The crazy, lockout-shortened 2013 NHL season has ended with the Chicago Blackhawks becoming the first team in the salary-cap era (2005-06 to the present) to win multiple Stanley Cup championships.
Despite getting only 48 regular-season games due to the work stoppage, NHL fans had very little to complain about after arguably the two most exciting months of hockey in a long time.
The postseason included five Game 7s, 27 games that went to overtime (one shy of the all-time record), the inclusion of every Original Six franchise and a thrilling Stanley Cup Final between the Blackhawks and Boston Bruins.
As we close the page on a memorable and exciting season, let's look at the biggest winners and losers from 2013.
The Toronto Maple Leafs' season started with a surprising decision to fire general manager Brian Burke a couple weeks prior to the season opener. But once play began, the Leafs were a completely different team than in 2011-12 by playing a more physical, responsible game opponents hated facing.
Head coach Randy Carlyle's two-way system that requires gritty play and strong defense resulted in Toronto leading the league in hits and blocked shots, and ranking seventh in takeaways. The team's penalty kill greatly improved from 28th-best in 2011-12 to second-best this season.
Perhaps the most important development for the Leafs was the progress of some of the team's young stars, including former first-round pick Nazem Kadri. The young center was getting close to being labeled a bust, but he enjoyed a breakout year, finishing second on the team with 44 points (18 goals, 26 assists) in 48 games.
Newly acquired winger James van Riemsdyk calmed some concerns about his durability and excelled with 32 points in 48 games.
Toronto accomplished its goal of making the playoffs (ending its nine-year postseason drought) by earning the fifth seed in the East. They took the Boston Bruins to seven games in Round 1, despite trailing 3-1 in the series. The Leafs ultimately became the first team to blow a three-goal lead in the third period of a Game 7, losing 5-4 in overtime.
But the future is very bright in Toronto, with a good mixture of veteran players (Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, JVR, etc.) and young talent (Jake Gardiner, Jonathan Bernier and Kadri) that have laid a solid foundation for success over the next few years.
Already considered the worst GM in the league by many, Jay Feaster did nothing to help disprove that notion this year.
He had a number of valuable assets to move at the trade deadline to help accelerate the Calgary Flames' much-needed rebuild. But he failed badly with the Iginla-to-Pittsburgh trade that netted the Flames two NCAA prospects who project to be, at most, third- or fourth-line pros, in addition to the Penguins' first-round pick in this year's draft (which will be one of the bottom four selections).
When Feaster traded Bouwmeester to the St. Louis Blues, he acquired defenseman Mark Cundari and goalie Reto Berra, two young players not believed to have very high ceilings. The Flames also got a 2013 first-rounder from the Blues, but that is going to be a mid-round selection.
The Flames did not get enough of a return for Iginla and Bouwmeester, which has put a lot of pressure on the team to hit a home run in this year's draft.
If those trades weren't bad enough, Feaster also signed restricted free agent Ryan O'Reilly to an offer sheet, not knowing that he would have to pass through waivers before Calgary could acquire him. Fortunately, Colorado matched the offer sheet anyway, saving the Flames from a potential disaster that would have included the loss of their own first-round pick (No. 6 overall) and a third-round selection.
This was supposed to be the season in which the Edmonton Oilers' young core finally learned how to win. Few teams have as much offensive talent, but the Alberta club woefully disappointed with a 12th-place finish in the West (10 points behind the final playoff spot).
Edmonton had a tough start to the season, including a 4-10-4 stretch from the start of February through March 8. The Oilers finished 18th in goals scored and 19th in goals against, and the team's uptempo style of play resulted in 479 turnovers—the second-highest total in the league.
But aside from missing the playoffs, the biggest disappointment was the digression from top forwards Jordan Eberle and Ryan-Nugent Hopkins. Eberle was expected to become a legitimate superstar this season after scoring 34 goals in 2011-12, but the young winger found the back of the net only 16 times in 48 games.
Nugent-Hopkins led all rookies in scoring in 2011-12 as a Calder Trophy finalist, but he scored only four goals in 40 games this year, finishing with a total of 24 points.
Edmonton's disappointing season could result in some major changes over the summer. This roster needs major help on the blue line and an upgrade at goaltender should also be strongly considered.
The owners did get the NHLPA to agree to term limits on new contracts during the lockout, but nothing in the new collective bargaining agreement prevented owners from spending massive amounts of money on contract extensions for their star players during the season.
