At long last, the NHL regular season is over and a 16-team battle for Lord Stanley’s Cup is nigh. What more could an NHL player ask for? I think it goes without saying: Some division-specific regular season accolades, of course! In honor of the year that was, we’re handing out some metaphorical hardware to the best, worst and most otherwise notable things we saw in the Pacific Division. Enjoy!
MVP (“The Gretzky”)
I’d argue that no single state/province boasts more individual superstars than California, so it’s probably no surprise this year’s golden boy hails from the Golden State. With guys like Anze Kopitar, Corey Perry and Joes Thornton and Pavelski all turning in brilliant seasons, it’s not easy to pick just one of them.
It IS easy to pick none of them and choose Brent Burns instead, though.
At first, Burns might seem like an odd choice, impressive point totals and glorious beard notwithstanding. But check out Hockey-Reference’s Point Shares — Burns’ 12.9 is second only to Patrick Kane in the entire league. For context, only 15 skaters had 10-plus Point Shares this year. Burns scored 27 goals — only seven of which were on the power play — and his tremendous all-around season gives him the edge.
Seriously though, that beard. It’s the kind of beard you just get lost in. (Literally, if you aren’t careful.)
Best Goaltender (“The Vachon”)
Look, I’m gonna level with you guys, this one’s pretty easy: it’s Jonathan Quick. How can it not be Jonathan Quick? This isn’t exactly a division known for its netminders. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself: Who started the most games for Anaheim this year? How about Calgary? How many Coyotes goalies made double-digit starts? Exactly. In a division of mediocrity, Quick’s durability (67 starts), 40 wins (second only to Washington’s Braden Holtby) and 2.22 GAA (sixth-best in the league) are more than enough.
Best Defenseman (“The Coffey”)
Probably seems pretty sensible to pick Burns here, seeing as how I gave him the MVP. But that’s a copout and you all deserve better, so this one’s going to Los Angeles Kings sensation Drew Doughty.
Remember the whole Point Shares thing from up above? Brent Burns was second in the league, but Doughty was sixth, and his 7.1 Defensive PS are easily tops in the league to boot. His ability to drive puck possession is nonpareil, he plays almost literally half of each game and he’s unquestionably the linchpin of the Kings’ defensive corps. You may not win the Norris, pal, but I think we can agree this is just as good (and arguably better).
Rookie of the Year (“The Selanne”)
Connor McDavid is certainly the sexy pick, and we all know the saying: “Sex(y) sells.” (I mean, they don’t say that, but it’s close enough.) It’s hard not to give Max Domi some love for putting up 50-plus points at the precocious age of 20. Between Domi and Anthony Duclair, the Coyotes front office should be doing cartwheels about their future.
Nevertheless, Connor McDavid entered the year as the obvious favorite at the even precociouser age of 18, missed half the year with a collarbone injury and still finished fourth in rookie scoring. When it only takes you half a season to accomplish what everyone else did in a full one, you get the nod.
Coach of the Year (“The … Sutter?” I guess?)
Coach of the Year voting is always funny. It seems like the only two reasons someone wins it are:
- They oversaw the team with the best record, thereby doing the “best job”
- They coached a team everyone expected to be awful to a great year, thereby doing the “best job”
Not the most imaginative approach, but fair is fair. Proving a coach’s exact impact on a team is tricky. This year’s winner falls mostly into Item 1 territory with just a dash of Item 2: Anaheim’s Bruce Boudreau.
Sure, the Ducks were expected to contend for the Cup, but the main reason they still ARE is because they shrugged off an atrocious 1-7 start that led to speculation about Boudreau’s potential ouster. The main reason they were able to do THAT is because Boudreau’s players went full Journey: they didn’t stop believing in him. In turn, Boudreau rewarded Anaheim’s patience with another playoff berth and another division title. This one’s for you, Bruce:
Executive of the Year
Would you believe it’s San Jose’s Doug Wilson? I know, right? I’m as surprised as you are. The Sharks seemed like they were on the verge of a major overhaul last year, one that began with the departure of head coach Todd McLellan and had virtually everyone on the roster — most notably former captains Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton — rumored to be shipped out of town. The whole thing was just gonna get burnt to ashes. I think at one point they tried to sign Chris Wondolowski. It was nuts.
Instead, Wilson handed the captaincy to Joe Pavelski, the bench to Peter DeBoer and the crease to former Kings understudy Martin Jones. The results? A resurgent season from Joe Thornton, key contributions from free agent signings Joel Ward and Paul Martin and a team that approached the 100-point mark once again. Wilson deserves credit for his shrewd, non-reactionary moves in the face of pressure.
Worst Offseason Signing
Oh boy. Couple options here. Former RFA Justin Schultz was all-but called a $4 million albatross by Peter Chiarelli, but a one-year “prove it” deal is alright for a kid who’s 25. As valuable as Paul Martin has been to the Sharks, he’s 35 years old and his was a four-year deal worth $4.85 million annually. That’ll probably look pretty bad down the line.
Even so, my money (get it?!) is on Anaheim’s four-year, $16 million boondoggle with Carl Hagelin. Hagelin came over in the hopes he’d be a reliable depth scoring option, that his speed would allow the Ducks to slot him in with any of Anaheim’s talented centers and shine.
What they got was a guy with a 4-8-12 scoring line in 43 games and a trade chip to bring David Perron to town. And hey, both Hagelin and Perron are thriving with their new teams. Everyone loves a happy ending!
Seems weird to call one of the league’s worst teams the unluckiest — especially one the GM and coach publicly excoriated for their terrible effort level — but the Edmonton Oilers are the ones who fell into this dubious honor. Yes, the Oilers have approximately former 47 first-round picks in their lineup, but they spent the better part of the year playing without their best one. They also had the third-worst record in one-goal games, which are notoriously fickle from year to year.
Lastly, there’s this beautiful luck calculator from Hockey Abstract. It has the Oilers as the third-unluckiest team in hockey this season, largely for the reasons listed above but in much prettier graphical form:
As a quick preamble, anyone who loves hockey’s visual appeal owes it to themselves to check out Icethetics. It’s run by a guy named Chris and it’s an invaluable source of all things logo, jersey and general branding. It’s also what I used as reference for this piece. Great stuff!
Anyway, this was a pretty tame year for jerseys in the NHL. Not many new jerseys were debuted, and the ones that were generally well-received. With no obvious answer, we’re left to reverse engineer one. That’s why this year’s winner is every Vancouver Canucks jersey that wasn’t this throwback:
God, look at those beauties. (The, uh, jerseys, not the twins.) They’re a work of art and it’d be wonderful to see the Canucks switch back to them full time.
GIF of the Year
GIFs are the lifeblood of Internet hockey coverage. Can you imagine if GIFs existed back when Bobby Orr or Gordie Howe played? Those would be amazing. That said, hey, today’s NHL has plenty of great stuff to offer, so let’s work with what we have.
I was suuuuuuuper tempted to give GIF of the Year honors to reddit user /u/c0ld— for his inspired editing on this Jonathan Quick save:
Good as it is, though, there remains one universal truth in life, one that we should all be careful to heed: