Joe Thornton

Roundtable: Best NHL teams to not win Stanley Cup

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Which NHL franchise (team or one from a specific season) over the last 25 years are you most disappointed did not win a Stanley Cup and why?

JOEY: I know they made it to a Stanley Cup Final in 2016, but the fact that the Sharks have never hoisted the Stanley Cup is pretty disappointing. The other California teams (Anaheim and Los Angeles) have each won at least one, but the Sharks just couldn’t get over the hump.

How can you not feel sorry for Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and company? Those guys played at a high level for so long and it’s unfortunate that they could never win it all.

Since the start of the 2000-01 season, this is where the Sharks have finished in the Pacific Division standings: first, fifth, first, second, second, first, first, first, first, second, third, second, fifth, third, third, third and second. That’s a lot of good seasons. To have only one Stanley Cup Final appearance to show for it is just brutal.

Even the Vegas Golden Knights, who have turned into a bitter rival for the Sharks, have made it to one Stanley Cup Final and that was in their first year of existence.

What’s even more frustrating for San Jose, is that based on what we’ve seen from them in 2019-20, it looks like their window to win is pretty much closed. Can general manager Doug Wilson turn things around quickly? Maybe. But they don’t even have their own first-round pick this year.

There’s been some great Sharks teams over the last 25 years, but they’d trade all that regular-season success for a single Stanley Cup.

SEAN: I agree with Joey. You can count on two hands how many in the last 15 years that the Sharks have been my preseason Cup winner pick. But I’m going to go in a different direction. The 2010-11 Canucks were a team that conquered demons along the way to reaching Game 7 of the Cup Final.

That Canucks roster was a total package. There were some likable characters (Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Roberto Luongo) and others who played the heel role very well (Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Max Lapierre, Raffi Torres). There was also Kevin Bieksa, who could probably find a place in both groups.

Years of playoff disappointment were carried like baggage heading into the 2010-11 season. After back-to-back Round 2 playoff exits at the hands of the Blackhawks, the Canucks were again Cup contenders, and needed to finally finish the job. They did their part initially, becoming the first team that season to clinch a playoff spot and picking up the first Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history.

Every Stanley Cup championship DVD has those flashpoint moments on the road to a title. The Canucks had that. From their regular season success to Burrows “slaying the dragon” with his overtime series clincher against Chicago in Round 1 to Bieksa ending the Western Conference Final against the Sharks in double OT to Vancouver winning the first two games of the Cup Final against the Bruins. It appeared as if the stars had finally aligned.

We know the rest of the story, but that team was both incredibly fun to watch with the talent on it and so easy to root against given the villains employed on the roster. All they needed was just one win in Boston to change history.

JAMES: Joey beat me to the Sharks, but honestly, I’m glad. In having to dig deeper, it conjured some great/tragic hockey memories and interesting thoughts.

For one: the last two Stanley Cup-winners emptied out metaphorical tonnage of angst. The Blues have been tormented by “almost” basically from day one, when they were pulverized in three straight Stanley Cup Final series (1967-68 through 1969-70) without winning a single game against the Canadiens or Bruins. There’d be ample angst if they didn’t win in 2019, and the same can be said for the Capitals. It’s difficult to cringe too hard at the Boudreau-era Capitals falling just short when Alex Ovechkin won it all, anyway.

My thoughts drift, then, to quite a few Canadian teams that rode high.

It’s tempting to go with the Peak Sedin Canucks, in and around that near-win in 2011; after all, while I didn’t grow up a Canucks fan, many were fooled into believing so because of my handle.

But, honestly, the team that might bum me out the most in recent years is the really, really good Senators teams that fell short of a Stanley Cup. (No, I’m not talking about the group that was within an overtime Game 7 OT goal of being willed to a SCF by Erik Karlsson and a few others.)

The 2005-06 Senators rank among the more galling “What if?” teams for me.

During the regular season, that Senators team scored more goals than anyone else (314) and allowed the third-fewest (211). Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson both enjoyed 103-point seasons, and Jason Spezza (90) probably would have hit 100+ if he played more than 68 games. This was a team that also featured Zdeno Chara, a Wade Redden effective enough to convince the Senators to choose Redden over Chara, and other talented players like Martin Havlat, Antoine Vermette, and Mike Fisher.