The 2013 UFA class was expected to be loaded with elite talent, but it has now become one of the worst classes in years because almost all of the best players have re-singed with their current teams. If you were a great player with an expiring contract, there was a strong chance a substantial offer was coming your way.
Here's a quick recap of the upcoming FAs in 2013 and 2014 who were inked to new deals this season.
|Player||POS||Old Team||New Team||Term||Salary Cap Hit|
|Evgeni Malkin||C||PIT||PIT||8||$9.50 million|
|Travis Zajac||C||NJD||NJD||8||$5.75 million|
|Sergei Gonchar||D||OTT||DAL||2||$5.00 million|
|Ryan Getzlaf||C||ANA||ANA||8||$8.25 million|
|Corey Perry||RW||ANA||ANA||8||$8.625 million|
|Mark Streit||D||NYI||PHI||4||$5.25 million|
All salary info via Capgeek.com.
Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban did not get the long-term contract he wanted at the start of the season as an RFA and had to settle for a two-year, $5 million deal.
But after winning the Norris Trophy, tying a career-high 38 points in just 40 games and making great strides in his defensive game, Subban is set to earn a gigantic raise with his next contract, which can be worked out as early as the summer.
The star blueliner will likely command at least $6.6 million per season in his next deal.
The Phoenix Coyotes enjoyed their most successful season last year when the franchise was only knocked out by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final.
The club was hoping to build on that momentum, but more ownership problems and the lockout proved a detriment. Former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison was expected to purchase the team in January, but that deal (like so many others) failed to materialize..
The Coyotes lost some talent when veteran forward Ray Whitney left in free agency, and they finished four points out of a playoff spot after a fourth-place finish in the Pacific last season.
Time is running out to preserve the Coyotes' future in Glendale. Average home games at Jobing.com Arena filled only 81.3 percent of capacity, according to ESPN, and the franchise lost $20.4 million in the 2011-12 season, per Forbes.
Deadspin provided the latest on any ownership developments:
The Glendale City Council is working with potential owners Renaissance Sports and Entertainment to reach an agreement regarding the Phoenix Coyotes. The NHL is telling both sides to do so by July 2, because if they don't finalize a deal by then, the team might be heading to Seattle.
John Tortorella was fired by the New York Rangers.
The common thught before the season was that there wouldn't be many coaching changes made after a 48-game season. But that didn't stop several teams from firing bench bosses, some of whom were with their clubs for many years and achieved quite a bit of success.
The list of head coaches let go this season:
Two casualties of the lockout were the 2013 Winter Classic and 2013 NHL All-Star Game.
The Winter Classic was supposed to be held on January 2 at the University of Michigan between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs—two Original Six teams with enormous fanbases. It would have been the largest Winter Classic in history. Luckily for the fans, this matchup will be revived next January.
The All-Star Game, meanwhile, was supposed to take place at Nationwide Arena in Columbus in late January. It is expected that Columbus will get its chance to play host in the near future, similar to the Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets), who got the game in 2008 after the 2004-05 lockout caused the cancellation in '05..
There is nothing better than overtime action during the NHL playoffs.
In the 2013 playoffs, there were 27 overtime games, which was one shy of the all-time record set in 1993. Home-ice advantage was a major factor, as 19 of the 27 OTs were won by the home team.
There was at least one overtime matchup in every postseason series, which had never happened since the adoption of the current playoff format in 1987.
Even if you're not a fan of the Blackhawks, it's hard for anyone to complain with the exhilarating, edge-of-your-seat drama that the 2013 playoffs provided sports fans around the globe.
The Columbus Blue Jackets took a major step forward in 2013 by establishing a solid core of young players and veterans, in addition to the improvement of Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
Columbus finished 13th or worse in the Western Conference over the previous three seasons, but made a remarkable turnaround by finishing in a tie for eighth with Minnesota this year (ultimately missing the playoffs due to a tiebreaker).
With former St. Louis Blues executive John Davidson leading the hockey operations department, the Blue Jackets are headed in the right direction. Columbus also has three first-round picks in the coming draft, one that is full of elite talent and depth.
The Blue Jackets will be moving to the Eastern Conference next season as part of the league's new realignment, but they can no longer be chalked up as automatic W's on opponents' schedules. This is a gritty team with developing young talent, star players such as Marian Gaborik, and a top goalie.
