Biggest Winners and Losers from the 2013 NHL Regular Season
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Maybe it was just relief.
Relief that there was a season. Relief that the lockout finally came to an end. Relief that hockey fans did not have to listen to Gary Bettman's whining for a full season.
However, when hostilities came to an end in January and players put on uniforms once again, the 2013 hockey season was a revelation.
Instead of playing 82 games, the season was truncated to 48 games. That meant that every game was important and fans got their money's worth every time they attended a game or watched it on television.
When every game counts, the entertainment value is quite high. For a shortened season, there was no shortage of winners and losers.
Here's our take on the winners and losers from the 2013 regular season.
Winner: Chicago Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks defined what a fast start is supposed to be all about.
The Blackhawks made an impressive statement on opening day. They hammered the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings as they raised the banner in front of their fans. The Blackhawks showed no deference and no respect. They just laid a 5-2 beating on the Kings that wasn't as close as the score indicated.
That was just the jumping-off point for the Blackhawks. They would play 24 games before they would taste defeat in a 60-minute regulation game. That allowed them to shoot to the front of the pack in the Western Conference. While they would receive a serious challenge from the Anaheim Ducks, the Blackhawks would never lose their lead.
The Blackhawks responded to a pressure situation. After getting knocked out of the playoffs in the first round the last two years, head coach Joel Quenneville was feeling the heat. His players responded from day one.
There was no better example of the Blackhawks' skill than their Feb. 2 win at Calgary. The Blackhawks were dog-tired after playing the previous night in Vancouver and were outplayed throughout the game. The only reason the score was tied 1-1 in the late stages was the incredible play of goaltender Ray Emery.
However, when the Flames scored with 35 seconds to play to take a 2-1 lead, it seemed the Blackhawks were doomed. But there was no hesitation, as the Blackhawks maintained possession of the puck and smartly set up a tying goal that was scored by Marian Hossa.
The Blackhawks won the game in a shootout and it gave the team the look of potential champions.
They would go on to win the Presidents' Trophy and they are a solid favorite to get to the Stanley Cup Final.
Winner: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby had put all the concussion-related health issues that had marred his career in 2010-11 and 2011-12 behind him.
When the 2013 started, Crosby was once again the best player in the NHL. He was a dominant player throughout the season. He had scored 15 goals and 41 assists in his first 35 games when the took the ice March 30 against the New York Islanders.
Minutes into that game, a deflected slap shot hit him in the face and broke his jaw as well as his bottom row of teeth.
He did not play another regular-season game.
Crosby returned to practice with his teammates before the final game and the hope is that he will be in the lineup for the first game of the playoffs. However, there are no assurances that he will return to the lineup that soon.
Despite his long absence, Crosby was the leading scorer in the NHL until the final days of the regular season, when Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning passed him.
He is a viable MVP candidate despite missing 25 percent of the season.
If Crosby comes back healthy, it would be a major surprise if the Penguins do not represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Final.
He is the game's best player and he proved it in 36 games this season.
Loser: Tampa Bay Lightning
Two years ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning appeared to have one of the most exciting teams in the NHL. With superstars like Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, the Lightning made it to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals before they lost to the Boston Bruins in a scintillating 1-0 game.
They slumped badly in 2011-12 and did not make the playoffs.
The 2013 season was supposed to be a rebound year for the Lightning. Playing in the winnable Southeast Division, there was no way the Lightning wouldn't contend in a division that included the Washington Capitals, Florida Panthers, Winnipeg Jets and Carolina Hurricanes.
Head coach Guy Boucher was too creative and his players were too talented to have another bad season. Right?
The Lightning picked up from where they left off 2011-12. They lacked consistency, aggressiveness and, most of all, goaltending.
The Lightning made a brief run early in the season but quickly fell apart. Boucher got fired and the team settled near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Winner: John Tavares, New York Islanders
John Tavares was always viewed as one of the better young players in the NHL. He was the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft and he had been a good, productive player in each of his first three years.
However, whatever Tavares did on the ice was not enough to help his team become a factor in the Eastern Conference. The Islanders were bottom-feeders in the Atlantic Division.
At the start of the season, there was no reason to change that assessment. Tavares and the Islanders appeared to be in over their heads.
But Tavares was having none of it. He didn't care about previous reputations. All he wanted to do was be the best player he could be and do whatever he could to turn the Islanders into winners.
Tavares exceeded all expectations. He has become one of the top scorers in the league and he has carried the Islanders on his back.
Tavares scored 28 goals and 19 assists for the Islanders. He finished as the third-leading goal scorer in the league behind Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos. Tavares had nine power-play goals and five game-winners.
