NHL Season Review and Team By Team Analysis
Another NHL regular season is in the books, and this one may be one of the most exciting in the past decade.
Seven coaches were fired mid-season, countless players had breakthrough years, and the race for the league’s best record came down to the last two days. Here is a look back into the 2008-2009 season:
For the second year in a row, the NHL started in its season in Europe.
The New York Rangers and the Tampa Bay Lightning played two games in the Czech Republic, and the Pittsburgh Penguins squared off with the Ottawa Senators in Sweden. Tampa was hoping to turn a corner this year, acquiring Steven Stamkos as the number one pick in the 2008 NHL draft, as well as making big trades and picking up talent off of the free agent market.
Tampa hired former Kings coach and ESPN analyst Barry Melrose, in hopes that the veteran coach would light a fire and spark the team into a possible playoff contender, but the Rangers new offensive style and solid goaltending held Tampa to without a point in Europe.
The Penguins and Senators split their games in Sweden, and with the amount of talent present on all four teams, the NHL decided to start the ‘09-10 seasons in Europe as well.
On Jan. 1, the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks played the second Winter Classic on historic Wrigley Field in the heart of Chicago.
Thousands of fans came out to cheer on their team while thousands of other hockey fans came just for the experience—the teams didn’t disappoint either—the crowd of over 40,000 was treated to an action filled game with Detroit skating to a 6-4 victory.
Chicago came out flying in the first period with Kris Versteeg scoring three and a half minutes in, and a monster hit by Chicago’s Brent Seabrook on Detroit’s Dan Cleary. Chicago lead, 3-1, after the first, but Detroit’s Jiri Hudler tallied twice in the second along with Pavel Datsyuk scoring on a signature breakaway, which put Detroit ahead by one going into the final frame.
Detroit scored twice in 17-seconds in the third and Duncan Keith tallied in the final 10-seconds of the game to close the eventful day with final score of 6-4.
This Original Six matchup may be the highlight of the regular season, but it is important to mention the value of the two points that game had to offer in the Central Division.
As a part of the celebration of the Montréal Candiens 100th NHL season, the league paid tribute by having the city host the 2009 NHL All-Star Game.
As in years past, fans were given the opportunity to vote on who they believed to be worthy as the starters. Seeing as Montréal was hosting the game and there would be mostly Canadiens fans filling the Bell Centre, the Candiens’ players on the ballot jumped out to an early and formidable lead.
After much investigation, it became clear that the Montréal fans had been using automated voting systems thanks to a Mozilla Firefox add on.
The NHL stepped in and docked 250,000 votes from every Montréal player—each one on pace to be a starter—in order to discourage cheating and to give every player a fair chance.
Not only did this news anger Canadiens fans, but it also played a role in the increasing interest in fan voting.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin saw there vote totals sky rocket in front of the Canadiens forwards, having Crosby set a new record for most votes, surpassing former Penguin Jaromir Jagr.
After the voting period had ended, Crosby, Malkin, and Alexei Kovalev took the starting forward roles, while Canadiens Andrei Markov and Mike Komisarek manned the blueline.
Fellow Canadien Carey Price started between the pipes for the East. On the Western side, Ryan Getzlaf, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews started up front, with Scott Neidermayer and Brian Campbell on defense.
Duck’s goalie, Jean-Sebastian Giguere, was in net for the opening period.
As the weekend approached, Sidney Crosby announced that he was unable to play in the game due to an injury he decided was too severe to play with—after this, Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Lidstrom also pulled out due to injury—to Crosby’s credit, and much endearment by the league, the Penguin’s star attended the festivities and supported his league while the Detroit players stayed home and nursed their injuries.
Crowd favorite, mainly due to his home province of Quebec, and the circulating trade rumors, Vincent Lecavalier was name the starter in Crosby’s absence while Sharks’ forward Patrick Marleau and Stars’ defenseman Stephan Robidas filled in for the missing Red Wings.
