The NHL’s 2017-18 regular season is quickly fading into a distant memory. With the playoffs about to explode out of the gate, the achievements from the 82-game schedule are quickly forgotten in favor of the quest for the Stanley Cup.
As excited as we are for the playoffs, let’s not jump past the regular season quite yet. This season, just like every season before it, was loaded with ups, downs and surprises. It’s the surprises that we’ll focus on today.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the biggest surprises of the season.
The Vegas Golden Knights
Speaking of some absurd hockey, the Golden Knights were by far the most ridiculous story of the season. The Golden Knights blew the doors off of 2017-18, running away to a 109-point finish to lead the Pacific and breaking countless expansion team records along the way.
Not even in the NHL’s wildest dreams would anyone actually think the Golden Knights would be this competitive this quickly. It doesn’t take too long of a look through the league’s history books to see this just doesn’t happen. On paper, the Golden Knights looked decent following the Expansion Draft, but you’re lying if you thought they were capable of a 100+ point season.
At this point, any kind of playoff success is icing on the cake.
The Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche squeaked into the playoffs with a win over the St. Louis Blues in their final game of the season. Don’t let that take away from how ridiculous it is that the Avs were able to climb back into the playoffs after what can only be described as an ugly 2016-17.
The Avs finished last in the Central in 2016-17, compiling a rough 22-56-4 (48 points) record. This year, they improved all the way to a 43-30-9 record (95 points). Nearly doubling your team’s point total from one year to the next is absurd.
Even after trading away the talented Matt Duchene, who ironically requested a trade to compete in playoff hockey only to watch his old team compete while he sits at home, the Avs found another gear and played some surprisingly good hockey.
Prior to 2017-18, Couturier had never scored more than 15 goals or 28 assists in a season. His career-high in points was just 39. That all changed in 2017-18 as he exploded for 31 goals, 45 assists and 76 total points.
Did things just finally click for the 25-year-old? Was he able to find more of an opportunity with Brayden Schenn moving to St. Louis? The truth may lie in both answers, but what is clear is that Couturier has inserted himself into the best two-way forward conversation.
Now Couturier will have to answer a larger question – can he repeat this level of success next year?
If you didn’t watch Barzal play this season for the New York Islanders, you missed out. In his first full NHL season, the 20-year-old played with a level of poise and confidence that usually takes years to develop. He was also dynamite on offense, scoring 22 goals and 63 assists for 85 points in 82 games. That 85-point total actually bested teammate Jonathan Tavares who had 84. Even the loftiest of expectations wouldn’t have suggested that Barzal could topple Tavares in his first season.
Not surprisingly, exceeding a point-per-game pace placed Barzal firmly in the hunt for the Calder Trophy.
The Chicago Blackhawks
Not all surprises are positive. A correction was likely due for the Blackhawks, but few would have picked Chicago to finish so far out of contention by the time the regular season wrapped.
The Blackhawks finished with just 76 points, claiming the last spot in the Central. That’s one hell of a steep drop from their 109-point, Central-leading 2016-17. The roster was loaded with disappointment, but that’s about what you’d expect when you have a team still loaded with familiar names who can’t string together a winning season. Duncan Keith, Brandon Saad and several others had a year they’d love to forget.
Negatives aside, the Scott Foster story may have been enough to forgive some of the season’s ugliness.
The surprise here isn’t that the Sedins are done playing in the NHL. The surprise is how perfectly their exit from the league was, and how surprising it will be in the future to watch the Canucks without Henrik and Daniel. The Sedins were twin treasures for the city of Vancouver.
How often do you see a star go out on their own terms in the sporting world? Better yet, how often do you see twins go out on their own terms together? The Sedins were able to exit the game of hockey on their own terms, passing up future opportunities and money that they could have acquired had they separated and gone their own way in the NHL.