Stanley Cup Playoffs 2012: Giving out Report Cards to 16 Playoff Teams

Joseph Trenton@@TrentonNHLCFLAnalyst IIIMay 16, 2012

Stanley Cup Playoffs 2012: Giving out Report Cards to 16 Playoff Teams

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    The NHL has the most challenging championship title to win in professional sports. Lots of NHL teams began with high expectations early and if the team disappointed, players became rentals and acquiring draft picks and young prospects became the next focus.

    Let's take a look at the 16 teams who made the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs and see what grade they earned this season.

    We will begin with the 8th place teams first and work our way up the NHL regular season standings.

16. Ottawa Senators: 92 Points

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    The Ottawa Senators sold their team last year in hopes of beginning a small rebuilding process. General manager Bryan Murray was busy trading assets such as Antoine Vermette, signing Craig Anderson, acquiring Nikita Filatov and trading Chris Kelly to teams that demanded their services.

    In 2011-12, the message was clear—the Ottawa Senators will go with a young team and work with new head coach Paul MacLean. During the regular season, the Phoenix Coyotes were unable to re-sign Burnaby, BC native Kyle Turris to a second pro contract. As a result, Bryan Murray actively pursued Turris from the Coyotes and eventually acquired him for young Swedish defenseman David Rundblad.

    The Senators never strayed away from their original rebuilding strategy and somehow found their team to be very competitive for most parts of the season.

    Veteran forwards Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek played well  and led the team offensively, while their 2008 first round draft pick, Erik Karlsson, became a breakout player on defense. Karlsson finished his third NHL season with 19 goals and 59 assists in 81 games.

    In the playoffs, the Senators pushed the first place New York Rangers to the brink of elimination in Games 6 and 7 before losing in the first round.

    Overall, this has been a season where the Senators exceeded expectations.

    Overall Grade: A

15. Washington Capitals: 92 Points

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    Dale Hunter did a fantastic job with a star-laden Washington Capitals team this season. Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom were held in check at all times, and role players such as Matt Hendricks saw career highlights this season under Hunter.

    Having a past history of early playoff exits, the Capitals looked poised to go deep into the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs this year. They came within a Game 7 from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals, but they had an improved year resulting from a new coaching philosophy.

    Overall Grade: B+ 

14. Florida Panthers: 94

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    Kris Versteeg, Brian Campbell and Tomas Kopecky to his new team after presiding over the trio during his time with the Chicago Blackhawks. These players responded nicely to the change of scenery, as they all had productive seasons.

    The New Jersey Devils were able to pull out a close series in seven games against them, but the Florida Panthers are in a much better position today than they were two or three years ago.

    Overall Grade: B+

13. Los Angeles Kings: 95 Points

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    The Los Angeles Kings entered the 2011-12 season with very high expectations. In fact, most NHL experts pegged them to finish the regular season as the Pacific Division winners over San Jose, Dallas, Phoenix and Anaheim.

    To the surprise of many, the Kings started the season poorly, and it eventually cost Terry Murray his head coaching job.

    After Murray's departure, General Manager Dean Lombardi built the team to take the next step and compete for the Stanley Cup this year.

    After Lombardi hired Darryl Sutter as head coach, the Los Angeles Kings barely made the playoffs, finishing in eighth place ahead of the Calgary Flames.

    Surprisingly, the Kings eliminated the Vancouver Canucks in five games during the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

    In the second round, the Kings took on the St. Louis Blues and swept the second best team from the regular season. Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick performed at the highest level and carried the team to the Western Conference Finals.

    As of May 15, the Los Angeles Kings have taken a 2-0 series lead against the Phoenix Coyotes.

    Many now believe the Kings are favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

    Overall Grade: A+

12. San Jose Sharks: 96 Points

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    Doug Wilson, the GM of the San Jose Sharks, has tried everything he could to find a winning combination in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Disappointingly, the Sharks happened to come up short in 2011, as they lost in the Western Conference Finals to the Vancouver Canucks and were eliminated again this year in the first round by the second-ranked St.Louis Blues.

    The key players on the team, namely Dan Boyle, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Michal Handzus are in their mid-to-late 30's, and the franchise finished in the lowly seventh place in the Western Conference, a far cry from their status as the Pacific Division champions.

