And so it was that two long-standing Western Conference powers crashed out of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, bending the knee to upstart franchises in just five games each …
You might not have liked the Sharks or Red Wings in their series against the Blues and Predators, but it was very difficult to see either one crashing out in five, wasn't it?
Now both find themselves at a bit of a crossroads. Detroit, of course, has been hearing "they're too old to keep doing this much longer" forever. But were it not for what even the staunchest of statsphobic old-timers would call a lucky, impossible-to-replicate home winning streak, it's difficult to get excited about the team's prospects going forward. No one on the Wings broke 70 points, and that's the first time since 2003-04 that such a thing has happened. They only had 17 road wins this season, and didn't win once at Joe Louis Arena in the playoffs. Causes for concern, certainly, made no less worrisome by the prospect of Nicklas Lidstrom hanging them up.
Make no mistake, this is an old team. Second-oldest in the league behind New Jersey, in fact. The number of players in their top-10 for scoring under the age of 30 was just three, and they weren't exactly three guys you see a guy as apparently smart as Ken Holland building a team around: Valtteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler, who played most of the year with Henrik Zetterberg, and Ian White, who took the majority of his shifts with Lidstrom. That's not to say they're not good players in their own right (well, White isn't), but they are complementary players, and guys like Zetterberg would still succeed regardless of who played with them.
They also have few particularly tantalizing prospects (the result of a decade or so of drafting pretty poorly) and Lidstrom, with his career very obviously on its last legs, simply cannot be the rough-and-ready warhorse at both ends of the ice he has been in the past, and the prospect of Niklas Kronwall playing any more minutes than he already does has to be concerning to anyone who watched this Nashville series.
Now, none of this is to say that the Wings didn't carry long stretches of their playoff games, and outshoot Nashville significantly in three of the five. They did. But as the series wore on, they also often appeared baffled with how to handle the looks a line led by Martin Erat was giving them, and didn't do a very good job of silencing anyone over the course of five games.
(Coming Up: It's Claude Giroux's world, we just live in it; the end of the Pens; Marty Brodeur is old; Mike Cammalleri gets his sweater; hoping for a Nicklas Lidstrom retirement; the Islanders probably aren't Brooklyn bound; the Coyotes and Blackhawks play a lot of overtime games; Cam Ward is charitable; the Rangers can't score; Tyler Seguin is pretty good; Emerson Etem ignites; and a trade to get Roberto Luongo to Tampa Bay.)
Obviously, it's worth considering that the Red Wings have something like $16 million in salary cap money coming off the books in the offseason, and only have a few guys they'd probably look at re-signing. They also never really got drilled by Nashville until the final game of the series, when you could just tell the Preds had an extra gear the Wings didn't.
But the fact is that most players still look at Detroit as a model franchise they'd be lucky to play for; so unlike other teams, they will likely have no trouble attracting top free agents and staying at least somewhat relevant, though perhaps not at the strength they once showed.
I wouldn't be so sure about the San Jose Sharks.
This is a team whose greatness we all overestimated this past summer, simply out of habit. But throughout the season and into the playoffs, they often looked old, disinterested, out of answers and just not good enough. That was especially true against the Blues, for whom they had no plan offensively, which is a position approximately zero into which people saw them slipping backwards even three or four months ago.
More worrying, though, is that there's no help on the way.
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They have 14 players under contract next season with a combined cap hit of more than $55.5 million, and most of the larger contracts are for guys who are going to be north of 30 (Thornton, Marleau, Havlat, Clowe, Handzus, Boyle, Murray) — not where you want to be such a large portion of your cap money. And if you thought they might be able to bring up low-cost rookies from their system, think again. Hockey's Future ranks their prospect pool at dead last in the league; which, even if you don't put a ton of stock into that kind of thing, should be more than a little concerning. They can't be off by more than, say, three or four slots, right?
The Sharks, it seems, are another Calgary Flames in the making, having mismanaged a roster and thought far too much of their older players to the point that it led to severe roster mismanagement, and neglected their farm system in doing so. But since they began at a higher position, their fall will be less significant than the Northwest Division's discredited franchise.
There two teams are very much in decline and look unlikely to reclaim any former greatness they may have had, at least not within the next few years. But Detroit at least is in a significantly better position than the team that once antagonized it so when the postseason rolled around.
Not that either is enviable at this point.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: After scoring 61-46-107 in 65 regular season WHL games, Ducks prospect Emerson Etem scored 7-6-13 in seven playoff appearances. Shockingly, he's also up for WHL player of the year. He's now with Syracuse in the AHL, and scored one goal in the two final games before the postseason, but has been held off the scoresheet in two playoff games. In summary, he is pretty good.
Boston Bruins: This is the culmination of two fantastic games from Tyler Seguin. He went the first five games of the series without a point but seemed at least dialed in on Saturday. On Sunday, he set up Andrew Ference's crucial third goal, then scored this beauty in OT to force Game 7 on Wednesday.
Buffalo Sabres: Darcy Regier on how to fix the Sabres next season: "We've got to reduce the injury numbers and I think that'll start there." Oh, Darcy. No. That's not the jumping-off point.
Calgary Flames: Flames AHL affiliate the Abbotsford Heat entered the postseason going 8-1-1 in their previous 10 games, and then walloped Milwaukee in the first game of the playoffs, 6-2 on the road. I'd say the future is bright but I mean come on. To be fair, though, Sven Baertschi isn't even on the team yet.
