Winners and Losers of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs
The Chicago Blackhawks are again the kings of the NHL. With a 2-0 win in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night, the Blackhawks won their third championship in six seasons, making them the true winners of the playoffs.
But who were the other winners of the postseason? Which players delivered in big ways while perhaps falling short of the ultimate team prize? And who were the losers? Who failed to live up to expectations?
There was no shortage of positive and negative storylines to examine from the playoffs, but here are a handful of winners and losers that either asserted themselves on the big stage or didn't do enough when it mattered most.
Winner: Matt Beleskey, Anaheim Ducks
When Matt Beleskey scored the goal pictured above, it gave the Anaheim Ducks an overtime win in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The goal also probably added another $250,000-$500,000 on his next contract, which should be a massive one.
Beleskey had a career-high 22 goals in the regular season, then scored eight goals in 16 postseason games. He is a pending unrestricted free agent who picked the perfect year to be at his best in both the regular season and playoffs.
Looking for a comparison? Bryan Bickell had nine regular-season goals and nine postseason goals in 2013, then earned a four-year, $16 million contract from the Blackhawks before reaching free agency.
Beleskey can probably expect an even larger contract, especially if he signs with a team other than the Ducks.
Loser: Thomas Vanek, Minnesota Wild
If Matt Beleskey is at the "get rich" end of the spectrum, Thomas Vanek is at the "good thing he's already rich" end.
Vanek signed a three-year, $19.5 million contract with the Minnesota Wild last summer, so it's not as though his zero goals in 10 postseason games will hurt his value on the open market. But his inability to get it done hurt the Wild during their second-round sweep at the hands of the Blackhawks.
There may have been an extenuating circumstance—the Star-Tribune's Michael Russo reported that Vanek had hernia surgery after the season, an ailment that plagued him during the second half of the year.
"It bothered him for a lot of the second half," general manager Chuck Fletcher said. "We gave it some rest, but it didn't seem to be getting better, so we opted for the surgical route. We expect him to be 100 percent by training camp."
Vanek turns 32 next season, and he'll need to find a way to perform well enough through the nagging injuries that players in their 30s often experience.
Winner: Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning
According to NHL.com's Shawn Roarke, a broken wrist hampered Tyler Johnson in the Stanley Cup Final, leaving the center with two points in six games against the Blackhawks.
That shouldn't diminish what the diminutive center did throughout the postseason, which was establish himself as one of the league's premier forwards. He had 13 goals and 23 points, and the latter mark tied Patrick Kane's output for the playoff lead despite his lack of production in the Final.
"I think everyone's banged up," Johnson said during the Final. "When you play this long, when you're doing that, you're going to be bumped up a little bit, but it doesn't matter right now. It's the Stanley Cup."
The wear and tear of playing 100-plus games took down Johnson at the very end, but he is emerging as a household name and should have many more great postseasons in the future.
Loser: Martin St. Louis, New York Rangers
Time may have caught up to Martin St. Louis in these playoffs.
After an acceptable regular season with 21 goals in 74 games, St. Louis had one goal in 19 playoff games for a Rangers team that may have been a Stanley Cup finalist or winner if he was his usual self. St. Louis, an unrestricted free agent, will turn 40 years old on June 18 and is contemplating retirement.
"It takes a few days to sink in, that the season is over," St. Louis said at locker cleanout day, per the New York Daily News' Stephen Lorenzo. "Time usually heals things. You'll get a chance to reflect. It's not going to feel good for a while."
It's very unlikely St. Louis will be back with the Rangers, and after his showing in the playoffs, the market for him may not be all that great. If he wants to continue his career, he surely will have options, but the potential Hall of Famer finally played like his age after years of great production in his late 30s.
Winner: Derek Stepan, New York Rangers
While Martin St. Louis appeared to be nearing the end for the Rangers, Derek Stepan had a tremendous postseason with restricted free agency looming.
The 24-year-old center had five goals and 12 points in 19 postseason games, which includes his winning goal in Game 7 of the second-round series with the Washington Capitals. He has 27 points in his past 43 playoff games since 2014 and had 55 points in 68 regular-season games, which gave him his best points-per-game average (0.81) of his career.
Stepan is blossoming into a No. 1 center with the ability to deliver in the playoffs at the right time. That should translate into a hefty new deal this summer.
Loser: Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets
After years of ineptitude, Ondrej Pavelec put together the first solid regular season of his career. The 27-year-old had a .920 save percentage in 50 games and helped the Winnipeg Jets reach the playoffs for the first time in team history.
Then he went 0-4 with an .891 save percentage to sabotage the Jets in the first round.
Pavelec's deal has two more years remaining, and maybe this is the season that finally forces the Jets to look in another direction for a goaltender.
Then again, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff endorsed Pavelec after the season.
"We don't think Ondrej has reached his capacity yet," Cheveldayoff said to the Winnipeg Sun's Paul Friesen. "We still think there's room for him to continue to grow. And we're excited to have him as the No. 1 goalie in the organization."
The Jets have Michael Hutchinson under contract next season and prospect Connor Hellebuyck, who shone for the U.S. team at this year's world championships, waiting in the wings. If the play of those two exceeds that of Pavelec, Cheveldayoff's words won't mean much.
Winner: Fans Who No Longer Have to Watch This Commercial
If you've been watching the playoffs on NBC or NBCSN for two months, you've probably seen the inane commercial above about 8,000 times. Actually, it's probably about 16,000 times, since the network aired this commercial nonstop during last year's playoffs too.
