Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Marc-André Fleury.
Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Corey Crawford.
Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Braden Holtby.
I could go on reciting the stars of the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings.
These are franchises that have dominated the stages for years, leaving little oxygen to all the others. Back East, it was the norm to talk about Sid versus Ovi as the postseason approached, as it almost seemed like they were playing the game. Maybe you put Bergeron and his teammates in, but that was it.
To the west, the Hawks and Kings were the masters, if not for some attempt by the Sharks of Thornton and Pavelski, now a distant memory.
Then, however, a new dynasty was born: the Tampa Bay Lightning. A list of assassins, of authentic phenomena: from captain Steven Stamkos, who already gave a hard time to the great names made before, to the Russian star Kucherov, passing through the compatriot goalkeeper Vasilevskiy.
Throw in the fearsome Swedish giant Victor Hedman and the brilliant Brayden Point and you have a host of champions rated for the right combination to win it all.
So they did.
Meanwhile, in that western, something starts to scratch: Duncan Keith hits the brakes, Corey Crawford retires, Jonathan Toews drops off the radar, and Patrick Kane is unable to pull the cockpit by himself.
Los Angeles, in the same way, struggles: Kopitar and Doughty are still the usual tandem, but Quick begins to be criticized and Dustin Brown is no longer who he was. Tampa becomes the monster to beat, but it’s not the only franchise to relocate.
As its name already says, the avalanche near Denver, Colorado really starts to shake things up: Nathan McKinnon gets rid of Duchene’s shadow and permanently explodes, Mikko Rantanen evolves, Gabriel Landeskog proves to be a true captain. What makes the difference, however, is the arrival of Cale Makar, fourth choice in 2017 and, to date, perhaps the most prolific defender on the road not named Roman Josi.
Instead, it’s a late-round gem, one of those where you have to define a “value pick”, to change the music in the woods of Minnesota: Kirill Kaprizov is a striker who, when I first saw him, gave me a ” Patrick Kane vibe.”
I fell in love with the album thanks to the magic of Mr. Showtime, and Kaprizov reminds me of that, because he brings the same electricity to the ice. Transformed, the Wilds are living their best moment ever, and they are the typical dark horse in this Cup race.
Making a big comeback, after a more or less justified layoff, are the Calgary Flames: the previous two seasons, studded with the specter of COVID, probably slowed down the spirits of the redshirt players, but the brand new C is doing a big change. Returns. Gaudreau, after criticism, gets a season in the Hart Trophy, and Matthew Tkachuk, frankly, was as decisive as he was.
Moving east, after a brilliant flash of ecstasy that brings Ovi his first, and for now only, Stanley Cup, rust works its way into both the red-white-blue of the capital and the black-gold of the capital. Town. Far be it from me to say that the adventure is over, but the record is clear: young blood tightens, the uniform weighs more and time is running out.
And let’s face it, after seven Finals games against the Blues, Boston also showed some wrinkles, especially on Patrice Bergeron’s forehead and from the retirement of the most controversial goalie in history, Tuukka Rask.
To take that bread that perhaps, slowly, the old lions struggle to chew are three franchises: the first has had a progressive growth, led to be exponential by the arrival of a great ex, Rod Brind’Amour.
The Carolina Hurricanes literally engulfed the Eastern Conference, led by a Sebastian Aho who returned to the position in which he always should have played. Throw in Turbo-Teuvo, Jordan Staal’s experience, Svechnikov’s youth and some of the best two-way defenses in the league, look at Slavin, Pesce and Skjei, and you have a dangerous group that is constantly improving.
They were joined by a couple of teams that stepped up thanks to free agency, combined with an already solid, high-potential core: Florida gets a top-tier goalkeeper, after Luongo’s retirement, and racks up shots underrated, like Verhaeghe, Duclair (which I considered finished and never exploded) and Sam Bennett. Add to names like Barkov, Huberdeau, and Ekblad, and you have a winning recipe. The Rangers follow, who in Artemi Panarin find the jewel set in an already quite assorted crown, with Mika Zibanejad and the underrated Chris Kreider leading the way, and one of the few D comparable to that Makar mentioned above, or Adam Fox, accompanied by the former Jets Trouba.
But if we’re talking about confirmed and occurred explosions, there’s also who needs to be confirmed: Toronto has what it takes, but hasn’t capitalized so far. A record-breaking Matthews and a sparkling Marner are now a habit, but to be remembered you have to win. Similar is the speech for the eternal rival Connor McDavid and the two-headed monster that he composes with the German Draisaitl: it is good to collect seasons of 100 points one after another, but beware, the accounts are always made in the postseason.
And the old lions? Ovi and Crosby are still there, despite everything, and trouble is just around the corner, especially if you have experience on your side. Boston isn’t giving up, and it has young blood in Pastrnak, McAvoy and Swayman.
The Kings, on the other hand, have bounced back after a dark few years, with a team that may not be enthusiastic, but it works, with a Kopitar in the dust. Blues, Stars and Predators, fluctuating after their respective finals, still have the floor, and they are dangerous teams because all three have experience, physicality and hunger.
Unfortunately, what disappoints is the collapse of Montreal and the inability to make the jump in quality for the Islanders, attached to a Matthew Barzal too overloaded with offensive responsibilities. On the other hand, Vegas and Vancouver failed in their pursuit of the All-Stars with few games remaining, but both, earlier in the year, looked like they could do much more.
Winnipeg is stuck in its usual limbo, and I think an earthquake is needed to cool things down, while Chicago and San Jose, unlike Los Angeles, can’t get back on their feet.
The regular season is now ready to close. The tournament, the real one, is upon us: when you see a postseason game, where the Stanley Cup is in the background, you realize that you are watching another sport, the maximum expression of hockey.
As of 02/05/22 it starts to get serious.