IT’S THE DEAD OF SUMMER, SO WHAT BETTER TIME TO SHARE MY 5 MOST DISAPPOINTING NHL TEAMS FROM LAST SEASON
So here we are, in the dreary dog days of summer. For hockey fans, this is a painful time of year. The dust settled from the frantic activity of the entry draft and the free agent frenzy weeks ago while training camps don’t open for another month and a half. All the big free agents are gone, the big trades have been made and the closest thing we have resembling news is the rare morsel regarding contract negotiations and arbitration hearings. What better time to list the five NHL teams I thought were the biggest disappointments in the recently finished 2013-14 campaign.
5. WASHINGTON CAPITALS
While I can’t say that I expected a lot from the Caps last season, I can say that I didn’t expect them to miss the post season. Even though three time Hart Trophy winner Alexander Ovechkin lead the NHL with 51 goals, winning his second consecutive and fourth career Maurice Richard Trophy, Washington missed the post season by three points. The Caps weren’t without other controversies last season either, as goalie Michael Neuvirth demanded a trade out of town, the guy he was traded for, Jaroslav Halak, was quickly alienated by then Caps head coach Adam Oates and Ovechkin drew criticism for his -35 rating. Oates lost his job at season’s end to Barry Trotz and General Manager George McPhee, whose tenure with the lasted a jaw-dropping team seventeen seasons, was also let go.
4. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Last September I wrote that the Leafs team who ended their playoff drought in 2013 and came one painful game away from upsetting the highly favoured Boston Bruins in the first round of that spring’s playoffs was Brian Burke’s, even though Toronto had fired the combative GM months previous. Dave Nonis wasted little time putting his own fingerprints on the Buds following season’s end though, trading for goalie Johnathan Bernier and forward Dave Bolland and winning a bidding war with the Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Oilers to land the summer’s top free agent, David Clarkson. On paper they should have been a playoff team, and things were going great until the NHL resumed operations following the Sochi Olympic games. The wheels didn’t just fall off the Leafs wagon during the last six weeks of the season; they were blown off by a tactical nuke. Clarkson was a bust from day one and Bolland spent over half the season on the IR, but Bernier kept the Leafs in things despite the fact that Toronto was consistently outshot by its opponents. When Bernier went down with an injury though, the Leafs went into full-blown meltdown mode, plummeting from a potential home ice playoff berth to 12th in the East, missing the post season for the eighth time in nine seasons. Some Leafs fans decided to vent their frustrations by harassing goalie James Reimer’s wife on Twitter and just to add insult to long suffering Leaf Nation’s injury, Nonis rewarded head coach Randy Carlyle, who failed to reverse the Leafs death spiral even after Bernier returned to the lineup, with a two year extension following the Leafs collapse.
3. VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Did anyone actually expect the John Tortorella experiment to work in Vancouver last season? Everyone outside of the Canucks head office knew putting the highly combustible Tortorella behind the Canucks bench after Mike Gillis had bungled Vancouver’s goaltending situation and the team continued to lean heavily on a pair of highly skilled European stars was a bad idea. Really bad. How bad became apparent when Tortorella tried to single handedly storm the Calgary Flames dressing room during a January game to attack Flames head coach Bob Hartley (Torts was irate that Hartley had instigated a line brawl by dressing his goon squad and icing them at the top of the game). Only three seasons removed from reaching the Stanley Cup final, the Canucks missed the playoffs, wound up finally trading Roberto Luongo after insulting him again, and in a move that surprised no one, fired Tortorella (shortly after sending Mike Gillis, widely considered the worst GM in the NHL at the time of his firing, packing). Was it little wonder Ryan Kesler wanted out?
2. OTTAWA SENATORS
Last September I wrote that the Sens had the potential to be an offensive juggernaut. After making the 2013 playoffs (and ousting the Montreal Canadiens) despite a biblical rash of lengthy injuries to their top players, the Sens were prepped to take a huge step forward. Losing Daniel Alfredsson was a huge blow, but adding Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur to a team that already boasted the likes of Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson, Kyle Turris and Milan Michalek had awesome written all over it. Factor in that they were starting the season with Cory Conacher (who’d been a big part of 2013’s Calder trophy conversation) and the hope that young forward Mika Zibanejad was ready to take a big step forward in his development and there was no reason to doubt that the Sens were prepped to make a serious Cup run. Instead the Sens tripped right out of the gate and never recovered. They struggled with consistency and found themselves chasing the final playoff spot in the East most of the season, missing the post season for the first time since 2011. Even though Ryan had a lackluster first season in Ottawa and Conacher was invisible enough that the Sens gave him to divisional rival Buffalo at the trade deadline for nothing in return (who then let him leave as a free agent a few months later), Ottawa managed to finish 11th in league scoring (career seasons from Turris and MacArthur helped). But the loss of Alfredsson’s leadership was more then the team could overcome and the goaltending and defensive play that they relied on so heavily in 2013 let them down night after night. As a result, the Sens exiled long time number one centre and current team captain Jason Spezza to Dallas for little in return. Worse yet, as the season progressed, somber details about Sens owner Eugene Melnyk’s finances and their negative impact on Ottawa’s on ice product became more apparent, casting a long shadow over the team’s future hopes.
1. EDMONTON OILERS
This was the year my fellow Oiler fans and I were supposed to be rewarded for our exhausted loyalty and battered faith. The team made strides in 2013, NOT finishing dead last for a change, we had a young new coach in Dallas Eakins (who’d been courted by a handful of other organizations) and a new GM in Craig MacTavish, who backed up his talk of bold moves with a handful of solid additions. We weren’t a lock for the playoffs by any means, but we were ready to transcend the status of being the NHL’s punching bag and punch line and at least be competitive. Instead we were out of the playoff conversation by Halloween, missing the post season for the eighth season in a row and the ninth time in the past ten. Only a record horrible season from the Buffalo Sabres and a last minute swoon by the Florida Panthers (which let Edmonton move ahead of the Cats by a single point on the very last day of the season) prevented Edmonton from finishing dead last (again). Goaltender Devan Dubnyk made a habit of letting goals in from centre ice while veteran Jason Labarbera, who’d been brought in to help mentor the young Dubnyk, resembled a block of Swiss cheese more then an actual NHL goaltender. All told, Edmonton employed the services of six net minders in their crease last season, sending three of them packing via trade at various points in the season (including both Dubnyk and Labarbera). The blue line was a mess (AGAIN), 2012 first overall pick Nail Yakupov came down with the worst case of the sophomore jinx in recorded history and if Eakins had this team playing anything resembling a system, I couldn’t tell. Fan frustration got so bad that Oilers jerseys were thrown on the ice twice during nationally televised Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts and people were renting signs and flocking to social media to demand the team fire President (and occasional fan insulter) Kevin Lowe. Just goes to show that no matter how bad you think things are, the true bottom of the barrel is always waiting to smack you in the head just when you thought things were looking up.