For some clubs in the Great White North, it’s been a terrible year. For others, it’s been disappointing. For others still, it’s been a year stained by horrible luck. And for most Canadian fans, it’s been a difficult year to take.
There was hope as 2015-2016 got underway.
The Montreal Canadiens were dominant, with goalie Carey Price playing impossibly great hockey. And things looked good for the Calgary Flames on a certain level, with the team’s disappointing possession numbers improving a little.
But the realistic view was different, with the Toronto Maple Leafs wedged in a rebuild and the Vancouver Canucks struggling horribly thanks to one of the most awkward rebuilds in recent memory. The Ottawa Senators blew it without any excuses, while the Edmonton Oilers will be the worst team in the NHL with one of the most compelling rosters on paper. And the Winnipeg Jets, with their impressive pool of prospects, were looking to build on last year’s success. It didn’t happen.
We know how the story goes.
The Canadiens lost Price to injury and their season went with him. What was truly shocking was how terribly the team played in his absence, as they seemed incapable of creating anything worthwhile. Price played in just a dozen games before his season ended, but he posted a 10-2-0 record with two shutouts. Habs fans would probably do well to not imagine what might’ve been had he not gone down in November.
The Maple Leafs are really rebuilding this time. Honest. They have a veritable fleet of draft picks to come and have shown off their youth movement in March, with the likes of William Nylander getting some valuable playing time as the season ends. They ditched Dion Phaneuf and James Reimer, too, and seem ready to commit to the next level.
The Ottawa Senators, as we discussed recently, have been singing the same song all year. They didn’t exactly experience a slip in their season, like the Canadiens. They achieved a spot and essentially stayed there, with owner Eugene Melnyk laying into the club and suggesting that big changes were in the works. If the Senators are really going to break things apart this off-season, next year could be even worse. Hold on.
The Jets have always had something to prove and this year was no different. They signed key players, like Dustin Byfuglien, and traded Andrew Ladd to the Chicago Blackhawks. They also had good possession numbers, but they proved problematic in one-goal games and had trouble in goal. Ondrej Pavelec struggled with a 2.72 goals against average and the Jets have allowed 225 goals against so far. Michigan native Connor Hellebuyck may be a way out of this bad situation.
The Flames won a round in last year’s playoffs, to the surprise of most people, and there was room for optimism along the Red Mile this season. Unfortunately, expectations caught up with reality and Calgary proved themselves as a very young team still searching for stability. They had trouble in the goals-against category, finishing dead last in the NHL.
As for the Oilers, everyone knows the story. Connor McDavid was thrilling, but an injury took away a huge chunk of his rookie season. He was still dominant and having him healthy and raring to go will make next year a thrill. Edmonton also has players like Darnell Nurse and Brandon Davidson to work with, plus they’ve got a high pick in this year’s draft and should continue forward momentum thanks to their inner growth.
The Canucks, who are currently trying to avoid losing 10 straight games, have been rotten. Some sports writers have rightly categorized Vancouver as “Canada’s most troubling team” and for good reason. It’s hard to know exactly what’s going on, with odd coaching decisions and poor management decisions adding up to a lacklustre season on the ice. The good news is that the Canucks could land Auston Matthews in the draft. The bad news is, frankly, everything else.
There are, believe it or not, reasons to be optimistic in some Canadian markets. Some teams, like the Maple Leafs, seem to have a clear sense of direction. Others, like the Canucks, seem destined to falter until a proper plan is in place. And some, like the Canadiens, just need to have better luck.