Beyond the numbers, Tavares is never satisfied. He is striving to get better as a defensive player as well as a scorer and he has become a legitimate superstar.
Winner: Toronto Maple Leafs
The playoff drought had reached nearly biblical proportions.
The Toronto Maple Leafs went into the 2013 season not having been to the Stanley Cup playoffs since the 2003-04 season.
While there was some significant talent on the roster, there were still a lot of question marks as the season got underway. The biggest of those was in goal, where the Leafs had failed to swing a deal for Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo.
They were forced to go with James Reimer and Ben Scrivens in net. It didn't appear to be a promising situation.
However, Reimer (19-7-5, 2.38 goals-against average, .926 save percentage) proved to be one of the better goalies in the league, and head coach Randy Carlyle got consistently strong defensive play from his team. The Leafs became aggressive and opportunistic and made the playoffs as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Leafs are led by high-scoring forward Phil Kessel (19 goals and 32 assists) and have gotten off the deck and become one of the league's premier up-and-coming teams.
Winner: Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
Sergei Bobrovsky has been the most surprising player on the league's most surprising team.
The Blue Jackets fell just short of making the playoffs, but they were still one of the most inspiring stories in the NHL.
The Blue Jackets were the worst team in the NHL last year by a significant margin.
They cleaned house this season, and after a slow start, they got very competitive and remained in contention for a playoff spot until the last game of the season.
Nobody helped them more than goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. He is a legitimate Vezina Trophy candidate with a 21-11-6 record, a 2.00 goals-against average and a shocking .932 save percentage.
Bobrovsky had been ordinary in his NHL career with the Philadelphia Flyers and Blue Jackets prior to this year, but he erased that reputation with his stellar performance this season.
Loser: John Tortorella, New York Rangers
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The New York Rangers appeared to be the dominant team in the Eastern Conference when the season got underway.
They had been beaten in the Eastern Conference finals by the New Jersey Devils last year because of a lack of offensive punch. They added Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the offseason, and he was supposed to give the Rangers the scoring burst they needed to become a much better team.
However, the Rangers lacked consistency all season. Nash met or exceeded expectations, but the Rangers took a step backward in 2013. Head coach John Tortorella and his high-pressure style may have reached the point of diminishing returns.
The Rangers did not clinch the playoffs until the penultimate game of the season. They still struggle to score and they are not expected to get far in the playoffs even though the team's talent level is high.
Much of this is the responsibility of the head coach. Tortorella is quick to blame his players, the officials and he is well known for his rants against the media.
Perhaps he needs to look in the mirror.
Winner: Ottawa Senators
Paul MacLean has gotten every drop of ability out of the Ottawa Senators this season.
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The roof appeared to fall in on the Ottawa Senators in the early days of the season.
Last year's surprise team had high hopes going into the 2013 season, but they were hit by a deluge of injuries.
Stars like Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza and league-leading goalie Craig Anderson all went down early, putting a crimp in the Senators' playoff aspirations.
Then, the telling blow was administered. Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson went down in February when Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins came down with his skate blade on Karlsson's Achilles. Karlsson suffered a partial tear and it was assumed that he would not be back in the regular season and that a return for the playoffs was iffy.
The Karlsson injury did not bury the Senators. Instead, head coach Paul MacLean got this team to retain its confidence and the Senators played hard every night. They were not a dominant team, but they were competitive.
The Senators played well enough to make the playoffs for a second straight year. They also got Karlsson back in the final week of the regular season.
Loser: Edmonton Oilers
This was supposed to be the year that the Edmonton Oilers joined the ranks of playoff teams in the Western Conference.
The Oilers simply had too much talent to remain out of the picture. With young studs like Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov leading the way, the Oilers looked like a team on the rise.
They had several ups and downs in the first two-plus months of the season, but the Oilers appeared to turn potential into production when they won five games in a row during late March and early April. That allowed the Oilers to rise to eighth in the Western Conference.
However, just when it looked like their explosiveness would overcome their inconsistency, their immaturity reared its head.
The Oilers hit the skids after their hot streak and fell out of contention.
They may still be a team on the come—they overwhelmed Minnesota and Vancouver in the final two games of the regular season—but they wasted their opportunity to earn a playoff spot in 2013 and were a disappointment.
They should have accomplished more this season.
Winner: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Alex Ovechkin appeared to be a lost soul in the early part of the season.
Once one of the NHL's top superstars, Ovechkin was just a shell of the offensive dynamo he had been through the majority of his career.
He had been disappointing in 2010-11 and 2011-12, but he appeared to have no gas in the tank in 2013.
