By: Adam Kierszenblat
With the NHL’s season wrapping up, we look back at some of the top unforeseen storylines from the season. From Covid protocols to rookies dominating the league, this season had twists and turns throughout. Here are the top five moments:
Coming into the season, many expected there to be Covid issues throughout the NHL. We had seen similar problems in the NFL and MLB, but the NHL had some major issues this season. From the Dallas Stars starting the season late, to the Canucks shutting down for three weeks as over 20 players and staff contracted the virus, it has been a challenge for players and team personnel. With the playoffs on the horizon, teams will have to be more diligent with their protocols to ensure that the postseason goes off without a hitch.
Florida has been a major surprise this season. They currently sit near the top of the league which is surprising as many had them pegged as a bottom place team in the stacked East Division. Florida has clinched a playoff spot for only the second time since the 2000-2001 season. Last year, they did not even make it out of the playoff qualifier. With new staff and the emergence of some of their younger players, Florida could be on their way to a run this year. Look out for players like Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Carter Verhaeghe as they are sure to put on a show this postseason.
Buffalo had a lot of promise coming into this season. They signed Taylor Hall this offseason and already had foundational pieces like Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin. Expectations were high, but the team was never able to produce and went on one of the worst losing streaks in NHL history. Players like Taylor Hall and Jeff Skinner could not score, Jack Eichel got hurt and a Covid pause all contributed to this historic losing streak. Between February 23rd and March 31st, the Sabers went 0-15-3. They blew multi-goal three-goal leads and were even shutout 6-0 on one night. This will be a streak that no hockey fan will forget for a long time. It was a defining moment of another disappointing season.
There has been much debate this season about Minnesota Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov. The 25-year-old is in his first season with the Wild and has put up 22 goals and 41 points in 47 games. Kaprizov is the favorite to win the best rookie this season, but some feel he should be excluded from the race due to his age and experience.
Kaprizov has played the last six seasons in the men’s top division of Russia. Normally, rookies have one or two years of playing against older players before entering the league so this is where the debate comes in. Should players who have multiple years playing in pro leagues be considered rookies when they come to the NHL. There is also the age argument. Most rookies are between the ages of 19-22 while Kaprizov is 25. Whichever side of the fence you on, it is universally understood throughout the hockey world that Kaprizov is a great player. He will help redefine the Wild and has already helped them clinch a playoff spot this season.
Rookies have really stepped up this season. Outside of Kaprizov in Minnesota, you have Jason Robertson in Dallas, Nils Höglander, Josh Norris, and Tim Stützle as well as Ty Smith in New Jersey. All these skaters have produced for their teams this season and are in the conversation for rookie of the year.
You also have quite a few rookie goaltenders that are stealing the spotlight. Vitek Vanecek in Washington, Kevin Lankinen in Chicago, and Igor Shesterkin in New York are all rookie goaltenders that have solidified the starter’s net for their teams. With additional roster spots due to taxi squads, rookies are getting more of an opportunity this season compared to previous years. The future of the NHL is bright and these rookies will be wowing fans for the next several years.
Although fan participation in the arenas has been limited this season, the NHL has been a lot of fun to watch. Playing only rivalry games has added fuel to the fire and should turn up the heat for when these divisional foes play in future seasons. The play on the ice in addition to the new TV contract with ESPN and Turner Sports should lead to more viewers and interest surrounding the sport. Now that the season is done, get ready for rough and wild playoffs as teams fight for the ultimate prize in sports, The Stanley Cup.