The weekend kicked off with a Superskills Competition full of attractions for fans and a sea of talent.
Events included a full roster elimination shootout, fastest skater competition, hardest shot, accuracy shooting, and a breakaway challenge.
The winners in each category were Andrew Cogliano in the fastest skater, Alexander Ovechkin in the breakaway challenge, Evgeni Malkin in the accuracy shooting, Zdeno Chara in a, record breaking, hardest shot and Shane Doan in the elimination shootout.
All in all, the first night of the weekend was a crowd pleaser.
The 2009 All Star Game turned out to be an equal thrill for the fans, as local Alexei Kovalev clinched the shootout win with a incredible glove side snap shot on Roberto Luongo to add to his 2 goals and assist. He was appropriately named the games MVP and was awarded a new Honda.
The Eastern Conference was standings ended up being a tight race for playoff spots, and had huge gaps in talent up at the higher end; ultimately ending with the Boston Bruins leading the conference with 114 points. The Bruins were led by underrated goaltender Tim Thomas, and 6’9” defenseman Zdeno Chara, both of who are possibilities to win the award for best goalie and defenseman respectively.
The Washington Capitals, lead by prolific goals scorer Alexander Ovechkin and 30 goal scoring defenseman Mike Green, finished second in the conference with an impressive 108-points. Their shaky goaltending situation could be a factor in the playoffs, but they have enough firepower up front to take on almost any team.
The New Jersey Devils, who almost saw their season slip away with the early injury to their goaltender, All-time wins leader Martin Brodeur, played an unbelievable season with back-up goalie Scott Clemmensen playing half of the games.
Brodeur returned to action in March, and immediately broke Patrick Roy’s win record of 552 wins and helped the Devils win the Atlantic Division and secure third place in the conference. Zach Parise had a breakout season scoring 45 goals and leading the team in points as a third year player.
The Philadelphia Flyers roared back with another impressive season after their last place finish in ‘06-07, and the Carolina Hurricanes, who fired Coach Peter Laviolette mid-season, won an impressive nine games in a row in the home stretch to get the No. 6 spot.
The Pittsburgh Penguins hit some rough patches in the year despite having NHL point’s leader Evgeni Malkin and superstar Sidney Crosby in their lineup. They fired coach Michel Therrien late in the season, but thrived under interim coach Dan Bylsma to secure the No. 4 position.
The New York Rangers had a roller coaster year to say the least.
After getting off to a 10-2-1 start in October, the Rangers faltered offensively and had to rely on goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to bail them out of important games.
General Manager, Glen Sather, had enough of the lack of offense in the team and fired coach Tom Renny and immediately replaced him with former coach of the Lightning and Stanley Cup winner John Tortorella.
The Rangers also picked up notorious pest and former Ranger Sean Avery off of waivers from Dallas after his media fiasco in Calgary and months of anger management class.
The roller coaster ride evened out under Tortorella, and the Rangers managed to sneak into the playoffs as the seventh seed.
The season for the Montréal Canadiens couldn’t have been more nerve racking. In Celebration of their 100th season in the NHL, the Canadiens acquired forwards Robert Lang and Alex Tanguay to boost their offensive power.
Both players were injured in the early half of the year, and Montréal faced big problems.
They hosted the 2009 All-Star game, and it was only fitting that crowd favorite Alex Kovalev scored the shootout winner as well as posting three-points in game play.
Kovalev then quieted down at a pivotal part of the season, calling for GM Bob Gainey to bench him for two games.
Kovalev returned on a tear, playing along side Tanguay and Saku Koivu, and becoming one of the most productive lines in the last month.
Montréal also fired their head coach Guy Carbonneau late in the year, while Gainey filed dual roles as GM and head coach.
Out of the playoff picture, the surging Florida Panthers turned heads this year, coming just one head to head win with the Canadiens short of making their first post-lockout playoff debut.
