Four of NHL’s original six teams set to miss the playoffs

With the NHL’s regular season winding down it appears that four of the league’s original six clubs will be missing out on the postseason action this spring. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins will be fighting for the Stanley Cup later in April, but the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks will all be on the outside looking in. The Bruins and Leafs were in second and third place in the Atlantic Division respectively as of March 26th and will likely face off against each other in the first round, leaving just one original six club with a shot at winning the Stanley Cup this season.

The Canadiens and Red Wings held onto fifth and sixth spots in the Atlantic with 66 and 65 points respectively. However, both squads are well over 30 points behind the Leafs and the last playoff spot in the division and are more than 20 points out of the wild card race. As for Detroit, they also missed the postseason last year for the first time in 26 straight seasons years while the Habs last missed them in 2015/16. This will be the first season in NHL history that Montreal, Detroit, and Chicago will all miss the playoffs. The Blackhawks were officially eliminated a week ago and it’s the first time they won’t play in the postseason since 2007/08. In addition, it’s the first time both Detroit and Chicago have missed out on the action since back in 1969.

With 71 points, Chicago looks likely to finish in last place in the Central Division and are about 20 points behind the last divisional playoff spot and wild card team. As for the New York Rangers, they’re battling it out with the New York Islanders for the basement of the Metropolitan Division. They are about 15 points back of the last divisional postseason spot and the wild card teams after making the playoffs every year since 2009/10. Of course, many teams bounce back the year after failing to make the playoffs with Chicago being a prime example. After watching the Stanley Cup showdown on TV a decade ago they stormed back to win three cups of their own in the span of just seven years.

The longest current playoff streak belongs to the Pittsburgh Penguins and they’ve won the Stanley Cup three times already during that stretch, including two in a row. The Blackhawks and Rangers were next in line at nine and seven straight seasons, but both of those streaks will be coming to an end. Also, it looks like the St. Louis Blues’ current run streak of six years may be in jeopardy before the campaign’s over as they battle it out with seven games to go. The longest playoff streak in NHL history was 29 seasons by Boston from 1967/68 to 1995/96 with Chicago going 28 consecutive postseasons from 1969/70 to 1996/97. Both Detroit and St. Louis had streaks of 25 seasons with Montreal rounding out the top five with a 24-year string.

Toronto Maple Leafs on the way to their best regular season ever

After finishing dead last in the NHL just two seasons ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs could very well enjoy their best regular season ever in 2017/18. As of March 18th the team was third in the Atlantic Division and sixth overall in the standings with 93 points. They were carrying an impressive record of 43-22-7 with the second-most goals scored at 243 and a respectable 204 goals against. However, they’re seven points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning in their division and five back of the Boston Bruins, so will very likely meet one of those squads in the playoffs.

The Leafs have also been red hot at home and their 4-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Saint Patrick’s Day was their franchise-record 12th in a row. It was also the eighth shutout of the season for the previously defensively-inept squad. Toronto now just has to earn another 11 points in their final 10 games of the campaign and another three wins to set new franchise records in both of those departments. Since finishing last overall in 2015/16 the Leafs have strengthened their squad with Auston Matthews, the first overall draft pick in 2016, along with goaltender Frederick Andersen and young players such as Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Zach Hyman, Travis Dermott and Kasperi Kapanen.

Their AHL farm team the Toronto Marlies is also one of the top teams in their league and head coach Sheldon Keefe has been doing an excellent job of grooming his minor leaguers for the major league. And speaking oh head coaches, The Leafs’ bench boss Mike Babcock definitely deserves some credit for the job he’s done and what he’s achieved in his third year at the helm. Previously the Leafs best regular season performance came back in 2003/04 when it boasted some of the league’s top players such as Tomas Kaberle, Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan, Bryan McCabe, Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk, Alexander Mogilny and Darcy Tucker with Ed Belfour between the posts.

That squad was filled with veterans and coached by the late Pat Quinn and went 45-24-10-3 for 103 points. They managed to down the Ottawa Senators in seven games in the first round of the postseason, but then fell in four at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The team basically fell apart after that and didn’t reach the playoffs again until 2012/13. That season will always be remembered for their epic collapse in game seven of their playoff series in Boston when they held a 4-1 lead midway through the third period.

There’s been quite a bit of housecleaning in Toronto since then as forwards Andreas Johnsson and Frederik Gauthier are the only two players from the 2013 NHL draft still with the franchise. In addition to hiring Babcock the Maple Leafs also brought in Lou Lamoriello as the new general manager. The 75-year old has done a fine job helping rebuild the team, but his status is up in the air as his contract runs out at the end of the season. In addition, forwards James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov may find themselves elsewhere in the summer as they’re all unrestricted free agents on July 1st.

Their contract status may not be dealt with until after the playoffs and will likely depend on how far Toronto can go. They were knocked out of last year’s postseason in six games by the Washington Capitals with five of the contests being decided in overtime. So while the Leafs are likely to set a new franchise record for regular season play, their season will really be judged on what they do in the playoffs. There’s no question the organization is heading in the right direction, but another first-round exit in the postseason will be a bit of a disappointment to their fans, regardless of how well they performed over the first 82 games.

William Karlsson of the Vegas Knights making a name for himself

There’s no doubt the Vegas Knights have been the NHL’s biggest surprise of the season and perhaps of all time. The team is already being hailed as the most successful expansion franchise in the history of pro sports. The squad was put together via an expansion draft in which the 30 other clubs left their unwanted players unprotected. It’s obvious numerous teams made big mistakes when evaluating the talent they had on hand and Vegas general manager George McPhee took advantage of them.

