That was then, and this is now.
The before and after pictures of the NHL’s 2013 season.
Perhaps it is because the shortened season and the four rounds of Stanley Cup playoffs seem roughly equal in length that they are so profoundly different in reality, for rarely have the stories of the playoffs been so distant from the ancient tales of the regular season.
Wayne Gretzky has often said there are really five different seasons to the hockey year: the exhibition season, which did not happen in 2013; the regular season up to the trade deadline; the stretch season to the playoffs; the early rounds of the playoffs and, as a season entirely to itself, the Stanley Cup final.
This year there was only the stretch season and the playoffs. And such a gap to be found between what once was and what now is.
Most telling would be among trophy candidates. It’s well known that sportswriters never see third periods, but even so, their choices based on two periods – and in 2013 of never seeing anyone in the other conference – seem at times at odds with the moment.
Hart Memorial Trophy: The announced finalists for league MVP are Sidney Crosby (held pointless in Round 3 by the Boston Bruins), Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, and New York Islanders centre John Tavares, neither of whom reached the second round. Three who were not even an afterthought in April are Boston’s David Krejci, the leading scorer of the playoffs, goaltender Tuukka Rask, who allowed powerful Pittsburgh only two goals in four games, and hulking (6 foot 4, 233 pounds) Chicago Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell, whose eight goals in the postseason are but one fewer than he scored in all 48 games of the regular season. Nor should anyone forget that Boston’s Nathan Horton was a bust in the early going of the year – some thinking his concussed career might be lost – only to see him emerge as the second-leading scorer in the playoffs, with seven goals and 10 assists and a stunning plus-21 to lead all players in the plus-minus ratings.
Calder Memorial Trophy: The regular-season finalists for top rookie are Brendan Gallagher of the Montreal Canadiens, Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers and Brandon Saad of Chicago. Saad is still in it, but has yet to score and has a minus-four rating. Torey Krug, a 22-year-old, small defenceman who had played exactly one regular-season game this year for the Bruins – and made the lineup only because of injuries – has four critical goals and a plus-five rating in the playoffs.
James Norris Memorial Trophy: Worthy finalists are Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild and P.K. Subban of the Canadiens (rumoured on Monday to be the winner). Some were puzzled when Boston Transformer Zdeno Chara was left off that list. However, given his heroics in Boston’s final victory over Pittsburgh – stopping a sure goal by Evgeni Malkin while lying face down on the ice and reaching backward with his left hand – he might just as easily be in the running for the Vézina.
Vézina Trophy: Speaking of which, it’s intriguing to note that the finalists for top goaltender are Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and the San Jose Sharks’ Antti Niemi. None can hold a candle to the way Boston’s Rask and Chicago’s Corey Crawford have played in the playoffs. But that, of course, is the story of goaltending, sports’ greatest yo-yo position. Let us not forget that Montreal’s Carey Price was tagged for the Team Canada goal when this season began, then Pittsburgh’s Marc-André Fleury. Now it is Corey Crawford’s job to lose, which he most assuredly will numerous times before that plane finally leaves for Sochi next February.
Jack Adams Award: Prior to the playoffs, Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma, Jack Adams winner as coach of the year in 2011, was approaching bench sainthood for the way he kept his Penguins flying this year despite major injuries to Crosby, Malkin and Letang. Many thought he deserved to be a finalist again, though those honours went to Bruce Boudreau of the Anaheim Ducks, Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks and Paul MacLean of the Ottawa Senators. By the time his Penguins crashed against the Bruins, they were calling for Bylsma’s head in Pittsburgh – and praying they’d get it in places like Vancouver and Dallas, two teams in dire need of a coach.
General manager of the year: Pittsburgh’s Ray Shero could well have been handed this one at season’s end, having brought in Jarome Iginla, Douglas Murray and Brenden Morrow at the trade deadline to create such a formidable powerhouse that Boston GM Peter Chiarelli, who thought Iginla was coming to his Bruins, joked that the Penguins were now “a lock” to go all the way. Murray was too slow, Morrow hurt and ineffective, and Iginla but a shadow of his former self as the Penguins fell four straight to Chiarelli’s Bruins.
Officiating: It is always said that the standards of officiating slip with each playoff round, but it is also that the standards of competition soar with each round. The slippage this year, however, has been more noticeable than ever. In the regular season, a hook was essentially any light tap of the body by an opposition stick. In the playoffs, as Boston’s Jaromir Jagr so dramatically showed in Boston’s double-overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3, there is no such thing as hooking.
Owners: The exception to prove the rule. Owners are as mad in the postseason as they are in the regular season. See Gonchar, Sergei, 39, $10-million (U.S.) over two years with the “rebuilding” Dallas Stars.