The start of NHL hockey and the race for the Stanley Cup begins Wednesday with eight league teams facing off: the Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Ottawa Senators, the Saint Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks, the Calgary Flames vs. Edmonton Oilers and the Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks. In preparation for the beginning of the official season and the race for the Stanley Cup, here is a recap of the 2015-2016 season for these teams.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Last season, Toronto was the last ranked team in the league during the regular season with 69 points, a record of 14-18-9 at home and 15-24-2 away. This season is an opportunity for the team to better perform and improve their record. They haven’t seen a Stanley Cup since the 1966-1967 season and haven’t seen playoff ice in 45 years.
The Ottawa Senators finished out their regular season ranked at number 19 in the NHL. They had an overall total of 85 points, a home record of 21-14-6 and an away record of 17-21-3. After not making it into the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the seventh year in a row, the Senators traded veteran forward Mika Zibanejad to the New York Rangers for forward Derick Brassard. The Senators also released their head coach of two years, Dave Cameron, and signed current head coach, Guy Boucher, this May. The Ottawa Senator’s new franchise has yet to win a Stanley Cup and only appeared in the Playoffs once in 2007. This is a far cry from the previous franchise’s record of 11 Stanley Cups in the early 1900’s. Both players and fans alike hope this coaching change will mean the end of this nine-year playoff appearance drought and maybe their first Cup win in franchise history.
St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues were ranked number 3 in the NHL after a great 2015-2016 season. They finished with 107 points, a record of 24-13-4 at home and a record of 25-11-5 away. The Blues advanced to the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and were knocked out 4-2 series loss against San Jose. Much of this record can be attributed to Brian Elliot’s time between the pipes. Elliot, a former Badger and member of the 2006 National Championship, set a franchise record in shutouts for the team last season. The Blues traded Elliot to the Calgary Flames in June of this year.
The Blackhawks were ranked number 5 in the regular NHL season. They finished with 103 points and had a record of 26-11-4 at home and 22-15-5 away. The Blackhawks did not have a quiet season, however, as they were in the eye of the media for their personal losses more than their wins as a team. Blackhawks defenseman, Duncan Keith, was suspended for six games after slashing Minnesota Wild forward, Charlie Coyle, across the face with his stick. Forward Andrew Shaw was also penalized for his use of an anti-gay slur towards a referee. According to Chris Hine of the Chicago Tribune, Shaw was traded to the Montréal Canadiens in June in order to keep other forwards and sign a new free agent. The Blackhawks were forced out of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the St. Louis Blues, who won the series 4-3.
The Calgary Flames finished their regular 2015-2016 season at #26 in the league with 77 total points. Their home-ice record was 21-16-4, and the Flames experienced more losses on the road than wins with an away record of 14-24-3. The Flames did not make it into the Stanley Cup Playoffs this past season, but this season may be different. St. Louis’s loss will ultimately be Calgary’s gain. The Calgary Flames obtained former Badger goaltender Brian Elliot in a trade with the St. Louis Blues. Elliot, who had a save percentage of .930 and a goals-against average of 2.07 during the 2015-2016 season, will prove to be a great advantage and an instrumental part of the Calgary team.
The Edmonton Oilers lost 43 out of their 82 pre-season games in the 2015-2016 season; this accounts for their number 29 league ranking. They dragged themselves across the finish line with 70 points, a home record of 19-20-2 and an away record of 12-23-6. This season does not appear to be going much better for the Oilers since three players out of their current 27-man roster are on the injured reserve. The Oilers appeared to be ready to make a change, however, when they hired their new head coach Todd McLellan, who is the fourteenth coach in the history of the franchise, at the beginning of the 2015-2016. Hopefully, McLellan is able to have a better effect on the Oilers than their previous coaches and make them a better team overall.
Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings were ranked #8 in the NHL in 2015-2016. They concluded their regular season with 102 total points, a home record of 26-12-3 and an away record of 22-16-3. The Kings finished second in the Pacific Division of the Western conference. The Kings made their way into the Playoffs to try and win their third Stanley Cup, after emerging victorious in 2014, but ultimately lost the series 4-1 to the San Jose Sharks. Former Badger and legendary member of the 2006 National Championship team, Tom Gilbert, will begin his second season with the Los Angeles Kings this season. Gilbert was a member of the Montréal Canadiens for the past two seasons and was signed to the Kings in July to a one-year contract.
San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks finished at #11 at the end of regular play with records of 18-20-3 at home and 28-10-3 away. Despite being ranked eleventh, the Sharks had a spectacular season in 2015-2016. Led by captain, two-time Olympian, former Badger and a member of the 2006 National Championship team, Joe Pavelski, the Sharks appeared unstoppable. After defeating the Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues, they made it to the Stanley Cup Finals where they lost the series to Pittsburgh 4-2.
My Prediction: I’m predicting a large amount of regret on the part of the St. Louis Blues. I recognize and accept that the direction the team is going in needed to focus more on the forwards and defenders rather than the goalies; I believe that trading Brian Elliot will be a mistake that will haunt the Blues in the long run, but they may not realize it until Elliot takes his victory lap with the Flames.
Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Blues Photo Gallery (http://blues.ice.nhl.com/club/gallery)