One of the most fascinating yet frustrating aspects of the National Hockey League is the fluidity of greatness. Teams that are speculated to perform well in the playoffs can fall out of contention in seconds, leaving both fans and players perplexed. The 2018-2019 season was a prime example of how astounding the game of hockey truly can be.
Let’s wind the clocks back to January. The Tampa Bay Lightning were cruising towards a Stanley Cup while the St. Louis Blues were clawing their way out of the bottom spot in the Central Division (and the league). Almost unsuspectingly, the Lightning became complacent and lethargic while St. Louis subtly sneaked their way to third place in the Central Division.
What happened in the playoffs? Not a single division winner advanced to the second round, including stellar, all-star studded teams like the Lightning and the Calgary Flames. Grit and will powered teams like the Carolina Hurricanes and the San Jose Sharks, and the only true seasoned winning team, the Boston Bruins, were almost a guaranteed lock to have Lord Stanley’s Cup for the summer. And who eventually won? St. Louis (in quite an anti-climatic way).
That is why hockey flabbergasts fans, players, coaches, and general managers alike-any team, no matter how deep in the disparity of mediocrity they are, can attain success at any time and rebound in glorious fashion. Here are some teams that could rebound after an uninspiring 2018-2019 year.
The Flyers lucked out in terms of goaltending- Carter Hart is the future of Philadelphia and an excellent goalie to rebuild around. Ranked 13th in the league with save percentage of .917%, Hart’s lone season in the NHL provides the team with the potential to win every close game. He faces an inordinate amount of shots per start, so if the Flyers were able to clean up their defense, Hart would look like Vezina material.
Philadelphia ranked 26th on the penalty kill and 22nd on the power play. Special teams are a concern. The Flyers received a ‘gritty’ player in Ryan Hartman when they gave Wayne Simmonds to Nashville, and now Simmonds is a free agent. An adequate power play transformed into a mediocre power play after the departure of Simmonds. Resigning Simmonds may not be the best option, but the Flyers need another big body.
New Jersey Devils
It is currently 12:10 on June 22. P.K. Subban has just been traded to the Devils from the Nashville Predators for basically two bottom six forwards and two draft picks after Jack Hughes was picked number one overall. It is safe to say New Jersey showed up and showed out in June. There are very few players who are ready for the show immediately, such as Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, and while Hughes shows extreme promise, he might need some time to develop properly. That being said, considering Kyle Palmieri was the top scorer with 50 points, the likelihood of Hughes joining New Jersey is more probable than one might assume.
The Devils’ best offensively productive defenseman was Damon Severson, who produced 39 points in 82 games. P.K. Subban chipped in 31 points in 63 games last season for the Predators (potentially 40 points in 82 games). Even when Subban is playing at 70% and battling through injuries, he’s still on par with New Jersey’s best defenseman. In 2018-2019, the Devils lost 10 games in overtime/shootouts and lost eight games in regulation by one point. Subban will be the difference maker should he stay healthy.
Were it not for a terrible start, the Blackhawks might have made the top dogs in the Central Division sweat a little more than what the St. Louis already did. Beginning with the 8-5 win over the Washington Capitals on January 20th, Chicago went 20-13-3 with 43 points. Comparatively speaking from January 20th, the Nashville Predators (Central Division champions) went 19-11-2 with 40 points. Although Nashville played four fewer games, the Blackhawks were on par with the Central Division champions.
It seems the National Hockey League will not see a long rebuild in Chicago. Jonathon Toews rebounded tremendously with 81 points, Patrick Kane remained one of the top players in the league with 110 points, and the rise of Alex DeBrincat has only just begun. Their biggest question mark in the offseason, much like last year, will be goaltending. It might mean giving up an offensive asset, but Chicago will once again be a threat if a solid goaltender is found.
It’s All Speculative
As previously mentioned, the NHL has a way of debunking even the most certain theories. Likely, the teams that go after high-end free agents like Matt Duchene will have a slight advantage. However, seeing how the Blues did not have any incredibly huge names on their roster and still beat out arguably the toughest team in the Eastern Conference.
If all things go according to plan, Carter Hart will carry the Flyers to victory, even if the team does not deserve to win. The Devils are still in need of time, but the addition of P.K. Subban and Jack Hughes, Jersey’s savior, will have an immediate and scary impact on the team as a whole. If the Blackhawks play average hockey, they could very well be in the contention of a wild card or perhaps even a division title.
The fluidity of greatness resides in every arena, every team, and every locker room. It’s all about steady play and peaking at the right time.
–Jack Woods covers the Nashville Predators for FullPressCoverage.com and PenaltyBoxRadio.com. You can follow Jack on Twitter at @jack_woods15