There is a series of these idiotic commercials that air during just about every TV timeout and intermission. Here's what happens: Two people who look a lot alike but aren't related have a conversation about Discover cards that makes you want to discover a doctor who can give you a lobotomy. There's also a guy who hates surprises.
Since the playoffs are over, that means fans are free from this obnoxious ad for a few months. You no longer have to wonder why a man who is rubbing a frog called a credit card company to ask if his frog can be protected. Why wouldn't he put down the frog to make the call? Does he think he's taking out an insurance policy on a frog so he can kill it and collect the payout?
These are all things we no longer have to wonder now that the playoffs are over, and it's beautiful.
Loser: David Backes, St. Louis Blues
For the third straight postseason, a lack of offense led to a first-round exit for the St. Louis Blues. And once again, David Backes was unable to score at his usual rate.
Backes had a goal and an assist in six games against the Minnesota Wild and has just two goals and four assists over his past 16 postseason games. That average of 0.38 points per game is nearly half of his 0.71 points-per-game output over the past three regular seasons.
Coach Ken Hitchcock didn't lose his job despite manning this ship that can't get out of port, so Backes foresees changes of another kind.
"I do expect that the same 23-25 faces won't be back," Backes said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Jeremy P. Rutherford. "In a typical year, that means it's four or five guys (leaving). If it's that number or maybe a couple more, that wouldn't be surprising to me. Who that would be is speculative at best in my book."
Maybe one of those players leaving will be Backes via trade.
Winner: Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
Braden Holtby is set to become a restricted free agent this summer and was likely already headed toward a big payday based on his regular season. In 73 games, he went 41-20-10 with a 2.22 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.
The 25-year-old took his game to new heights in the postseason. In 13 starts, he had a .944 save percentage and 1.71 GAA, but the Capitals' inability to score goals led to their downfall in the second round.
Still, Holtby earned himself a bigger contract with his performance in the postseason.
"We're negotiating," Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said of the Holtby talks to ESPN.com's Craig Custance. "We're trying to get a good deal done for both parties. He's a priority for us. I think we'll get it done. It seems to be going the proper way in negotiations."
Loser: Anyone Clamoring for an Original Six Stanley Cup Final
When the conference finals boiled down to the Ducks and Blackhawks in the West and Rangers and Lightning in the East, there were people who said the NHL needed a Blackhawks-Rangers Stanley Cup Final in order to gain massive ratings.
The term "Original Six," invented nearly 50 years ago when the league expanded from six to 12 teams, was tossed around on a few radio shows in various markets. Who wants to watch Anaheim and/or Tampa Bay? The NHL needs those historic teams in Chicago and New York to take center stage, otherwise no one will watch.
It turns out one Original Six squad and a really good team that's fun to watch is all it takes to garner great ratings.
Through four games, NBC reported the 2015 Stanley Cup Final was the second-most-watched Final over the past 18 years.
Would the NHL prefer Original Six teams meeting in the Final every year? You bet. But it doesn't mean you, a person who doesn't see an extra dollar from the ratings one way or the other, should clamor to see teams that were given a marketing slogan nearly a half-century ago. Just watch the quality hockey, and you will be happy.
Winner: Jeff Petry, Montreal Canadiens
Jeff Petry was a trade-deadline acquisition by the Montreal Canadiens from the Edmonton Oilers, a team that was an utter mess that may have hidden the defenseman's true value.
Allowed to participate in his first postseason at the age of 27, Petry was rock-solid for the Canadiens. He had two goals and an assist in 12 games and had a Corsi of 54.4 percent. It all culminated in Petry signing a six-year, $33 million contract to stay with the Canadiens.
"To re-sign him to a new contract was one of our main offseason priorities," GM Marc Bergevin said in a statement, per the Montreal Gazette. "Jeff showed a tremendous will to commit to the Canadiens and stay in Montreal. He is a solid defenceman with speed and size who acquired valuable playoff experience this year."
Loser: David Poile, Nashville Predators
The Nashville Predators surprised a lot of people this season by finding themselves near the top of the standings around the trade deadline. GM David Poile had a chance to bolster his team with a deal or two but instead made a mostly ineffectual move that was partly to blame for his team's first-round exit.
Poile gave the Toronto Maple Leafs a first-round pick for Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli, two players who made the Predators deeper in areas where there was already plenty of depth. The moves could not have been any less helpful.
Franson went from playing 20-plus minutes per night in Toronto to finding himself either scratched or used in a bottom-pairing role and had two assists in five playoff games. Santorelli had one goal in four playoff games.
The Predators lost in six games to the Blackhawks, so if you do the math, that means both players found themselves scratched.
Poile just about threw away a first-round pick for two players who, even if they were contributing, wouldn't have made a difference anyway.
Winner: Brad Richards, Chicago Blackhawks
Last offseason, the New York Rangers bought out Brad Richards' contract. The veteran center was a cap casualty after seeing his play dip slightly in the years after signing a nine-year, $60 million deal before the 2011-12 season.
Richards took a one-year, $2 million deal with the Blackhawks last summer and was rewarded with his second Stanley Cup.
"Yeah, I don't know what I would've done if I'd gotten here two years in a row and wouldn't have won," said Richards, who lost in the Final against the Los Angeles Kings last year. "The older you are, the more you know they don't come around too often. These last two months have been unbelievable. It's not sinking in yet, but it will."
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.