The biggest “What if?” there revolves around Dominik Hasek getting injured during the 2006 Winter Olympics, a groin issue that kept him out of the ensuing postseason. Even at 41, Hasek was dominant, posting a .925 save percentage. Ray Emery couldn’t get it done, and the Senators were bounced in the second round.

While the 2006-07 Senators were the rendition that actually made it to the SCF, they no longer had Chara or Hasek on their roster.

Instead of a possible Stanley Cup victory, the memorable images of those peak Alfredsson-era Senators teams were ugly ones. Marian Hossa lying, dejected on the ice after Jeff Friesen beat Patrick Lalime and the Devils won a Game 7 in 2003. Alfredsson snapping at shooting a puck at Scott Niedermayer. And then plenty of unceremonious exits.

For more casual hockey fans, that Senators’ surge will probably be all but forgotten, but it’s really stunning just how talented that team was.

(Side note on almost-Canadian champs: I’ll likely go to my grave believing that Martin Gelinas scored that goal for the Flames.)

ADAM: I want to see great players get their championship, especially when it is the one thing that their otherwise great resume is lacking. The Sedins are obviously in that discussion, as are those great Sharks teams with Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski.

I will add another name to that list: Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. Especially that 2013-14 team that actually made it to the Stanley Cup Final only to lose to the Kings. I know they lost that series in five games but I still feel like it was a lot closer than that because they literally lost three games in overtime. Lundqvist was outstanding in that entire postseason — and that series — and it would have been the capper on his career.

On one hand, I feel like Lundqvist is absolutely respected for the goalie that he has been. But it still seems like there is a “yeah, but…” that always follows him around because he doesn’t have that championship that will keep him from being remembered as one of the all-time greats at the position. He has been a great goalie, a sensational playoff goal, and was always taking the Rangers to levels that they probably shouldn’t have been at.

So which team am I disappointed didn’t win? At least one team with Henrik Lundqvist on it.

SCOTT: The 2018-19 Lightning were an elite team that not only didn’t reach the Cup Final, they didn’t even win a game in the postseason.

The Blue Jackets won their first playoff series as a franchise in stunning fashion as they won four straight against a big Cup favorite.

The Lightning were a victim of their own regular-season success. With 14 games remaining in the regular season, Tampa Bay secured a playoff spot and had little to play for the rest of the way.

“In the end, it’s just we just couldn’t find our game,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper told reporters after the disappointing finish. “That was it. It had been with us all year, and for six days in April we couldn’t find it. It’s unfortunate because it puts a blemish on what was a [heck] of a regular season.”

The Lightning won 62 games that season and finished the regular season with 128 points. The Bruins, who ended up representing the Eastern Conference in the 2019 Cup Final, finished with 107 points.

“You have a historic regular season doing what we did and have basically a historic playoff in defeat,” Jon Cooper said.

Tampa will always be one of the most successful teams to not win the ultimate prize.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Sharks GM gives Boughner ‘upper hand’ to take over as coach

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San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson isn’t ready to remove the interim head coach tag from Bob Boughner’s title yet.

Noting the Sharks’ season is not officially over with the NHL on hiatus due to the coronavirus, Wilson voiced his support by saying Boughner has the edge in taking over the job on a permanent basis.

“Does Bob know our group and have the upper hand in this process? Absolutely,” Wilson said during a conference call Thursday.

“But I think you have to be thorough in this process because we have the time and the opportunity,” he added. “And when you have time like this you need to utilize it.”

Wilson was pleased with the improved style of play and structure he saw in the Sharks in 37 games under Boughner, who took over after on Dec. 11.

Wilson, however, stressed there is plenty he wants to evaluate regarding a team that will likely miss the playoffs for only the second time in 16 seasons, and was last in the Western Conference when play stopped on March 12.

It’s unclear when play will resume, and whether the NHL will complete the final month of the regular season or go directly into the playoffs. The Sharks (29-36-5) went 14-20-3 under Boughner. The record was mostly a reflection of a rash of injuries sidelining San Jose’s top stars.

Wilson was more definitive in providing injury updates, saying and defenseman Erik Karlsson are on track to return next season.

Wilson said Hertl is ahead of schedule and can fully extend his left knee some two months after having surgery to repair two torn ligaments. He said Karlsson is nearly fully recovered after in February.