Although, they had no real standout offensive dynamo, they were lead by all-star Jay Bouwmeester and tandem goalies Craig Anderson and Thomas Voukun.
The Buffalo Sabres were another quality team that just fell short of making the playoffs.
Sniper Thomas Vanek posted an outstanding goal total of 40 despite missing about a dozen games with a broken jaw. The Sabres failure to enter the post-season can be attributed to the absence of franchise goalie Ryan Miller, who was injured in the home stretch of the season.
One of the two surprising teams that played well below their potential was the Ottawa Senators, who got off to a horrendous start and never could make up lost ground.
Their top line of Dany Heatly, Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza was not as productive as they should have been early on, but as the season progressed, they picked up their offensive power helped the team end up much better than they projected to finish.
The Toronto Maple Leafs was the mover of the year, adding GM, Brian Burke, mid-season and making multiple trades and roster changes throughout the year.
Standout rookie Luke Schenn had a phenomenal year as a, less than, 20 defenseman, and forward Jason Blake had a tremendous year after overcoming the ailments of leukemia.
The Atlanta Thrashers, Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders all had miserable years as the bottom three teams in the East.
Atlanta survived on the offensive prowess of Ilya Kovalchuk despite the lack of a solid defense.
Tampa Bay, who was perceived to end up much better with the revamping of their organization, ended up firing head coach Barry Melrose just 16 games in and ended up in about the same position as they did last year.
The Islanders faced possibly the hardest task for a team on the rebound. They added powerplay specialist Mark Streit, who ended up leading the team in points, and called up rookie Kyle Okposo to help out the struggling offense, but it was the loss of franchise goalie Rick DiPietro that placed the Islanders in an insurmountable hole.
They ended the year in last place in the league, but did win the first overall pick in the 2009 entry draft.
The Western Conference proved this season to be much more of a thrill to the fans, as teams were in and out of the top eight all year long, and the end result was memorable for many teams.
The San Jose Sharks, under rookie head coach Todd McLellan, were hands down the most productive team in the first half of the year.
They broke team and league records on their way to becoming the winner of the President’s Trophy, despite losing nine of their 18 starters to injury in the last two months.
Captain Patrick Marleau had a career year in goals, potting 38 goals, which doubled his last year’s total, and broke the franchise record for all-time power play goals.
The Sharks were, however, pestered throughout the year for the top spot by the 2008 Stanley Cup Champion Red Wings, who ended up finishing second in the West.
Detroit, who has been the most consistent teams in the past decade, acquired coveted sniper Marion Hossa from free agency in the summer, making the odds pretty good for Detroit to have a repeat year for the Cup. Detroit hit many rough patches at the worst times this year, but their pure domination of the game has them placed well in the standings.
The Vancouver Canucks were another team that has a great story this year as well.
Goalie Roberto Luongo is possibly the best goalie in the league, and when he went down with a groin injury in the middle of the season, not many thought that they would end up winning the Northwest Division and hold the No. 3 seed in the West.
They signed free agent Mats Sundin half way through the year, and surged to clinch the division.
The Chicago Blackhawks also had an emotional year lead by young guns Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The Hawks made the playoffs for the first time in seven-years and had their first 100-point season in a very long time.
Having two quality goaltenders was a big key to their success, along with the resurgence of speedy forward Martin Havlat.
The Calgary Flames were if anything, a disappointment in the west this year, despite holding the No. 5 seed.
Star goalie Miikka Kiprusoff played in 76 of the 82 games this year, and consequently won the most games by any goalie.
Captain Jerome Iginla had a slow start and was streaky at times, but it was no excuse that with almost 40-goal scorer Mike Cammalleri and trade deadline acquisition Olli Jokinen the Flames could not secure the Northwest Division title.
Possibly the best story of the year was that of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who made their first playoff appearance in franchise history. Lead by captain Rick Nash and rookie goalie sensation Steve Mason, the Jackets got their first taste of playoff hockey against the Red Wings.