Ovechkin was roundly criticized for his indifferent and uninspired play and his huge contract appeared to be an albatross that would weigh down the franchise.
But then came the turnaround. As the Caps approached midseason, Ovechkin regained his game. Instead of floating, he was skating like a man possessed once again. He started filling the net.
Ovechkin finished the season as the league's leading scorer with 32 goals. He is a legitimate MVP candidate who led his team to the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and the Southeast Division championship.
The Capitals have followed his lead and they are once again Ovechkin's team.
Winner: Anaheim Ducks
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The Anaheim Ducks were one of the top success stories in the league during the 2013 regular season.
It was a shocker because the Ducks finished 14th in the Western Conference in 2011-12 and they didn't appear to have a much-improved roster.
Additionally, the presence of Bruce Boudreau behind the bench was not really a recipe to make them much better. Boudreau is colorful and quotable, but consistent play from his team was never his calling card during his stint as head coach of the Washington Capitals.
Nevertheless, the Ducks found a winning formula. They used their size, strength and aggressiveness to take it to opponents. They were the second-best team int he Western conference behind the Chicago Blackhawks.
While they had a brief slump in the second half of the season, they never lost their focus and they won the Pacific Division and the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan provide steady scoring and the goaltending of Viktor Fasth and Jonas Hiller has helped this team play consistently.
The Ducks went 3-0 versus the league-leading Blackhawks during the regular season and they are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
Loser: Milan Lucic, Boston Bruins
Milan Lucic endured a lost season.
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He is supposed to be the NHL's version of the prototypical power forward. But Milan Lucic has shown little power in 2013.
Instead of using his strength, hitting ability and vicious wrist shot to dominate opponents, Lucic appeared to be skating in mud most of the season.
While he's not quick or agile, he's supposed to have excellent straight-ahead speed and an unstoppable presence to him when he is carrying the puck. That aspect has been missing in action.
The Bruins are hoping that a bit of life shown in the final regular-season game may mean that Lucic is returning to his expected form as the playoffs get underway.
But he only scored seven goals this season and was a major disappointment.
Winner: New York Islanders
The New York Islanders were one team that you could count on at the start of the season.
When you look at the competition they faced in the Atlantic Division, it was obvious that another last-place finish was in order.
Despite the presence of John Tavares, they simply did not have the talent to compete with the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils. Those four teams would surely make the playoffs and the Islanders, well, thanks for trying.
Head coach Jack Capuano never bought into that script. He saw that Tavares was not just a good, young player on the rise. He was a legitimate superstar.
The Islanders also had a crew of hard-working, intense players like Matt Moulson, Michael Grabner, Josh Bailey and Brad Boyes who supported Tavares. The Islanders played competitive hockey from the start and got better as the year progressed.
The most impressive aspect of this team is its ability to win on the road. The Islanders went 14-6-4 away from home, which helped them earn their first playoff spot since 2007.
It was a good season for the Islanders and there is reason to think that things will get better from here.
Loser: Phoenix Coyotes Franchise
The Phoenix Coyotes found themselves in Fantasyland last spring.
They won two playoff rounds and got to the Western Conference finals last year. The Coyotes also have a slew of young talent within the organization.
However, the team is in disarray. They expected to finalize their ownership situation early in the season, but Greg Jamison's bid failed because he could not come up with the cash by the deadline imposed by the city of Glendale.
The Coyotes are still looking for solid ownership.
The team's future in the desert is tenuous at best.
The (lack of) ownership problems may have affected the team on the ice as well. The Coyotes played hard, but they were unable to secure a playoff spot, finishing 10th in the Western Conference.
Commissioner Gary Bettman insists the Coyotes can make a viable run in the desert, but it seems like a dubious proposition.
Winner: Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Patrick Kane has always been one of the most exciting players in the NHL.
Kane was the No. 1 draft pick in the NHL when the Blackhawks selected him in 2007 and he has always been in the minds of opposing head coaches when they have to devise defensive game plans.
Kane has always been too skilled and talented to leave to his own devices; a scheme must be used to slow him down or stop him in key games.
However, there's been a big difference to Kane's game this season. In addition to his highlight reel goals and passes, Kane has added consistency to his game.
Kane's maturity off the ice has helped him contribute more on an every-game basis. He was a huge factor in the Blackhawks' Presidents' Trophy-winning regular season.
One of the underrated aspects of Kane's play is his defense. Kane is so quick with his stick that he is regularly able to pick the pocket of opposing defensemen and forwards. That allows him to create instant offense and give his team a big advantage.
Loser: Buffalo Sabres
Thomas Vanek's explosive scoring could not save the Buffalo Sabres in 2013.