    As a result, this is expected to be a busy offseason for Doug Wilson, and he could potentially lose his job soon if he cannot convince ownership  that he can provide solutions to the ongoing problems of the San Jose Sharks.

    Overall Grade: C

11. Phoenix Coyotes: 98 Points

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    The Phoenix Coyotes have battled for the better part of three and a half seasons now with uncertainty of the future of the franchise in Glendale, Arizona.

    Having an organization that is currently owned by the NHL, the Coyotes have suffered tremendous financial losses and have been forced to operate with very limited resources. GM Don Maloney has done a marvelous job in Phoenix, as he hired Dave Tippett to coach an experienced roster.

    Despite the financial troubles, the Coyotes have successfully made the playoffs for two straight years, and they won the Pacific Division title over some pre-season favourites in Los Angeles and San Jose.

    In the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Coyotes relied on the superb goaltending of Mike Smith, as well as the play of Mikkel Boedker and Antoine Vermette. That leadership has led the team past the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks and the second round against the Nashville Predators. They now face the Los Angeles Kings for a chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.

    However, being down 2-0 and going on the road for Game 3, it seems like Phoenix's season could soon be over.

    Overall Grade: A-

10. Chicago Blackhawks: 101 Points

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    The 2010 Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, had a shorter season than expected.

    Since defeating the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, the Blackhawks have failed to win a playoff series under head coach Joel Quenneville. The team underwent tremendous turnover in terms of player personnel and losing their goalie to salary cap constraints.

    Stan Bowman, the GM for the Blackhawks, has tried to keep his core players around for as long as possible, but the formula hasn't seemed to work very well.

    With consistency a concern in goal, Stan Bowman must decide how he is going to plan ahead with Corey Crawford, Alexander Salak and Carter Hutton. If he needs a veteran back-up goaltender or a general change of direction, then he will definitely address these questions closer to the NHL draft or free agency, which begins on July 1.

    Overall Grade: C+

9. New Jersey Devils: 102 Points

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    Zach Parise became the New Jersey Devils' ninth captain in franchise history. Many experts predicted that the Devils would miss the playoffs for a second consecutive year after having made the playoffs every year since the NHL lockout.

    New Jersey proved many critics wrong throughout the season by placing themselves in the thick of things with the teams in their own division. The Devils eventually finished sixth in the East and faced a favourable match-up against the Florida Panthers, who won the division title with a mere 94 points.

    The Devils saw the emergence of center Adam Henrique this past season, as well as fourth overall pick Adam Larsson on the blue line. GM Lou Lamoriello made key moves to acquire Marek Zidlicky to quarterback the offense from the back-end and signed Steve Bernier to help the team in the playoffs.

    All in all, the Devils have done very well, and now have a legitimate shot at their fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history.

    Overall Grade: A

8. Detroit Red Wings: 102 Points

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    The Detroit Red Wings have been a model NHL franchise for the past decade. They consistently make the playoffs—having won the Stanley Cup in 2008—and have an embarrassment of riches inside their organization.

    GM Ken Holland and his assistant Jim Nill have been instrumental for their success year after year. They have also received numerous calls from other teams to interview Nill, but they built a clause within his contract to deny transfers.

    Mike Babcock is one of the most successful coaches in the NHL. He has had the honour to coach players such as multiple Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom, multiple Selke and Lady Byng Trophy winner Pavel Datsyuk and All-Star forward Henrik Zetterberg.

    This post-season, the Red Wings lost to the Nashville Predators in the first round. They may be forced to change their player personnel a bit or add another piece to their core group if Lidstrom decides to retire.

    Overall Grade: B

7. Boston Bruins: 102 Points

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    The Boston Bruins tried to defend their Stanley Cup title this year with mostly the same roster.

    Having Tyler Seguin break out as a 67-point player is definitely a big surprise, and the Bruins saw some really good performances by players such as Johnny Boychuk and Rich Peverley, adding to the team's depth.

    One thing to note is that Seguin's 67 points is officially better than any single season output of former Bruin Phil Kessel during his tenure in Boston. GM Peter Chiarelli really made smart deals acquiring Tyler Seguin (2nd overall), Dougie Hamilton (9th overall) and Jared Knight (32nd overall) from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Overall Grade: A-

6. Philadelphia Flyers: 103 Points

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    GM Paul Holmgren saw his big contract signing, Danny Briere, pay off in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Briere was exceptional for the Flyers during the playoffs, and the Flyers were close to achieving great things.

