Columnists, Sports

Dropping the Gloves: Where are they now?

New York Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s play has been on the decline over the past few years. PHOTO COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Getting to the Stanley Cup Finals is no easy feat. Every playoff series beforehand is grueling for any team, not to mention the long regular season that’s bound to be full of injuries.

It’s the NHL’s grand finale. While it doesn’t have the same hype as the Super Bowl, hockey fans know and love playoff season. I won’t bring up numbers of viewers to compare the two events, because it would just be depressing.

But when a team loses in the finals, it’s often hard for them to make it back there. Here’s a look back at the last four years of Stanley Cup runner-ups, and maybe why they haven’t been able to make it back there.

New York Rangers

Since losing to the Los Angeles Kings in 2014, New York hasn’t made it past the conference finals in the playoffs. The Rangers still heavily rely on Henrik Lundqvist, who was even on the decline in 2014. He’s been with the team since 2005 and has been highly regarded as the best goalie to ever play for the organization.

That being said, he peaked when he won the Vezina Trophy in 2012. One could argue that he even peaked in 2010, but he was certainly not able to play up to par with the ferocious Los Angeles Kings team of 2014, known for their rugged play and “That 70s Line.”

A year after their Stanley Cup loss, a new general manager stepped in place. Jeff Gorton was supposed to help push the team over the edge and add more banners to be hung in Madison Square Garden. Even though they’re an Original Six team, New York has only won four Stanley Cups, the least of the iconic group of teams.

The Rangers aren’t on any track at the moment to succeed in this year’s playoffs. They might make it to the second round, but it’s unlikely. New York needs more than just King Henry in front of the goal.  

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in a tight series in 2015. Chicago was victorious mostly because of their deep playoff experience. This was their third win in six years, and Tampa’s first finals appearance since their Stanley Cup win in 2004.  

Ben Bishop managed to hold his own as goalie for Tampa Bay. Chicago really had to put in extra effort in the beginning of the series to figure out how to get past him. Bishop was traded in February 2017, after almost a year of trade rumors due to salary cap issues.

Tampa Bay now has Peter Budaj in front of the net, and his performance was less than outstanding at the end of last season. Only time will tell this season, but the Lightning have more issues to be dealing with.

Coach Jon Cooper came to the team in 2013, but they haven’t been able to spark since that 2015 playoff run.

San Jose Sharks

The Sharks were arguably the most underdog playoff team in the last 10 years. They were a ragtag group of guys, with more missing teeth and raggedy beards than the rest of the league. Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture  and Joe Pavelski are household names in San Jose.

This team was unique and still is. But their feisty attitude and strong playing style wasn’t enough to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins.  

San Jose’s 2016 playoff run was the most successful in the team’s history. Not to mention it was only their fourth time making it to the third round. NHL fans who couldn’t point out San Jose on a map of California grew to love these guys.

They were a great group, but couldn’t make it past the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the 2017 playoffs. The Sharks were so strong the year before, but they couldn’t manage to hold it all together for another year.

Nashville Predators

The Predators were the most recent Stanley Cup loss.  Nashville has been pretty silent in terms of trades and offseason deals.

After missing the 2014 playoffs, the Predators were able to move through the ranks, improving their run every season following. They finally made it to the finals in 2017, a place the organization had never been.

Nashville really made some impressive moves two years ago in the offseason. PK Subban joined the squad after a trade with Montreal for Shea Weber. While Weber was a great fit for the Nashville, Subban proved to be a better fit and an instrumental part on the team.

Something I personally like about the NHL playoffs is that they’re different every year. It’s something you can’t say about the NBA, for example. It’s quite unlikely that the Cavs and the Warriors won’t be facing off in the finals this year.

When it comes to the NHL, there’s no way of knowing who will be facing off in the Stanley Cup Finals. It makes the regular season more exciting in a way.

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