The Anaheim Ducks rallied late in the season to help secure a playoff spot, and the use of two solid goaltenders in Jonas Hiller and J.S. Giguere along with rookie scoring leader Bobby Ryan sent the Ducks on a late season tears into the post-season.
The forward line of Ryan, Correy Perry, and Ryan Getzlaf, along with Norris Trophy winners Scott Neidermayer and Chris Pronger were a late season force and earned and deserved their post-season bid.
Yet another emotional story came just south of Columbus as the St. Louis Blues made a strong second half push to reappear in the playoffs for the first time since the Lockout.
Lead by goalie Chris Mason, and rookies TJ Oshie and Patrik Berglund, the Blues surprised the league by managing to win some close games and put up big points.
The Western teams out of the playoffs were almost all possible Cup contenders.
The Minnesota Wild sat just two-points out of eighth place, but was overlooked was their success without captain Marian Gaborik for 90 percent of the year.
Goalie Niklas Backstrom had an amazing year, and was rewarded for his efforts by being named a candidate for the Vezina trophy.
The Nashville Predators had a somewhat unsuccessful year in their standards, but the play of rookie goalie Pekka Rinne helped the team to an above .500 record and some individual career years.
The Edmonton Oilers were a disappointment to say the least.
With strong offense and quality defense and goaltending, the Oilers played far below potential and failed to qualify by squandering leads missing key opportunities. The comeback of Sheldon Souray on defense helped they blueline, but lack of production by Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky pitted the Oilers in the 11th spot. As a result, the management fired longtime coach Craig McTavish shortly after the season closed.
The other surprisingly unfortunate team this year was the Dallas Stars—left to overcome major injuries, the Stars started out slow, and never picked up the speed—many analysts and writers had picked the Stars to win the Cup this year, but the below average play of goalie Marty Turco and the loss of captain Brendan Morrow proved to be too big a challenge.
The bright spot on the year was the artsy and skillful shootout goals scored by Mike Ribiero.
The Phoenix Coyotes, Los Angeles Kings, and the Colorado Avalanche all had poor seasons, none worse than Phoenix.
At the mid-season break, Phoenix was sitting pretty in a playoff spot, only to have the worst second half of any team and drift towards the bottom.
Los Angeles had a young and quick team, but the lack of a number one goalie and solid defense had them sitting in the number 12 spot.
Colorado came into the season with a small hope of making the playoffs, but the crushing losses of future Hall of Famer Joe Sakic and star center Paul Stasny placed all the weight on forwards Ryan Smyth and Milan Hejduk.
Colorado scored the least amount of goals, and also allowed the third most because of there sever lack of goaltending
The team standings weren’t the only noteworthy statistics this season. Martin Brodeur, after missing four months with a torn bicep, recorded a shutout in his first game back, and a few games later, he set the new mark for wins by a goaltender with 552. Carolina’s Eric Staal recorded four hat tricks this year, including one four-goal game.
Pittsburgh’s Malkin and Crosby finished first and third respectively in the point’s race, marking the 13th time since 1988 that a Penguin has won the award. Columbus’s Steve Mason recorded 10 shutouts in his rookie campaign, a franchise record and the first time a rookie goalie has done so in the modern NHL.
Detroit’s goalie Ty Conklin played in his third outdoor NHL game, being the only player to have played in both Winter Classics and the Heritage Classic.
Detroit also secured its top players by signing forwards Henrik Zetterberg to a 12-year deal, and Johan Franzen to n 11-year deal. Washington defenseman Mike Green became only the eight defenseman to score over 30-goals in a season, while only playing 68 games.
All in all, this NHL season was one of many ups and downs; some heartbreak and some heart warmers, and so down right unbelievable action.
With this crop of talent in the playoffs, it is almost a given that the teams will not disappoint in the entertainment department.
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