    Yet, Holmgren did not plan for Ilya Bryzgalov's situation very well. He did not prepare for Bryzgalov's sub-.900 save percentage or his 3.5+ goals against average in the playoffs. Although the team scored enough to remedy their goaltending troubles against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round, they were unable to repeat that feat against the New Jersey Devils.

    In a year that saw Holmgren trade away Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, while losing Chris Pronger to a severe concussion early in the season, the Flyers were unlucky in some ways.

    In conclusion, the team had set much higher expectations for themselves than a second round exit.

    Overall Grade: C+

5. Nashville Predators: 104 Points

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    The Nashville Predators tried pulling out all the stops this season going into the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs in an attempt to make their first deep playoff run in franchise history.

    GM David Poile and coach Barry Trots assembled a team that had good depth, a great defense and phenomenal goaltending from Pekka Rinne.

    At the trade deadline, Poile acquired hulking defenseman Hal Gill, checking line center Paul Gaustad, invited forward Alexander Radulov back from Russia to play out his entry level contract and also united the Kostitsyn brothers.

    The Predators saw this as their last window of opportunity to win with both Shea Weber and Ryan Suter in the organization.

    However, Nashville lost in the second round to the Phoenix Coyotes.

    Overall Grade: B-

4. Pittsburgh Penguins: 108 Points

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins were the feel-good story of the year in the NHL due to the return of Sidney Crosby.

    Even though Crosby missed much of the season, teammate Evgeni Malkin stepped up and played his best hockey to win the Art Ross Trophy. He will also be in contention for the Hart Memorial Trophy in June's NHL Awards.

    When the Penguins made the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, many experts picked them to win the cup against either the St. Louis Blues or the Vancouver Canucks. Surprisingly, the Penguins' defense and goaltending could not hold up.

    Marc-Andre Fleury made several poor save attempts and found the puck in the back of the net 26 times in a span of six games, as the Penguins were eliminated in the first round by the Philadelphia Flyers.

    Overall Grade: C-

3. St. Louis Blues: 109 Points

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    The St.Louis Blues were the most improved team in the Western Conference this season. Management added Ken Hitchcock early in the regular season, and the team responded by nearly winning first place in the Western Conference.

    The bright spots for the Blues this season were the play of Alex Pietrangelo and the incredible goaltending from both Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott. The goaltending tandem won the Blues the Jennings Trophy for the least goals against during the 82 game season.

    In the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Blues were able to defeat the San Jose Sharks quite handily, but they could not match the intensity of the Los Angeles Kings in the second round. After being out-hit and out-competed, the Blues were eliminated by the Kings.

    Overall Grade: A-

2. New York Rangers: 109 Points

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    The New York Rangers suddenly became a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference this season.

    As coach John Tortorella would explain to you, the team is not skilled enough to play a wide-opened game, so they stick to the blue-collar mentality by blocking every shot that is directed at their net.

    With star players like Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik in the lineup, the Rangers have been able to get timely goals from their offensive players. They haven't been easy to come by, but the goals have been enough for All-Star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to work with.

    Speaking of Lundqvist, the veteran goaltender has been quite a story in New York. This season, he was nominated to win the Vezina Trophy for Outstanding Goalie, the Hart Trophy for Most Valuable Player and the Ted Lindsay Trophy for MVP voted by the players.

    With one win in the books in the conference finals, the Rangers look poised to win their second Stanley Cup since 1994.

    Overall Grade: A

1. Vancouver Canucks: 111 Points

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    The biggest disappointment of the NHL this year may have been the Vancouver Canucks.

    Daniel Sedin was derailed with an elbow to the head that forced him to miss the first three games of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Sedin had very little time to get himself back into shape for the remainder of the first round, as his team was eliminated in five games.

    Also, Roberto Luongo may have played his last game as a Vancouver Canuck after having his job taken away from him in favour of Cory Schneider in Games Three, Four and Five against the Los Angeles Kings.

    After losing to the Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, the Canucks missed an opportunity to redeem themselves.

    Overall Grade: D