With 2015 in the books, let us take a moment to reflect on the highs and lows of each team in the Western Conference.
The Ducks were on a roll in the 2015 playoffs. They swept the Jets in the first round, breezed past the Flames 4-1 in the conference semifinals and then took a 3-2 series lead over the Blackhawks in the West finals. They could see the Stanley Cup finals in their grasp, with two chances to win one game. Only they couldn't hold on and lost the series in Game 7 at home.
That might seem like the worst moment, but things have actually gotten worse. The Ducks refused to stand pat, adding Kevin Bieksa, Carl Hagelin, Anton Khudobin, Shawn Horcoff, Chris Stewart, Mike Santorelli and Shane O'Brien, as well as assistant coach Paul MacLean and AHL head coach Dallas Eakins. But so far they have been a mess. Anaheim is last in the Pacific Division, and captain Ryan Getzlaf has just three goals in 34 games.High:
Despite their best efforts to lose in the 2014-15 season, the Coyotes couldn't tank better than the Buffalo Sabres. And at April's draft lottery, the Oilers won the McDavid-Eichel sweepstakes, giving the Sabres the second pick in the draft. And the Coyotes selected Dylan Strome with the third pick.
Everyone expected 2015-16 to be another forgettable season in the desert. But so far, the team hasn't been completely terrible. The Coyotes are hovering around .500 and remain in the playoff picture, mostly because they play in the weak Pacific Division where everyone is still in the playoff picture.High:
We've said it before, we'll say it again. Don't count the desert dogs out. pic.twitter.com/2Huc9cyTGd— #ARIvsCOL (@ArizonaCoyotes) December 27, 2015
Don Maloney on picking 3rd at Draft: "I'm not locked into anything... it's all about who has the highest upside." http://t.co/AL6dRUQlW2— #ARIvsCOL (@ArizonaCoyotes) June 3, 2015
The Flames were one of the big surprises of the 2014-15 season. Defying all the odds makers, they remained a solid threat in the West late into the regular season. But it felt like it all came crashing down on trade deadline day when the team announced star defenseman Mark Giordano would be out for the rest of the season with a torn biceps tendon. While that day seemed like their low point, in reality the team again refused to quit and not only made the playoffs, but beat the Canucks in the first round.
After a great season in Calgary, it seemed like things were only getting better in the offseason when the team
stole acquired Dougie Hamilton from the Boston Bruins. The top-notch, point-producing defenseman hasn't been lighting it up in Calgary, but he is only 22 years old, and December was his most productive month thus far.
Giordano will be out for the remainder of the season. The estimated recovery time is 4-5 months.— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) March 2, 2015
When you win the Stanley Cup, there isn't much else that can top that.
But the offseason brought along some bad news. Salary cap constraints caused the departure of some key members of their team like Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya. Nothing worse than the news that Patrick Kane was being investigated for rape allegations. No criminal charges were filed against the Blackhawks star, but even his 26-game scoring streak has been tainted by these allegations.High:
THE CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS ARE STANLEY CUP CHAMPS!— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) June 16, 2015
McDonough continued: We recognize that Patrick Kane is dealing with a very serious situation.— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) September 17, 2015
The worst part of Colorado's year was that it proved the advanced stats guys right. In the 2013-14 season, the Avalanche won the Central Division despite having terrible possession numbers. Everyone said it couldn't last. Turns out they were right. The Avalanche missed the playoffs this year and are currently near the bottom of the Central Division.
One of the few highlights of Colorado's year is Matt Duchene. Trade rumors started swirling around the young center this season and he responded by getting hot. Duchene had 11 goals and nine assists in November. December hasn't been as strong, so maybe executive Joe Sakic needs to make some calls to ignite Duchene again.High:
Duchene led the NHL with 11 goals in the month & broke the #Avs record for the most tallies in November (10) set by Claude Lemieux in 1995.— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) December 1, 2015
The 2014-15 season ended in disappointment, as the Stars missed the playoffs with bad defense and poor goaltending. It wasn't unexpected, but it was certainly a painful fall from making their way back into the postseason to not really coming close the next season.
General manager Jim Nill went to work in the offseason, adding experience, defensive depth and goaltending help. How'd it work? The Stars are now the hottest team in the league and considered a Stanley Cup contender.High:
Was there a better day to be in Edmonton that the draft lottery, when the Oilers won the No. 1 pick for the 20th time in the past six years -- sorry, it was only four out of the past six. Well, this No. 1 pick won them franchise center Connor McDavid. Much to their credit, they then cleaned house in Edmonton, bringing in Peter Chiarelli as general manager and Todd McLellan as head coach.