Sure, a few big-name players were left unprotected and it was a no-brainer picking up the likes of Marc-Andre Fleury and James Neal. However, the acquisition of 25-year-old Swedish centre William Karlsson has looked like a stroke of genius so far. The native of Marsta was second on the club in scoring as of March 11th with 35 goals and 26 assists for 61 points. The only teammate to top him was Jonathan Marchessault with his 22 goals and 43 assists.

Most fans had heard of Marchessault though as he had already put together a 30-goal season with Florida last year. In the grand scheme of things, Karlsson was a virtual unknown when McPhee plucked him from the Columbus Blue Jackets. It wasn’t as straightforward as it sounds though since there was some wheeling and dealing to negotiate before he was selected. Karlsson was left unprotected in the expansion draft and the Blue Jackets actually wanted Vegas to take him. In fact, they sent a first and second-round 2019 draft pick to Vegas on the condition they’d select the Swedish scorer.

The only snag to he deal was McPhee agreeing to take the outrageous contract of injured forward David Clarkson. But with a ton of salary cap space to work with McPhee believed it was well worth it. Karlsson has definitely proved this to be a smooth move since he was 30th in league point scoring and was also sixth in the NHL in goals scored at 35. He trailed Alexander Ovechkin and Patrik Laine for the league lead as they both had 40 and Karlsson has an outside shot at capturing the Rocket Richard Trophy.

The deal between Columbus and Vegas hasn’t been the only move of Karlsson’s career as he was traded to the Blue Jackets by Anaheim in March of 2015.  Rene Bourque, and a second-round draft pick accompanied him in return for James Wisniewski and a third-round pick. Karlsson was originally drafted in the second round with the 53rd overall pick in the 2011 Entry Draft after starring in his homeland. He returned to Sweden to play and didn’t sign a three-year entry level contract with the Ducks until May of 2013.

Karlsson played just 18 regular-season games with Anaheim before being dealt to Columbus and chipped in with two goals and an assist. He played two full seasons with the Blue Jackets and racked up  16 goals and 31 assists for 47 points in 165 outings before being left unprotected in the expansion draft.  Karlsson has proven to be an excellent two-way player as he’s also leading the league in plus/minus stats this year at plus-38. His 29 even-strength goals were tops in the league and he also has five game winners.

Regardless of what happens with the Knights and Karlsson this season. He’s going to have his name in the franchise record books for scoring its first hat trick. He achieved this by netting three goals against the Toronto Maple Leafs on New Year’s Eve. But he’s also likely to have his name etched into the books as leading the teams in goals and plus/minus in its inaugural NHL campaign. And with a little luck he could top the entire league in goals scored and plus/minus. 

Seattle, Washington looks a good bet for NHL expansion

With the instant success of the Vegas Golden Knights this season it’s understandable why the NHL is looking to expand once again. The best bet for the next expansion franchise is Seattle, Washington. The city recently held a season-ticket drive for a proposed team and sold 10,000 seats in just 12 minutes and reached well over the 25,000 mark a few days later. Let’s compare this to the Vegas ticket drive three years ago which resulted in 5,000 deposits in 48 hours and 9,000 after a month. Just a few months later, Vegas was awarded with the league’s 31st franchise and the team has been a huge success on the ice in its inaugural season.
It cost the Vegas owners $500 million for their franchise fee and the NHL has now upped this to $650 million. Vegas owners aren’t complaining about the price tag though as the Golden Knights are already the most successful expansion team in North American pro sports history. Seattle fans have noticed how well Vegas has performed and this has given them hope and inspiration for a team of their own. If Seattle is awarded a franchise it will go about building its roster the same way Vegas did, which is through an expansion draft and it will follow the exact same format.
The expansion bid in Seattle is headed by the Oak View Group. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has been impressed with them so far as the city’s Key Arena is to be renovated to the tune of $660-million. The group is led by Tim Leiweke, who used to have a high-ranking position with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment in Toronto as well as with the ownership group of the Los Angeles Kings. Other notable members of the proposed Seattle ownership group are David Bonderman and Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer with Bonderman already owning a portion of the Boston Celtics NBA team.
Bruckheimer was previously interested in pumping ownership money into both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim Ducks,but nothing became of it. In addition, Leiweke and Bonderman were once interested in a team in Las Vegas, but then pulled out about 10 years ago. There’s already a rich hockey history in Seattle as Pacific Coast Hockey Association’s Seattle Metropolitans were the first American team to hoist the Stanley Cup way back in 1917. The city was hoping the NHL or the old WHA would expand out west in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but NHL teams were awarded to Los Angeles, Oakland and Vancouver instead.
However, it looked like Seattle would get a franchise in 1974, but the ownership group couldn’t raise enough money. Then in the 1990s things looked promising, but the application for a franchise was pulled by one of the prospective owners without his partners knowing about it. About 20 years later it appeared the Phoenix Coyotes were interested in relocating to Seattle, but City Council pulled the plug on the proposed arena lease. There has long been talk about a new arena in the city, but nothing has been built as of yet. It’s also believed a new venue may be aimed at luring an NBA franchise by a different ownership group than the NHL bid.
Jenny Durkan, the current mayor of Seattle is all for an NHL team and it would join the ranks of the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Sounders and Seattle Mariners as the city’s pro sports franchises. There are also three local hockey teams in the area already which have been well supported over the years. These are the University of Washington Huskies, and the junior Everett Silvertips and Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. Also, the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett area was recently ranked second by Forbes as the fastest-growing city in America.
With a region full of fans in place, a renovated arena and thousands of prospective season-ticket holders waiting to spend their money, the NHL would be missing a fantastic opportunity if it didn’t expand to Seattle.