Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
And so it was that two long-standing Western Conference powers crashed out of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, bending the knee to upstart franchises in just five games each …
You might not have liked the Sharks or Red Wings in their series against the Blues and Predators, but it was very difficult to see either one crashing out in five, wasn't it?
Now both find themselves at a bit of a crossroads. Detroit, of course, has been hearing "they're too old to keep doing this much longer" forever. But were it not for what even the staunchest of statsphobic old-timers would call a lucky, impossible-to-replicate home winning streak, it's difficult to get excited about the team's prospects going forward. No one on the Wings broke 70 points, and that's the first time since 2003-04 that such a thing has happened. They only had 17 road wins this season, and didn't win once at Joe Louis Arena in the playoffs. Causes for concern, certainly, made no less worrisome by the prospect of Nicklas Lidstrom hanging them up.
Make no mistake, this is an old team. Second-oldest in the league behind New Jersey, in fact. The number of players in their top-10 for scoring under the age of 30 was just three, and they weren't exactly three guys you see a guy as apparently smart as Ken Holland building a team around: Valtteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler, who played most of the year with Henrik Zetterberg, and Ian White, who took the majority of his shifts with Lidstrom. That's not to say they're not good players in their own right (well, White isn't), but they are complementary players, and guys like Zetterberg would still succeed regardless of who played with them.
They also have few particularly tantalizing prospects (the result of a decade or so of drafting pretty poorly) and Lidstrom, with his career very obviously on its last legs, simply cannot be the rough-and-ready warhorse at both ends of the ice he has been in the past, and the prospect of Niklas Kronwall playing any more minutes than he already does has to be concerning to anyone who watched this Nashville series.
Now, none of this is to say that the Wings didn't carry long stretches of their playoff games, and outshoot Nashville significantly in three of the five. They did. But as the series wore on, they also often appeared baffled with how to handle the looks a line led by Martin Erat was giving them, and didn't do a very good job of silencing anyone over the course of five games.
(Coming Up: It's Claude Giroux's world, we just live in it; the end of the Pens; Marty Brodeur is old; Mike Cammalleri gets his sweater; hoping for a Nicklas Lidstrom retirement; the Islanders probably aren't Brooklyn bound; the Coyotes and Blackhawks play a lot of overtime games; Cam Ward is charitable; the Rangers can't score; Tyler Seguin is pretty good; Emerson Etem ignites; and a trade to get Roberto Luongo to Tampa Bay.)
Obviously, it's worth considering that the Red Wings have something like $16 million in salary cap money coming off the books in the offseason, and only have a few guys they'd probably look at re-signing. They also never really got drilled by Nashville until the final game of the series, when you could just tell the Preds had an extra gear the Wings didn't.
But the fact is that most players still look at Detroit as a model franchise they'd be lucky to play for; so unlike other teams, they will likely have no trouble attracting top free agents and staying at least somewhat relevant, though perhaps not at the strength they once showed.
I wouldn't be so sure about the San Jose Sharks.
This is a team whose greatness we all overestimated this past summer, simply out of habit. But throughout the season and into the playoffs, they often looked old, disinterested, out of answers and just not good enough. That was especially true against the Blues, for whom they had no plan offensively, which is a position approximately zero into which people saw them slipping backwards even three or four months ago.
More worrying, though, is that there's no help on the way.
They have 14 players under contract next season with a combined cap hit of more than $55.5 million, and most of the larger contracts are for guys who are going to be north of 30 (Thornton, Marleau, Havlat, Clowe, Handzus, Boyle, Murray) — not where you want to be such a large portion of your cap money. And if you thought they might be able to bring up low-cost rookies from their system, think again. Hockey's Future ranks their prospect pool at dead last in the league; which, even if you don't put a ton of stock into that kind of thing, should be more than a little concerning. They can't be off by more than, say, three or four slots, right?
The Sharks, it seems, are another Calgary Flames in the making, having mismanaged a roster and thought far too much of their older players to the point that it led to severe roster mismanagement, and neglected their farm system in doing so. But since they began at a higher position, their fall will be less significant than the Northwest Division's discredited franchise.
There two teams are very much in decline and look unlikely to reclaim any former greatness they may have had, at least not within the next few years. But Detroit at least is in a significantly better position than the team that once antagonized it so when the postseason rolled around.
Not that either is enviable at this point.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: After scoring 61-46-107 in 65 regular season WHL games, Ducks prospect Emerson Etem scored 7-6-13 in seven playoff appearances. Shockingly, he's also up for WHL player of the year. He's now with Syracuse in the AHL, and scored one goal in the two final games before the postseason, but has been held off the scoresheet in two playoff games. In summary, he is pretty good.
Boston Bruins: This is the culmination of two fantastic games from Tyler Seguin. He went the first five games of the series without a point but seemed at least dialed in on Saturday. On Sunday, he set up Andrew Ference's crucial third goal, then scored this beauty in OT to force Game 7 on Wednesday.