Then the bubble burst when McDavid suffered a fractured clavicle on Nov. 3, his 13th game. The rookie phenom's return remains unknown, but Taylor Hall has been carrying the team in hopes that they will still be playing meaningful games when McDavid returns.High:
Asked if there's any chance he'd consider trading the #Oilers #1 pick, GM MacTavish replied, "What's less than zero? ... No chance."— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) April 19, 2015
Connor McDavid suffered a broken left clavicle last night vs. Philadelphia, says #Oilers President & GM Peter Chiarelli.— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) November 4, 2015
The entire 2014-15 season was bad for the Kings. Slava Voynov was suspended indefinitely by the league, as he went on to serve jail time for domestic abuse, Jarret Stoll was arrested for drug possession, and Mike Richards was stopped at the U.S.-Canada border with a controlled substance (the team then voided his contract). The worst day seemed to be when Voynov, facing deportation, decided to return to Russia on his own. It was the culmination of a trying year for the team, where they could only hope the next season would improve both on and off the ice.
While the Kings leading the Pacific Division at the end of 2015 is a highlight, I'm giving credit to GM Dean Lombardi for taking the issues that faced his team very seriously and working to provide his players the necessary education and support so that these problems didn't persist. This includes hiring Brantt Myhres as the team's player assistance director. Who better for the players to learn from than a player who made his own mistakes.High:
The Los Angeles Kings have issued the following statement in regards to Slava Voynov. >> http://t.co/6RyvmbEfL3— LA Kings (@LAKings) September 16, 2015
Devan Dubnyk saving the Wild's season -- and possibly Mike Yeo's job -- was easily the high point for the Wild. Let's be honest, when you trade a third-round pick for the Coyotes' goalie, it's not exactly a sure thing that it will be one of the top trades of the year. He went 27-9-2 for the Wild and led them to the second round of the playoffs.
After Minnesota's first-round upset of the Blues is when things went bad. The Blackhawks were just too much, as they swept the Wild on their way to the championship.High:
The Predators were one of the best teams in the league during the regular season rolling into late February. Coach Peter Laviolette's first year in Nashville coincided with the emergence of Filip Forsberg and Roman Josi. Defensive depth, solid goaltending and all-around offensive contributions (eight players scored 15 or more goals) made them a legit contender.
The slide started when goalie Pekka Rinne got hurt. And then the offense started to dry up to. Being a team where everyone contributes meant that they didn't have one go-to guy to help them step out of their slump. The Predators still finished the season in second place in the Central Division -- the hardest division in hockey. But the end result was a familiar one: First-round exit at the hands of the Blackhawks.High:
After years of contending for a Stanley Cup, the Sharks have been swimming in a pool of drama recently. Rumors have swirled around Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau throughout the team's playoff losses and captaincy changes. They looked like they were ready to move past it all, starting this season 4-0, and then collapsed, only to spark more trade rumors surrounding Marleau. The low moment is what resulted from all of this mess: The Sharks missed the postseason for the first time since 2003.
I originally thought firing head coach Todd McLellan was the low point for this team. It's what you do as a general manager when you need a big change and have run out of other options. But I think this could eventually be considered the high point. McLellan is a great coach, but he seemed ready to get out of San Jose. And there was a lot of bad blood after all the public feuding, so bringing in a new bench boss could be the only thing to help.High:
Vladimir Tarasenko is really, really good at hockey. The Blues' scoring ace has continued to blossom as a superstar and is helping to carry St. Louis in the Central. He is on pace to top last season's breakout year, when he posted 37 goals and 36 assists. And the best part is that he is only 24 and signed an eight-year extension with the Blues in the offseason.
The low point is none of this helped them in the playoffs. They've figured out how to dominate the regular season, but can't find the next level to move on in the postseason. This spring it was the Wild that sent the Blues golfing early.High:
With an assist on Steen's goal, Tarasenko extends his point streak to eight games. #stlblues— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) December 27, 2015
FINAL: Wild 4, Blues 1 pic.twitter.com/DGy5VP7Jxg— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) April 26, 2015
Were there really high and low moments for the Canucks this season? They made the playoffs this past spring. That is good. They lost in the first round. That is bad. They currently are tied for second in the Pacific Division. Also, good. But, minus the Kings, everyone is so bad in the Pacific that rumor is there will just be a coin toss at the end of the season to see who gets in the playoffs. Hey, at least they figured out the goaltending situation by getting rid of Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider and Eddie Lack.
I'm going to be selfish here and say the best part of the Canucks season was Henrik and Daniel Sedin playing trivia against each other in September for ESPN.com. It made me smile, and when is the last time the Canucks made you smile?High:
You couldn't help but be happy for Winnipeg seeing the excitement in MTS Centre as playoff hockey finally returned for the first time since 1996. Let's ignore the fact that the Ducks swept them, the Jets fought into the postseason and gave Winnipeg a real reason to cheer.
One of the things the Jets had to fight through was disgruntled star Evander Kane. Controversy surrounded Kane after he was a no-show for a game in his hometown of Vancouver following an incident with teammates. Days later the team announced Kane would have season-ending shoulder surgery. Then he was traded to Buffalo.High:
Coach Maurice announces Kane needs surgery on his shoulder. The usual timeline for recovery is 4-6 months.— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) February 6, 2015