The 2016-17 NHL season has finally come to an end, and it finished in almost identical fashion as the season before. The Penguins are Stanley Cup Champions and Sidney Crosby was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. They once again faced a first-time finalist in the Nashville Predators, and won the series on the road in Game 6.
But even though the Pens came out on top again, the Predators walked away with the memories of a magical playoff run and the experience that could help them jump the final hurdle in the future, along with a lifetime supply of catfish.
With the Final all said and done, it’s time to dive into the achievements of both the Penguins and Predators, as well as set up the league’s big events that’re closing out the season.
Winning a single pro sports championship is hard. Defending that championship is even harder. Yet here we are, just a year removed from the Pittsburgh Penguins’ fourth Stanley Cup, celebrating their fifth. With three trophies in less than a decade, the Crosby/Malkin era Penguins have finally earned the coveted “dynasty” title.
While some people might shrug off Pittsburgh’s accomplishment, it’s no secret how tough the road to this year’s victory was. The Pens lost numerous man games throughout the postseason. Kris Letang didn’t play a single minute in the playoffs due to season ending neck surgery, while other roster mainstays like Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Chris Kunitz missed multiple games due to various ailments.
The assumed strain of Pittsburgh’s goalie situation seemed nonexistent, with both Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray playing significant ice time and carrying the club to the Cup. The Pens netminders were so excellent, there was hope that the two could share the Conn Smythe. League rules unfortunately got in the way of that dream, but we still got a heartwarming trophy moment between Fleury and Murray.
*Sniff* I’m not crying, you are.
What we’ve witnessed over the course of these past two years in the city of Pittsburgh has been nothing short of astounding, and will be regarded as one of the greatest achievements in hockey history. With the salary cap and level of league wide parity in the NHL today, we might not see anything like this again for quite some time. Either that, or we’ll see Sid being handed Lord Stanley’s Cup again next June. Enjoy your summer, Pittsburgh.
A Smashville Success
Like a lot of third party fans (and hockey writers, apparently), I was pulling for the underdog winners of the West, the Nashville Predators. The Predators had entered the playoffs as the eighth seed, and weren’t expected to make it past the first round, let alone to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. But as the Preds went on to sweep the Chicago Blackhawks, “Smashville” became front page news.
The raucous atmosphere at Bridgestone Arena has been one of the NHL’s best kept secrets for quite a while. The team’s massive pregame parties outside the arena were the talk of the league, with live concerts, celebrity anthem singers and cars to smash for charity. The Predators were able to feed off their home fans throughout the postseason, putting up a fantastic 9-2 record at home, with Pittsburgh’s Cup clinching victory being Nashville’s only regulation loss of the playoffs.
Of course, the Predators made it to the Final through more than just fan support. Nashville’s scoring depth proved to be their strongest asset, as injury call ups like Pontus Aberg and Frederick Gaudreau became local heroes. Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban anchored Nashville’s strong defense and were major contributors on the scoresheet. Pekka Rinne played some of the finest hockey in his career during the first three rounds of the playoffs, although his play took a sharp decline versus the Penguins.
Despite coming just two games short of hockey’s biggest prize, the Preds’ young core has proven how bright their future is. Their fans showed that Nashville is a certified hockey town, and has set the bar for the rest of the NHL’s fanbases. The Predators will be back, and when they do, Smashville will be ready to party all over again.
The Best is Yet to Come
June 20 will be a big day in the history of the NHL. The league will unveil their new Adidas jerseys, the NHL Awards be handed out and most importantly, the Expansion Draft will be held for the new Vegas Golden Knights.
With the Knights making their selections in just over a week, the league’s other 30 clubs will be scrambling to fill their protection lists and make any necessary moves. I plan on covering the Canucks’ expansion draft plans closer to the big day, but one thing is certain; the next week is going to be crazy.
Rumored moves have been floating around since the season began, but now the groundwork for deals are starting to take shape. Marc-Andre Fleury has already waived his no-trade clause so the Penguins can protect Matt Murray, while the Ottawa Senators have asked defensemen Dion Phaneuf to do the same thing.
The teams will have to submit their protection lists by Saturday, so expect some major shuffling throughout the NHL over the next few days. Add the upcoming Entry Draft and Free Agency to the calendar, and you’ve got a few weeks full of wheeling and dealing to look forward to.
Get excited hockey fans, because there’s still some surprises left in store.