Wilson added forward Logan Couture is feeling no after affects after missing San Jose’s final game with a concussion caused when he was struck in the head by a puck.

Boughner spent his portion of the 40-minute session looking ahead to next season.

“Who knows what’s happening with the rest of the season here, but if we’re talking about training camp, that’s what excites me the most,” Boughner said.

“We’re going to treat training camp as crucial,” he added.

This is Boughner’s second stint with the Sharks. He spent two seasons as an assistant in San Jose before being hired to coach the Florida Panthers.

Fired last April after two seasons in Florida, Boughner was hired as an assistant to DeBoer’s staff.

“I think Boughy and his staff did a lot of good things and they were certainly hamstrung with a lot of our players out,” Wilson said.

Wilson also addressed the status of Joe Thornton, who is playing on a one-year contract and completing his 22nd NHL season, and 15th in San Jose.

“Everybody knows how we feel about Joe,” Wilson said, adding he has regular discussions with 40-year-old forward.

Wilson was non-committal when asked if there’s a place in next year’s lineup for Thornton, saying only: “He’s a special man.”

Avalanche hold off Sharks as Colorado keeps close to Blues

The Avalanche were able to hold off a late push from the Sharks to win 4-3 on Sunday.

San Jose received a late opportunity after Evander Kane was struck by a high stick, and while the Sharks narrowed Colorado’s lead, the Avs ultimately won. With that, the Avalanche remain within striking distance behind the Blues (90 to St. Louis’ 92 points) while holding a game in hand.

[Read up on the Blues’ win here]

As is often the case, Colorado’s top guys delivered for the win.

MacKinnon, Landeskog key in Avalanche finding a way to hold off Sharks

Nathan MacKinnon looked especially dangerous while generating one goal and two assists. Gabriel Landeskog matched that production (1G, 2A), too. It’s not easy to push too much optimism about Mikko Rantanen being injured, but if Vladislav Namestnikov (1G, 1A) can fit in with MacKinnon like he once did with Nikita Kucherov in Tampa Bay, the Avs might be onto something. J.T. Compher also collected two assists, including on Joonas Donskoi‘s game-winner.

To some surprise, the Avalanche have enjoyed strong goaltending this season, even as Philipp Grubauer is on the mend. In Sunday’s case, Pavel Francouz merely needed to survive, getting the win while making 22 out of 25 saves.

If you need to sprinkle in some dopey humor into your Sunday night/Monday, consider that Joe Thornton reached the often unspoken milestone of 420 goals in this loss. The puns, they’ll probably be a little hazy.

Those who observe the Avalanche being powered by the usual suspects may believe that the team hasn’t come that far in 2019-20. On the contrary, they’ve shown quite well in rolling with various punches, and could be quite impressive if Rantanen can return close to full speed.

But, yes, make no mistake about it: MacKinnon is still the high-horsepower engine that still runs this team, and few moments in hockey are as exciting as when he’s in the driver’s seat.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Leon Draisaitl’s two-year run of dominance puts him in rare company

Leon Draisaitl
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Leon Draisaitl needed just 65 games this season to reach the 100-point mark for the Edmonton Oilers.

That is ridiculously fast for this era of the NHL and comes after an almost equally dominant offensive performance from him a year ago.

He enters Monday’s game against the Nashville Predators with a commanding 11-point lead in the NHL scoring race, and (as mentioned in this week’s Power Rankings) is just 11 goals away from recording what would be his second consecutive 50-goal, 100-point season.

He has 17 games to do it. I like his chances, and you should too.

(Update: He scored four goals on Monday night after publication and now just needs seven goals in 16 games to do it.)

If he does end up reaching it, it would put him in some elite company for the NHL’s modern era.

Since the start of the 1992-93 season (27 seasons) the only players in the league to hit those milestones in back-to-back years are Alex Ovechkin (three years in a row from 2007-08 to 2009-10), Dany Heatley (2005-06 and 2006-07), Mario Lemieux (1995-96 and 1996-97) and Pavel Bure (1992-93 and 1993-94).

As if that is not enough, he is also on track for what would be one of the most productive two-year runs over the past two decades.

Assuming he stays healthy and maintains his current pace offensively, he is on track for 233 total points over this most recent two-year run.

Just for some perspective on how wildly productive that is, here are the only players to record more points over a two-year run since the start of the 1995-96 season.