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The Buffalo Sabres were heartbroken at the end of the 2011-12 season when they just failed to make the playoffs.
Head coach Lindy Ruff and general manager Darcy Regier saw the team's biggest problem as a lack of toughness. The Sabres brought in Steve Ott and over-sized goon John Scott to give the team more character.
While the idea made sense—to some degree—the Sabres got out of the gate slowly and struggled to string wins together. Instead of challenging for the top in the Northeast Division, the Sabres sunk to the bottom of the division. Ruff was fired midseason.
Not only did the Sabres endure a lackluster year, they appear to have many problems for the future. Goalie Ryan Miller, who as been the backbone of the team for years, was a disappointment and the defense was unreliable.
The Sabres also have to figure out what to do with interim head coach Ron Rolston and decide if he should be the team's on-ice leader for the long run.
Winner: Pittsburgh Penguins
The sting of a humiliating first-round playoff defeat to the Philadelphia Flyers punished the Pittsburgh Penguins throughout the offseason and the lockout.
The Penguins wanted to get back on the ice badly after the Flyers overwhelmed them with a relentless offensive attack that revealed a weakness in Pittsburgh's defensive play.
The Penguins knew they could play better in their own end and that goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was much better than he showed against the Flyers.
The 2013 regular season demonstrated that general manager Ray Shero knew how to put his team together and Dan Byslma understood how to get the most out of his players.
The Pittsburgh Penguins (36-12-0, 72 points) finished as the top team in the Eastern Conference.
Led by Sidney Crosby, the Penguins were able to score seemingly at will this season. Considering that Crosby missed the final 12 games of the regular season and stars like Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Kris Letang missed significant time with injuries, the Penguins appear to be the best team in the East by a wide margin.
If they can prove that in the playoffs, hockey fans may be treated to a classic Stanley Cup Final matchup with the equally impressive Chicago Blackhawks.
Loser: Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils
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Adam Henrique was a hero for the New Jersey Devils in his rookie season. He scored the series-winning goals against the Florida Panthers and the New York Rangers last year.
If the Devils were going to find a way to survive and return to the playoffs after losing leader Zach Parise to the Minnesota Wild in free agency, Henrique was going to play a huge role.
Henrique made the NHL's All-Rookie team last year, scoring 16 goals and 51 points during the regular season before he scored five goals and eight assists in the postseason.
But Henrique was not able to sustain his success this season. He had a nightmarish year, scoring 11 goals and a meager five assists.
Henrique must rebound next year if the Devils are going to be competitive again in 2013-14.
Winner: Washington Capitals
Few teams have ever had the in-season turnaround that the Washington Capitals had in 2013.
With the truncated 2013 season, the Capitals failed to get off on the right foot under rookie head coach Adam Oates. The Capitals were 2-8-1 after 11 games and they appeared to have no chance to rescue their season because they were playing awful hockey.
Alex Ovechkin was floating, the Caps' play in net was atrocious and the team appeared to have no direction.
Appearances can be deceiving. The Caps turned things around shortly thereafter and began a long, slow climb to the .500 mark, which they reached with a 5-3 road victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on April 2.
However, they did not stop there. They continued to win and the Caps ended up taking the Southeast Division title and the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Oates became a steadying influence behind the bench.
Alex Ovechkin turned his year around and became a the league's top goal scorer, but the Caps got solid play from their defense and Braden Holtby once again became a reliable goaltender.
The Caps won a playoff round and got to the seventh game of the second round last year. They could improve on that and get to the Eastern Conference finals this year.
Loser: Matt Cooke, Pittsburgh Penguins
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Matt Cooke did not have a terrible season for the Pittsburgh Penguins—eight goals and 13 assists—but he showed his true colors once again.
Cooke is the player who ran Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins from behind and effectively ruined his career with a head shot in 2010.
Cooke earned a reputation as one of the dirtiest players in hockey.
He pledged to change his ways and he avoided dirty hits that injure other players during the 2011-12 season. Cooke was lauded by the media for this turnaround (source: ESPN.com).
But the 2013 season saw Cooke return to his vicious ways. Cooke brought his skate blade down on Ottawa Senators superstar defeseman Erik Karlsson's Achilles tendon in a game in February.
The injury kept Karlsson out of action until the final week of the regular season.
Many defended Cooke, saying the action was accidental. But for those who have seen him in action over the years, it just seemed like Cooke reverted to his original form.
Cooke also had a questionable hit on Boston's Adam McQuaid later in the season and NBC Sports Network analyst Mike Milbury labeled him a "skunk" (source: SI.com).