This is all great news for the loyal hockey fans in Columbus.
The Philadelphia Flyers missing the playoffs was arguably the biggest team surprise of this shortened season. Loaded with offensive skill and a strong coaching staff, the Flyers were expected to contend for the Atlantic Division title despite their lack of elite talent on the blue line and inconsistent goaltending.
Unfortunately for veteran netminder Ilya Bryzgalov, his sophomore season in Philadelphia was not much better than his first. He wasn't the main problem with the Flyers this year, but he didn't play to the level expected of a player who makes over $5 million per season.
Injuries also played a factor. First-line winger Scott Hartnell missed 16 games, while forwards Danny Briere, Matt Read and Max Talbot all missed at least six games. On the blue line, the Flyers were devastated by injuries, with Kimmo Timonen and Luke Schenn being the only two defensemen fortunate enough to play in 38 or more games. All of the injuries on the blue line forced head coach Peter Laviolette to play 13 different defensemen in two or more games.
Ultimately, the real issue for the Flyers was poor defensive play, highlighted by too many soft goals, turnovers, bad positioning and disappointing goaltending. Without strong defense and consistent goaltending, it's difficult to earn a playoff spot, especially in a division where every team is a playoff contender.
The 2013 season was one full of promise for the Carolina Hurricanes, who were aggressive in their offseason acquisitions of star forwards Alexander Semin and Jordan Staal in hopes of ending the team's three-year playoff drought.
Carolina had the 13th-ranked offense, but defense, goaltending and special teams were all major problems. The Hurricanes finished 29th in GAA, 27th in power-play success, and 28th in penalty killing.
The team's poor defense was affected by the loss of star goalie Cam Ward, who missed the final 31 games due to a sprained MCL in March.
Instead of contending for a playoff spot, the Hurricanes finished 13th in the East. The good news for Carolina is that it has several prospects expected to contribute at the NHL level next season, and the fifth overall pick in the draft.
The NHL lockout did not have a negative impact on television ratings this season. In fact, this was the most successful season for NBC's NHL coverage, per a press release (h/t TVbytheNumbers):
More viewers watched the NHL regular season on NBC Sports Network this year than in any previous year since the channel began televising games in 2005-06. The 2013 NHL regular season on NBC Sports Network was also the most-watched season on cable in nearly two decades, and up 18 percent vs. last year.
Final NHL regular-season viewership on NBC won’t be available until Thursday, but this season, excluding the Winter Classic, is expected to be the most-watched on the network since 2005-06, when NBC Sports regained rights to broadcast NHL games. Through 13 games, regular-season viewership on NBC is up 15 percent this year, excluding the Winter Classic, which was not played this season.
The playoffs, and the Stanley Cup Final between the Bruins and Blackhawks in particular, also received strong ratings. Per NBC:
Through the series’ first four games, the Stanley Cup Final is averaging a 3.1 household rating and 5.356 million viewers across NBC (Games 1 & 4) and NBC Sports Network (Games 2-3), the best on record (since 1994) and up 107% (1.5) and 118% (2.460 million), respectively, vs. last year.
Was the increase in ratings because of the contracted schedule, the amazing hockey or the fact that so many teams were in the playoff race in the final weeks of the regular season (which would also be attributable to the shortened schedule)?
Whatever the reason, the league's strong television ratings are a very positive sign.
The Original Six franchises (Bruins, Leafs, Canadiens, Rangers, Blackhawks and Red Wings) all made the playoffs for the first time since 1996.
There were four Original Six playoff series and two of them (Bruins vs. Leafs in Round 1 and Red Wings vs. Blackhawks in Round 2) ended in overtime of Game 7. The other two series were Bruins versus Rangers, which was won by Boston in five games, and the Blackhawks' six-game victory over the Bruins in the Cup final.
When these teams do well, so does the league. The success of these franchises also has a great impact on the league's bottom line, evidenced by the fact that all of the Original Six finished in the top seven for revenue during the 2011-12 season. The NHL set a record $3.3 billion in revenue that year.
All of these teams have a bright future, so don't be surprised if they pull an encore and all qualify for the 2014 playoffs.
The New York Islanders were expected to improve, but few fans could have expected the team to make the playoffs. Even fewer would have predicted that this young and mostly inexperienced team would take a top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins squad to six games in their series.
