Season Takeaways: NHL’s young guns spurring ’80s-esque offensive revival

Watch as Lightning captain Steven Stamkos accepts the Presidents' Trophy for the first time in franchise history.

For the most part, we tend to see NHL seasons through the lens of a single player or team. Did my guy have a big year? Did the boys realize their potential?

At the end of 82 for all 31, though, it’s important to zoom out and take stock of the big picture. All season long, I’ve been doing ‘Weekend Takeaways’ in this space. But with the off-season having already hit for half the league, this is a great time to look back on the season that was as a whole, point out some trends and draw some conclusions.

So before the playoffs land, here are a few thoughts on the hockey we saw from October through early April.

Keep Scoring, Young Man

NHL games averaged 5.96 goals per game this year, up from 5.86 last season and 5.32 five seasons ago in 2014-15. This year featured a record 138 multi-goal comeback wins, meaning fans had to be careful leaving the building or couch. As was the case last year, roughly 28 per cent of the goals scored were buried by players aged 23 or younger. The kids haven’t been scoring this much since the goal-crazy 1980s. Basically, 20 per cent of the league set a new personal high for points.

Nikita Kucherov’s 128 points were the most since Mario Lemieux had 161 in 1995-96 and this was the first season to feature two 50-goal men — Alex Ovechkin and Leon Draisaitl — since Steven Stamkos and Evgeni Malkin both hit the magic mark in 2011-12.

Ahead by a Century

Six players hit the 100-point plateau this year. That’s three more than last season and the most we’ve seen since seven turned the trick in 2005-06 coming out of the lost season, when the game really opened up thanks to the rules crackdown.

Draisaitl and Connor McDavid became the first teammates to notch 100 points in the same year since Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom achieved that feat in 2009-10. More dubiously, McDavid and Draisaitl are the first players to both hit 100 on a team that missed the playoffs since Lemieux and Paul Coffey did it with the Penguins in 1989-90.

If it’s any consolation, Oilers fans, the Pens came back and won the next two Stanley Cups.

Decreased Workloads in the Crease

You know the old saying that goes, if you have two No. 1 goalies, you actually don’t even have one? It’s almost time to retire it.

More and more, teams are relying on two stoppers. Only two goalies — Montreal’s Carey Price and Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk — appeared in 65 games this year. Five goalies played at least 65 in each of the past two years and in 2009-10, 10 creasemen — one third of the league’s starters — manned the net that many times. Overall, 54 goalies played 25 games or more, compared to 51 last year and 47 a decade ago.

Dallas (Ben Bishop, Anton Khudobin), Nashville (Pekka Rinne, Juuse Saros), the Islanders (Thomas Greiss, Robin Lehner) and Pittsburgh (Matt Murray, Casey DeSmith) all had two guys play at least 25 games and post a save percentage of .915 or better.

Red and White Revolution

I did Red and White Power Rankings all year in my Weekend Takeaways, so I understand as well as anybody that the Leafs and Jets flattened out in the final quarter of the year. Still, both those teams — along with Calgary — are brimming with talent and enter the post-season as legit threats to make a deep run. It’s hard to see why any of these clubs will take a major step backward any time soon.

At the other end of the spectrum, I’d understand if fans of Ottawa and Edmonton decided the only way to get through life was to relinquish hope. But as awful as things have been in the board room — in Ottawa’s case, I’ve been saying things became a parody five disasters ago — Edmonton’s new GM will be building around McDavid and Draisaitl, while Ottawa’s selloff and sneaky strong drafting has resulted in a raft of young talent that’s already landed or is about to. From a pure on-ice perspective, both places still have a lot to put your arms around.

That leaves Montreal and Vancouver. The Canadiens missed the playoffs by a hair during a year in which Carey Price completely re-discovered his form and several young players — either in the NHL already or on the way — took big steps. Then there’s the Canucks, who showed the 2017 Draft actually did have a generational player at the top, only he went at No. 5 when they called Elias Pettersson’s name. Vancouver has never been this loaded with high-end youth.

There’s lots of room for debate, depending on how the light hits these seven teams for you. But hold them up at a certain angle, and things seem bright.

The New Islanders

Tampa Bay is rightfully getting lauded for its 62-win season, but the organization has been building toward something like this for a long time. The Islanders’ defensive turnaround, however, is equally sudden and astonishing.

New York was the only squad to allow fewer than 200 goals this year, landing at 191. That is 102 fewer than last season, when the Isles allowed 293. In fact, in the five seasons leading up to this one, the only squads to allow more goals than New York were the Oilers and Sabres.

Related: Barry Trotz will be getting many Jack Adams votes in the next couple days as the ballots are filed.

Speaking of awards, let’s quickly hand out some hardware:

Hart Trophy: Nikita Kucherov, running away. I do wonder, though, if Brad Marchand will get some second-place votes.

Norris Trophy: Do-it-all Mark Giordano, who exceeded his previous best for points by 18 (74 to 56) at age 35.

Vezina Trophy: Darcy Kuemper nearly dragged an injury-ravaged Coyotes team to the playoffs with his sparkling second-half performance. In a year when you can poke holes in every candidate’s case, I love what he did for that team.

Calder Trophy: Mathew Barzal won it last year, but if Brock Boeser had not missed 20 games, you wonder if he’d just be walking this award across the Canucks room and giving it to Pettersson.

Jack Adams Award: I wasn’t kidding, it’s going to Barry Trotz, even though Jon Cooper and Bill Peters have rock-solid cases.

Selke Trophy: Mark Stone wins it for all the wingers out there.

Lady Byng: This will be Sasha Barkov’s jumping off point to claiming some of the big-boy awards in the very near future.

Conn Smythe: We’re not there yet! Come back tomorrow for all our playoff predictions.

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