Out with the old, in with the new.
One week until we get the best part of the changing of seasons. I’m referring to the beginning of the best in-season grudge match there is. It’s on ice, and it’s not curling.
The new NHL season begins Oct. 2. Throughout the past decade of hockey, we’ve seen much change; well, not with its champions, until recently.
The Chicago Blackhawks have won a cup 30 percent of the time the last 10 years (2011, 2013 and 2015), the Los Angeles Kings won 20 percent (2012 and 2014) and the Pittsburgh Penguins repeated for 20 percent (2016 and 2017). The remaining 30 percent was split three ways. The two most recent teams claimed the championship the first times for the clubs: St. Louis Blues (2019) and Washington Capitals (2018). The last 10 percent belongs to the Boston Bruins (2010). Is this the end of the mini-dynasty era?
Even though it was an eventful season and offseason this year, I expect an even harder, action-packed thrill-ride kind of season ahead.
The recently crowned cup champions from years prior sent out a positive message to future contenders. A new team has been crowned two years in a row. There could be some significance behind that, or superstition. Considering a quarter of the teams that made playoffs last year were swept off their feet, it’s difficult to predict the future.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are one of those four teams to go four and out, but signing a few players, including former Blues winger Patrick Maroon, helped keep the same President’s Trophy-winning team. It’s important to remain optimistic, especially when you have a talented team like they have.
Though that seems to be a common trend, attaining high caliber talent that should propel themselves it into the playoffs, let alone past the first round, but don’t. Teams like Nashville, San Jose and Winnipeg have been examples of that struggle over the years.
Though for a lot of other teams, some just recently have brought in that deserved skill needed. Look at those teams busiest during the trade deadline and beyond. The Rangers, Devils and Panthers took the opportunities to search the available talent pool for players specific for their needs.
The Florida Panthers’ longtime starting goaltender, Roberto Luongo, retired. It just so happened Sergei Bobrovsky was up for free agency the same offseason. Same goes for Artemi Panarin, signed a quick deal with Columbus then off to the New York Rangers adding to that the second NHL draft pick Kappo Kaako. New Jersey stood out as well because of its acquisitions from Nashville, Wayne Simmonds and P.K. Subban, and, of course, No. 1 pick Jack Hughes.
Moving on, what do four Penguins, two goalies, two captains, and one Kronwall have in common? Retirement.
These few players felt their time in the NHL was coming to an end. Each retiree brought talent, skill and leadership to every team they played for. Some have decided to continue to help in the sport, while others are stepping away completely.
Brooks Orpik (Washington)
• 18th pick in 2000 draft by Pittsburgh Penguins
• Two-time Stanley Cup Champion (2009 Penguins, 2018 Capitals)
• Pittsburgh alternate captain starting in October 2008
• Played for USA team in 2018 winter Olympics, took second place
Matt Cullen (Pittsburgh)
• 35th pick in 1997 draft by Anaheim Ducks
• Three-time Stanley Cup Champion (2006 Hurricanes, 2016 and 2017 Penguins)
• Oldest player in NHL following Jaromir Jagr leaving the league
• Played for six teams (Carolina, New York Rangers, Ottawa, Minnesota, Nashville, Pittsburgh)
Chris Kunitz (Chicago)
• Undrafted free agent in 2003, signed by Anaheim Ducks
• Four-time Stanley Cup Champion (2007 Ducks, 2009, 2016 and 2017 Penguins)
• Won gold medal with Team Canada in 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics
• Final playoff goal: Game 7 of 2017 Eastern Conference Final, game-winning goal against Ottawa in double overtime
• Current player development advisor and coach with AHL’s Rockford Icehogs
• Fourth pick in 1997 draft by New York Islanders
• Two-time NHL All-Star
• William M. Jennings Trophy winner in 2011 (for fewest goals against average)
• Second in all-time games played as NHL goaltender
• Third in all-time goaltender wins
• First goaltender to serve as Vancouver captain since 1947-48
• Won gold medal with Team Canada in 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics
Cam Ward (Carolina)
• 25th pick in 2002 draft by Carolina Hurricanes
• Stanley Cup Champion (2006 Hurricanes)
• Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 2006 (MVP in playoffs)
• First goaltender to win Stanley Cup as a rookie since 1986
Niklas Kronwall (Detroit)
• 29th pick in 2000 draft by Detroit Red Wings
• Stanley Cup Champion (2008 Red Wings)
• Won gold medal with Team Sweden in 2006 Turin Winter Olympics and in 2006 World Championships, part of the first team to win both in the same year
• Third all-time for defensemen in games played
• Current adviser to general manager for Detroit
Justin Williams (Carolina)
• 28th pick in 2000 draft by Philadelphia Flyers
• Three-time Stanley Cup Champion (2006 Hurricanes, 2012 and 2014 Kings)
• Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 2014
Dustin Byfuglien (Jets)
• 245th pick in 2003 draft by Chicago Blackhawks
• Stanley Cup Champion (2010 Blackhawks)
• Moved with Atlanta Thrashers during 2011 relocation to Winnipeg
• 2011 NHL All-Star
• Granted leave of absence Sept. 13, 2019, suspended for not returning to training camp when necessary
Ben Lovejoy (Stars)
• Undrafted free agent in 2007, signed by Pittsburgh Penguins
• Stanley Cup Champion (2016 Penguins)
• 101 career points in 544 games