Well everybody, I didn't finish up very well in my predictions, losing all three of the last playoff rounds, though two of them went to seven games.
But what did this year's playoffs reveal? I'll start as usual with a list of players whose careers took a downward turn, then talk about the two finalists, and then wrap up with some other observations.
Players Who Took a Downward Turn
Roberto Luongo, Daniel and Henrik Sedin
Normally, there are no players in this category at the final level, especially when a team loses in seven games, but the performance of these three stick out like a sore thumb.
After Luongo won an Olympic gold medal, Vancouver fans were hoping that it would translate into winning the big one in the NHL. Instead, Luongo struggled like he has in previous years. He was the second best goalie against both Boston and Nashville, and Chicago and Boston were able to run up the score against him like what has occurred in past playoff years.
Twice he was pulled from games, and never started against Chicago in Game 6. There are just as many questions about him after the playoffs as there were going in. He could either be kept, or it is certainly within the realm of possibility for the Canucks to trade him and strengthen themselves elsewhere.
In some ways the play of the Sedins was even more disappointing than Luongo, because the goalie had a known past of questionable playoff performances while the Sedins had played creditably before.
But in three of the four playoff rounds, the Sedins were shut down completely and became liabilities with horrible plus/minus statistics. Boston, Nashville and Chicago after Dave Boland came back all played a smothering defensive style against the Sedins and they couldn't adapt.
That's disturbing for the future. When a team like the San Jose Sharks plays a more offensive game in which the best offense wins, the Sedins romp and pile up the points. But three of their opponents focused on defense and stopping the attack and the Sedins never found a way to play through it. They'll be more heavily scrutinized in the playoffs next year.
The Fate of the Two Finalists
Overall, this was a year of progress, with the Canucks finally beating Chicago and reaching the championship round. And yet the performance of the Canucks in the playoffs doesn't inspire confidence for the future.
Instead of establishing themselves as a dominate team, the Canucks struggled in three of the four playoff rounds, all against teams that focused on defense. This was the first time in their history that the Canucks entered the final as favorites, but played anything like it. Except against offense-minded San Jose, the Canucks never established the talent superiority that was expected.
What was worse was that the three key players, Luongo and the Sedins, were actually liabilities instead of assets. Ryan Kesler had a great series against Nashville, but faded, especially against Boston. The three games in Boston were mismatches in which the Bruins ran up the score. The Canucks barely won the games in Vancouver and could easily have been swept.
Instead of a playoff run in which the strengths of a team are paraded for all to see, the Canucks' run was an expose of weaknesses. It won't bode well for the future if they are not corrected.
It's hard to place this Bruins team. When it is compared to the last three Stanley Cup winners, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Chicago, it would probably be the overwhelming favorite to finish last in a four-team mini-tournament. This team will never be ranked highly among the all-time Stanley Cup Champions, especially when its laughable power play is noted.
Indeed, there were moments during the playoffs when coach Claude Julien's future was being discussed, especially because of the power play and his use of top rookie, Tyler Segin.
Part of the reason for the success of the Bruins lies in the weakness and ineptitude of their opponents; a talent shortened team (Montreal); a team that rolled over and played bad hockey (Philadelphia); an up and coming team trying to establish itself (Tampa Bay); and a finalist whose star players couldn't adapt to tougher defensive hockey (Vancouver).
But to say that the Bruins' success was due to the weaknesses of its opponents is to do an injustice to the team. Perhaps the best thing this team had during the playoffs was its ability to sense the weakness of its opponents and exploit it. Once it found the weak spot, it kept hitting it until their opponent adjusted or lost.
This was particularly true against Vancouver. As early as the second game, the Bruins found a way to dominate the second period and never deviated from that style again.
The future? Certainly Boston is a beatable team, but as it proved, it can hang in there and go all the way. It should be a tougher team next year because it won the big one and knows how to win it again. It has the potential to be eliminated in the first round, and the potential to repeat as champions. One other asset is thanks to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bruins will acquire more top talent in this year's draft.
In the East, there are only three real contenders—Boston, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh. For Washington, Philadelphia and the New York Rangers, things may get worse before they get better. Buffalo, Carolina, the New York Islanders and perhaps Toronto are on the way up but they are not at the contender level. New Jersey may be back. But the three teams in black uniforms are the ones to beat.
In the West, the crown sits uneasily on Vancouver's head and based on its playoff run this year, there's good reason to believe they won't be back in the final next year. San Jose is a poorer version of the Canucks, so they can be discounted. An improved Anaheim, Chicago and Nashville will all be able to challenge Vancouver.
The biggest puzzle is Detroit. Is it just that they can't beat San Jose or are they getting old? How do Los Angeles and Phoenix improve so that they don't just spin their wheels? Of the remaining teams, only Calgary, since they got rid of the bad atmosphere there by firing their general manager looks like they can get back into the playoffs, especially if they have a good draft and can strengthen their attack. It will be wide open for someone to win the West next year.
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