Top Five Surprises of the 2009-10 NHL Season
It's been a season of ups and downs for the NHL. Some teams have flourished, while others have begun to fade away.
The Olympics provided a much-needed boost to the game after an offseason in which the NHL's greatest player was dragged through the mud with no help in sight.
There have been some good surprises and some very bad ones as well. So many, in fact, that this list could easily be a top 10 or 15 but I didn't feel the need to clutter it all up.
This is my take on the best and worst from the season so far. Please feel free to leave your comments on your favorite and least favorite moments as well.
5. Eastern Promises?
The 2008-09 season gave us a glimpse at a flourishing Eastern Conference. Three teams finished with more than 100 points while two others finished at 99.
The young Penguins won the Stanley Cup over the aging Red Wings and it looked to be a changing of the guard between the two conferences.
Fast forward to this season—to say the Eastern Conference has done a 360 would be a gross understatement.
The East will be lucky to see two teams reach the 100-point plateau. The Washington Capitals are 33 points up on second-place Atlanta in the Southeast and the Penguins are looking like a good but very beatable team.
There are only five teams with a plus in the goals-for-to-goals-against ratio and that includes a sixth-place Ottawa Senators team, sporting a whopping -18 in that department.
It took 93 points for the eighth-place Canadiens to make the playoffs last year. This season, that number should be closer to 84 points.
As for the West, 13 of the 15 teams in the West have winning records against their Eastern opponents.
Not a great year to be an Eastern hockey fan...so far.
4. Craig Anderson
Craig Who? On his fifth NHL team in six years, Craig Anderson has raised a lot of eyebrows with his play this season.
In 2006 he was credited with being a part of four teams, going from the Hawks to the Bruins, then to the Blues before eventually heading back to the Hawks. What is even more odd about this is that all of these waiver moves came less than a month apart and he did not suit up for either Boston or St. Louis.
Probably known best as the backup to Roberto Luongo in Florida, Anderson is one of the main reasons the Colorado Avalanche have exceeded all expectations and are sitting in a playoff spot at this moment.
Speaking of Roberto Luongo...Anderson leads Luongo in almost every category, except wins, which includes a 7-4 advantage in shutouts, .923-.916 save percentage, and even points by a 3-0 margin.
Not bad for a third-round backup.
Or lack of it...This season has been mired in controversy over a perceived lack of respect between the players.
It started less than a month into the season when Mike Richards caught the Panthers' David Booth with a blindside hit that left Booth lying unconscious on the ice for minutes.
There were a few more incidents before the Olympic break, but since the break ended, the players seem to be running wild.
Max Lapierre shoved the Sharks' Scott Nichol into the boards awkwardly, forcing Nichol out of the lineup.
Then, Matt Cooke lined up Marc Savard with a vicious shot that left Savard motionless on the ice and out for the remainder of the season.
The hit parade didn't stop there; Ovechkin, Alfredsson, and Downie all took part in reviewable activities on the ice.
In my opinion, none were worse than the latest incident, which involved former friends Brent Seabrooke and James Wisniewski. Wisniewski's charging headshot on an unsuspecting Seabrooke was one of the worst things I have seen since Bertuzzi/Moore and maybe even McSorley/Brashear.
His complete disregard for human safety is precisely the reason why the NHL is in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, almost completely wiping out everything that was accomplished at the 2010 Olympics.
The players need to start figuring out a way to deal with these issues before someone gets killed on the ice...and don't think it's very far away from happening.
2. Blind Justice
One of the few things more surprising than the players' lack of respect for each other is the NHL's complete failure to effectively deal with the situation.
There have been 27 suspensions handed out this year, however only four of those suspensions resulted in a player missing five regular season games or more.
One of the problems with this stat is the suspensions that didn't get handed out. Players that have gotten away with dirty play this year include Daniel Alfredsson on Francois Beauchemin, Steve Downie on Sid the Kid, and one more incident involving a player I will talk about in a minute.
The suspension list includes incidents involving repeat offenders Alex Ovechkin, Matt Cooke, and James Wisniewski.
Surprisingly enough, it is the acts by those three players that garnered the most attention this season.
Alexander Ovechkin received a two-game suspension in December for throwing a knee on Tim Gleason. The NHL followed this up by suspending him for a measly two games for his careless hit that ended the season of Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell. It was the best chance the NHL had to make a statement to the players, and they dropped the ball miserably.
Matt Cooke had already been suspended for a head shot on Artem Anisimov of the Rangers. It seemed like a no-brainer when he laid out Marc Savard with an apparent elbow to the head in March. The NHL's decision NOT to suspend Cooke for his second infraction of the season shocked the hockey world.
They stated that because Mike Richards had not been suspended for a similar hit early in the season, they couldn't discipline Cooke...wrong decision guys.
Finally, the NHL's latest chance to let the players know they weren't going to put up with it anymore: James Wisniewski. Wiesniewski's pre-meditated attack on Brent Seabrook was one of the worst kind of hits you will ever see and could seriously injure a player if hit the right way.
The hit was not only retaliatory and pre-meditated but it was also Wiesniewski's second incident of the year after serving two games for an illegal hit on the Coyotes' Shane Doan in November.
In my opinion, the NHL's decision to give Wiesniewski only eight games instead of the rest of the season is the most glaring mistake they have made this season.
The NHL better man up soon or the league is going to be in serious trouble.
1. The Phoenix Coyotes
How can you not love the story of the Phoenix Coyotes' season?
After going through what can arguably be described as one of the worst offseasons in the history of pro sports, the Phoenix Coyotes rose from the ashes a new team.
A basement team since their last trip to the postseason in 2001-02, the start of the 2009-10 season for the Coyotes didn't look much better.
Offseason struggles saw team owner Jerry Moyes declare bankruptcy, coach and legend Wayne Gretzky's name dragged through the mud, and made Judge Redfield T. Baum a household name.
It looked as though the Coyotes' days in the desert were through...and no one seemed to care. Prognosticators and analysts wrote them off, fans still didn't come to show their support, and the NHL took over control of the team in what seemed like a temporary plan until a new owner was found.
New management, a new coach, thirteen players scoring 25 points or more, and no player having more than 55 points, it has truly been a team effort from the Coyotes this year.
Led by goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who has 39 wins and eight shutouts, the Coyotes are comfortably sitting in fourth place in the West...only two points behind conference-leader Chicago.
It's been an unlikely season with some unlikely heroes but the Coyotes look like the real deal. Whichever city they are playing in next year will hopefully appreciate what they have and should look forward to more successful years to come.