  • Mario Lemieux: 283 points (1995-96 to 1996-97)
  • Jaromir Jagr: 244 points (1995-96 to 1996-97)
  • Joe Thornton: 239 points (2005-06 to 2006-07)

Lemieux and Jagr were linemates together in Pittsburgh during their two seasons listed here.

It is also worth noting that Draisaitl’s teammate, Connor McDavid, is also on track to top the 230-point mark over these past two seasons even though he has missed six games this season. But McDavid is almost universally regarded as the league’s best offensive player. Everyone knows how great he has been. The reason we are focussing on Draisaitl here, however, is because the perception of him throughout his career has always been strange given how consistently productive he has been.

When he signed his current eight-year, $68 million contract there was a pretty widely held belief that it was an overpay on the part of the Oilers. Not even three full seasons into the deal, though, it looks like it is going to be a bargain under the salary cap given his production.

There was also the criticism that his offensive production was mostly dependent on having McDavid as his center. But he has shown this season that he can not only carry his own line and still score at an elite rate, but he also had 12 points in the six games that McDavid did not play due to injury.

Obviously goal and point totals are far from the end all and be all of player evaluation, and that alone isn’t enough to give a player the Hart Trophy or make them the best player in the league. But there is still a ton to be said for being able to drive a team’s offense the way he has and to score at a level over multiple seasons that has typically only been reserved for Hall of Famers.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Penguins fall behind Flyers as losing streak hits six games

Penguins losing streak reaches six games after Sharks shutout Flyers ahead
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Remember when it looked like the Penguins might push the Capitals for the Metropolitan Division title? With the Penguins losing streak now at six games, they risk falling out of the Metro top three entirely.

Their slump hit what sure felt like a new low on Saturday as the Sharks shut them out 5-0. Martin Jones frustrated the flustered Penguins with a 30-save shutout. San Jose received contributions from the expected (Evander Kane, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton) and the not-so-much (25-year-old Joel Kellman scoring his third NHL goal).

Penguins lose ground as streak reaches six games

Consider a few factors in the Penguins’ six-game skid:

  • The Flyers have been almost as hot as the Penguins have been cold. Philadelphia seeks its sixth consecutive win when the Flyers face the Rangers on NBC on Sunday afternoon (watch live).
  • To make matters worse, the Penguins dropped all six games in regulation.

Look at how precarious the situation is becoming:

Metro 1: Capitals – 84 points in 64 games played (39-19-6)
Metro 2: Flyers – 81 points in 64 GP (37-20-7)
Metro 3: Penguins – 80 points in 64 GP (37-21-6)

East WC 1: Islanders – 78 points in 64 GP (35-21-8)

As you can see, the Penguins would begin the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs on the road if they began right now. The Islanders are nipping at their heels for that third spot, too.

  • Don’t totally discount the potential importance of home-ice advantage. The Penguins are 22-6-4 at home and just 15-15-2 on the road, while the Flyers see an almost identical gap (23-5-4 at home; 14-15-3 away).
  • The Penguins played five of their last six games on the road, including their last four. Losing to the Capitals is one thing, but failing to get a single standings point against California’s three NHL teams is shaky in 2020. Things could get pretty dicey if the Penguins can’t beat the Senators in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

Wake-up call didn’t happen yet

The Athletic’s Josh Yohe reports (sub required) that the Penguins viewed Saturday’s game as a chance to “stop the bleeding.” (Insert some “Sharks smelling blood” one-liners right here.)

“We’re digging ourselves a hole right now,” Patric Hornqvist said after Friday’s 3-2 loss to the Ducks. “So let’s figure out what we’re made of.”

Well, Saturday’s shutout to the Sharks was made of … ugh.

It’s probably not a coincidence that Sidney Crosby is suffering through a brief lull.

From Feb. 8-18, Crosby generated an impressive five-game point streak, managing three goals and eight assists for 11 points. He’s only managed a single goal and suffered through a -8 rating during this six-game skid.

Perhaps some of these struggles stem from the Penguins trying to get acclimated to quite a few new names after making their typical run of aggressive trade deadline moves. As much as anything else, it’s also indicative of the ups and downs of a marathon 82-game season. You don’t see Martin Jones pitch a 30-save shutout every week, after all.

How worried should the Penguins be about their six-game losing streak, and where do you think they’ll finish in the standings?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.