides goalie I think defenseman is the hardest position to learn. It’s not easy to try and stop the speed and skill of the top wingers in the NHL on a nightly basis. Myers was also the only defenseman on the Sabres in the top 80 in defenseman scoring. It’s very rare that there aren’t at least two defenseman from each team in the top 60. Leading all players on your team in ice time is always an honor for any rookie. Myers should compliment Ryan Miller for years to come.
Goalie of the Year (Vezina Trophy)
Ryan Miller – Goaltending has only gotten better over the years and there were a lot of strong contenders. Tuukka Rask came in a strong second but he played in 24 fewer games so I’d like to see what he can do with a full season under his belt. Miller had the 2nd best GAA at 2.22 and the 2nd best SV% at .931. Both were behind Rask. He faced the 4th most shots and had the 4th most wins. So while he wasn’t first in any major statistical category, he was 1st in taking over a game. He isn’t perfect though as he did make a few of my Goat of the Week awards this season. But as the entire World witnessed in the Olympics, he can put on quite a good show. This past January I saw Miller play live against the Ducks. He didn’t start the game, Patrick Lalime did. But the Ducks chased Lalime after the first 10 minutes after he gave up four goals. Though the Ducks did manage to score one goal on Miller, the whole entire feel of the game seemed different when he came into it. It was if he told the Ducks this isn’t going to be easy anymore. It wasn’t. I hope that Miller doesn’t suffer the same fate Dominik Hasek did in Buffalo. That is to go cupless.
Player of the Year (Hart Trophy)
Sidney Crosby – Now before we start this, I am not a diehard Sidney Crosby fan. I think he is a great player but I do not worship the ground he walks on. Furthermore, I honestly don’t think he is the most talented player on his team. I think Evgeni Malkin is. Two years ago Malkin would have easily won my player of the year award (I know my award isn’t that prestigious). So why does Crosby get it when Alex Ovechkin and Henrik Sedin had just as good or even better seasons? Well first off, Malkin didn’t have the same year he had in the previous two seasons and a lot of that was due to injuries. So basically Crosby had to carry the Penguins on his back. The other important thing to remember is Crosby doesn’t really have anyone else on his line. Sure Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin are good players but they aren’t great. Sedin has his brother Daniel Sedin on the same line and Ovechkin has Nicklas Backstrom and sometimes Alexander Semin. Crosby is the line all by himself. He also scored 51 goals which was not only tied for 1st in the league but his own personal best. He had never even reached 40 goals in any of his previous seasons. He was also red hot in the 1st round of the playoffs before coming back down to earth against Halak. I don’t think he has reached his full potential yet but I felt he was the best player on the ice this season.
Vote for the best of the season
Some were hard cuts particularly in the Goat category, so many goats this season. But I narrowed it down to three fights and five goats. There is no playoff goats so no Dan Boyle own goal or Halak stupidly playing the puck way beyond his net.
Fight of the Season
Cam Janssen vs. Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond
David Koci vs. Brian McGrattan
Rick Rypien vs. Cam Janssen
Goat of the Season
Nikolai Khabibulin misplays the puck in the final minute of the game against the Flames to give them the win.
Tim Thomas mishandles the puck allowing the Penguins to get the win in overtime.
Keith Ballard taking out his own unsuspecting goalie
Ivan Vishnevskiy loses the puck off his stick and into his own empty net
Antoine Vermette comes sweeping in and knocks it in his own goal.