Carolina Hurricanes: Cam Ward recently put his mask from the past season up for auction to benefit the Special Olympics, and it fetched $6,000.
Chicago Blackhawks: Hey, another Blackhawks/Coyotes game that went to overtime. It's the first series to go to overtime five straight times since 1951. Both teams are aware that it's legal to finish a game in 60 minutes, right?
Colorado Avalanche: Avs governor Josh Kroenke says, hey who wouldn't want to see the team increase payroll this offseason and become competitive? I mean, they're not gonna actually, like, do it or anything, but yeah of course fans want that to happen.
Dallas Stars: Stars prospect Alex Chiasson is already well on his way to a successful pro career after leaving Boston University a year early. He had five points in the Texas Stars' final nine games. He's probably still a year or three away from being a full-time NHLer, though.
Detroit Red Wings: Will Nicklas Lidstrom retire this summer? Jeez I hope so. One of the things you could always say about Lidstrom is that no matter what, he just didn't make mistakes. This season, especially as it wore on and entered the playoffs, he started making some serious mistakes, the most egregious being Martin Erat leading him and two other Wings into the corner for a wide-open goal by Kevin Klein. Don't want to see him enter Chris Chelios territory. That would be truly sad for the second-best the world has ever seen.
Edmonton Oilers: Given Braden Holtby's performance in the playoffs, might that free up either he or Michal Neuvirth in the offseason? And if so, should Edmonton pursue either? I dunno, I don't think either of them have much experience as defensemen at the NHL level.
Florida Panthers: Michael Yormark would really like it if Panthers fans would stop throwing rats on the ice after goals. Yeah, good luck with that.
Los Angeles Kings: Entering last night's game, the Kings' power play was really bad. Despite having the second-most power play time in the postseason, they only had three PPGs. That has to be better going forward.
Minnesota Wild: Three terribly important members of the Wild — Niklas Backstrom, Dany Heatley, and Devin Setoguchi — all had surgery in the 10 days after the season ended. So, another chance to blame injuries for the season collapsing.
Montreal Canadiens: Hey after the Canadiens caught all that bad press for trying to charge Mike Cammalleri for his Habs jersey, they just sent it to him for free. Was it really so hard?
Nashville Predators: Nice of Alex Radulov to finally show up for the series, scoring the opening goal and assisting on this beautifully-crafted eventual game-winner that proved a backbreaker for the Wings.
New Jersey Devils: There can't have been too many people outside the greater Miami area that thought we'd be in this position through five games. But I guess none of us counted on Marty Brodeur being a million years old.
New York Islanders: Aww, the Islanders probably aren't moving to Brooklyn now. But the reason? "It's hard to reach for the team's fan base in Long Island and Queens." The team's what now?
New York Rangers: But I thought signing Brad Richards was going to clear up all the Rangers' scoring problems forever. They've put up 1.8 goals per game in this series. That's bad. Richards and Gaborik are tied for the team lead in points, with three. That's worse.
Ottawa Senators: Chris Neil isn't likely to face supplementary discipline for concussing Brian Boyle. Because you know hey whatever man.
Philadelphia Flyers: What a game by Claude Giroux. What a leader. What a player. This hit on Sid Crosby just six seconds in set the tone for the whole game. And oh yeah, he pretty much demanded to take the first shift.
Phoenix Coyotes: More news on the potential Coyotes sale. The Glendale city government expects a deal soon but has no timetable. They've been saying all of this for years now. How's it all worked out?
Pittsburgh Penguins: Boy if this doesn't symbolize the entire Penguins' defensive series. D does just enough to mess things up for Marc-Andre Fleury, who has no answer for even the softest shots Philly had to offer. Terribly embarrassing all around.
St. Louis Blues: The entire city of St. Louis acting like they won the Stanley Cup by winning a 2-7 series? Sure, why not?
Tampa Bay Lightning: Looks like the Bolts were planning on selling everything that wasn't nailed down to pick up Cory Schneider, and now are not going to for obvious reasons. Another player in the Jonathan Bernier sweepstakes? Can't wait.
Toronto Maple Leafs: A prominent Canadian figure skater being brought on board to help the Leafs with their skating as a means of replacing former skating coach Graeme Townshend? No, that doesn't lend itself to any jokes at all. Can't think of one. Not a single joke. Nope.
Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks decided to put together their three most, shall we say, outspoken forwards. But what to call a line consisting of Ryan Kesler, Max Lapierre, and Alex Burrows? Besides, "the one that's easiest to hate ever?"
Washington Capitals: Remember when Mike Knuble was benched (granted, because of his bad plus-minus) and everyone was all mad about it? Yeah, so does Mike Knuble. Which is why he's played his ass off ever since. Sometimes that kind of thing works, apparently.
Winnipeg Jets: Know who might end up having a rough summer? Dustin Byfuglien. He still has his trial for drunken boating from last summer coming up in July.
Gold Star Award
Minus of the Weekend
Marc-Andre Fleury ended the Penguins' playoffs allowing four goals on 22 shots in Game 6, and stopped just 131 of 157 in the series. That's an .834 save percentage, the lowest by any goalie to ever make at least six appearances in a postseason. His 4.63 GAA was the highest among that same group since 1995, and sixth-worst ever. Remind me again what "elite" means, please?
Play of the Weekend
Wonderful goal by Jonathan Toews to keep his team alive.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User "Kevin8se7en" is looking for a change.
To Tampa Bay:
No more hitting, no more hitting.
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