It’s been less than a week since the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, and we’re already well into the NHL offseason. Teams are making trades, there’s a new franchise on the way, and we’re only a few days away from the entry draft and free agency. This is just how hockey works – there’s virtually no downtime between the end of one season and the start of the next.
That’s why it’s important to occasionally take a few moments to reflect. So today, let’s look back on the just completed year in the NHL and hand out some awards. Not the real hardware – that part’s also on the schedule for next week. Instead, we’ll make up a few of our own, to recognize the best and worst of a season that already feels like it’s fading into the distant past.
Breakout star of the year: Brent Burns
The Sharks defenseman has been one of the league’s better blueliners for years now. But he posted career-best numbers this season, earning a nod as a Norris finalist and a spot on Team Canada in the process. And he did it all while being… well, being Brent Burns. Which as it turns out, is a pretty interesting thing to be.
Whether it was the crazy beard or the Don Cherry-esque wardrobe or the solid soundbites or the whole Chewbacca thing at the all-star game, Burns emerged as a fun personality in a league that doesn’t have many. He may have flown under the radar for too long, thanks to West Coast start times. But the Sharks run to the Cup final put him solidly in the spotlight, and he embraced it.
And the hockey world embraced him right back … at least for now. No doubt, it won’t be long until Burns gets the PK Subban/Alexander Ovechkin treatment and we all start complaining about him being too eccentric or enigmatic or whatever other word we come up with. But for now, we can enjoy the presence of a star player who actually seems to enjoy the role.
Best trade (for both teams): the Phil Kessel deal
On the first day of free agency during last year’s offseason, the Leafs sent their best player to the Penguins in exchange for a package of picks and prospects. The deal ended the disappointing Kessel era in Toronto, and it didn’t take long for the knives to come out. Many felt the Leafs hadn’t got enough in return for a legitimate offensive star, while others worried that the Penguins had just gone all-in on a sullen, me-first distraction.
Less than a year later, the Pens are Stanley Cup champions largely thanks to Kessel, who led the team in playoff scoring. Meanwhile, the Leafs bottomed out, won the draft lottery, and will pick Auston Matthews with the top choice in next weekend’s draft. In a league where GMs are constantly complaining that it’s too hard to make a trade, the Leafs and Penguins managed to pull one off that worked out just about perfectly for both sides.
Kessel says he’s going to spend his day with the Stanley Cup in Toronto, by the way. Fair warning: If he poses for a photo with it next to a hot dog cart, the Internet will explode.