The Islanders showed a lot of promise in 2013, and the future is only going to get brighter as the team prepares for its move to Brooklyn in 2015-16.
Several of the team's young players, including Michael Grabner, Casey Cizikas, Frans Nielsen and Travis Hamonic, took steps forward in their development. Matt Moulson finished second on the team in scoring, while linemate John Tavares tallied 47 points in 48 games as a Hart Trophy finalist.
Not only do the Islanders have a mixed and solid roster, there are several elite prospects raring to go, including most recent first-rounders Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Strome.
The Islanders were a tough team to play because of their high-scoring offense (seventh-best overall), impressive team speed, willingness to play physical, and good coaching. Hockey fans on Long Island should expect more good things from this franchise next season.
The 2003 NHL draft produced some of the game's best players today, including Eric Staal, Thomas Vanek, Nathan Horton, Ryan Suter, Ryan Kesler, Ryan Getzlaf, Zach Parise, Jeff Carter, Corey Perry and Brent Seabrook, among others just in the first round. Some notable second-round selections from '03 include Patrice Bergeron and Shea Weber.
This year's class could produce a comparable amount of star talent. There are at least five players capable of being franchise cornerstones:
- Seth Jones: WHL star who could become a Chris Pronger-type defenseman.
- Nathan MacKinnon: QMJHL star is the No. 1 playmaking center that every team desperately needs.
- Jonathan Drouin: This highly skilled winger has elite offensive talent and compares well to a Martin St. Louis.
- Alexander Barkov: This center has a coveted combination of great size and impressive offensive skill.
- Valeri Nichushkin: The Russian forward has incredible strength and is one of the top playmakers in this class.
The top five picks are held, respectively, by the Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Nashville Predators and Carolina Hurricanes. With the unreal amount of talent at the top of this draft, teams trying to move up into the top five will have to part with a lot of valuable assets to complete a deal.
If there was ever a season to lose a lot of games and rebuild with a top pick, it was 2013.
It was a tough summer for road teams in the postseason. Home-ice advantage in the NHL playoffs isn't the same factor it was 25 years ago, but it helped many different teams in this year's edition.
Take a look at some interesting stats:
- Home teams had a record of 59-26, which is a postseason record for most wins on home ice
- Three of the five Game 7s were won by the home team.
- 19 of the 27 overtime games were won by the home team.
- Only three of the 16 playoff teams had a positive goal differential on the road.
- Teams were 9-2 when they had an opportunity to eliminate an opponent at home (7-0 after Round 1).
The favorites to come out of the East in the Stanley Cup, Pittsburgh went into its conference finals with the Boston Bruins as the highest-scoring team in the postseason. But the team's offense was only able to score a franchise-low two goals in a four-game sweep.
The Penguins' top players were MIA for most of the series, as the series stats of the top-six forwards show:
The Boston Bruins did their city and fans proud with an incredible playoff journey that ended just short of a Stanley Cup title.
The Bruins finished as the fourth seed in the regular season and were lucky to escape Round 1 with one of the most amazing playoff comebacks ever. Boston erased a 4-1 third-period deficit in Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs and won 5-4 in overtime.
Boston then carried that momentum all the way to the Cup with a five-game victory in Round 2 over the Rangers and a stunning sweep of the Penguins in the conference finals.
In the end, the Bruins couldn't match the speed and resiliency of the Blackhawks. But as a team with plenty of impressive young talent, a deep prospect pool, an elite goaltender and no salary cap problems moving forward, the Bruins will be a contender for the foreseeable future.
The Chicago Blackhawks are biggest winners of the 2013 season as Stanley Cup champions.
As the Presidents' Trophy winners and holders of a 24-game point streak record to start the year, it was fitting that Chicago ended its historic campaign with its second championship in four years.
Superstar winger Patrick Kane won the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP to end a remarkable year for the 24-year-old winger. He led the team in scoring during the regular season (55 points) and playoffs (19 points).
The squad showed remarkable character in becoming the first Blackhawks team to erase a 3-1 playoff deficit in a memorable second-round series win over the rival Detroit Red Wings, and in overcoming a 2-1 deficit in the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins.
With the core of the team secured and intact, and several good, young players ready to emerge as stars next season, the future is bright for the Blackhawks.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. All quotes obtained firsthand or from NHL media notes.