We’re down the home stretch in the last week of a seemingly never-ending Flyers season. But that doesn’t mean you need to ditch hockey until next October.
There wasn’t much to cheer about here in Philadelphia unless you’re a fan of the draft lottery. But around the rest of the National Hockey League, it’s never been more exciting.
Goal scoring is up. Way up. Almost historically up. And the league is seeing accomplishments that haven’t collectively been reached in a generation.
Heading into the final week of the season, four players have eclipsed the 50-goal mark and a small handful still have an outside shot of joining them. The league hasn’t had four 50-goal scorers since the 2005-06 season, which you might remember as a recalibration year of the rulebook, It followed the only time the league shut down for an entire season due to a labor dispute. Five guys (Jonathan Cheechoo, Dany Heatley, Jaromir Jagr, Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Ovechkin) lit the lamp 50 times or more that year.
Now we have Auston Matthews, Leon Draisaitl, Chris Kreider and that Ovechkin fella hitting the mark early this season with Kirill Kaprizov, Kyle Connor and Connor McDavid hot on the trail with a week to go.
The 2006-07 season was the last time the NHL had seven 100-point scorers. There have been seven to notch 100 already this year: McDavid, Matthews, Draisaitl, Kaprizov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. It’s very likely Mitch Marner, J.T. Miller and Artemi Panarin could join that group. The league hasn’t seen that many players hit the century mark since the 1995-96 season, when a dozen got there.
Speaking of the mid-’90s, the NHL hasn’t had a defenseman reach 90 points since Ray Bourque did it in 1994. Nashville’s Roman Josi already hit 90, and Colorado’s Cal Makar is within striking distance at 85 and certainly would have gotten there if not for missing four games to injury. He still might.
The best part about the long list of names of superstars who have accomplished these feats this year is that nearly all of them are likely to be in the postseason. Connor and the Winnipeg Jets are out and Miller and the Vancouver Canucks were teetering on elimination on Sunday. Josi and the Predators still have some work to do, but every other name mentioned is on a team that has clinched a playoff spot.
No longer is a Calgary Flames-Minnesota Wild considered a bore when you can watch Gaudreau and Tkachuk go head-to-head with Kaprizov.
As far as franchises go, the Florida Panthers will enter the playoffs as one of the favorites as they attempt to win the first Stanley Cup in the team’s history. The Toronto Maple Leafs will be attempting to end the league’s longest Cup drought at 55 years. All of Canada will hang its hopes on the Leafs, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames to end the country’s Cup drought at 29 years. The Wild have never even been to the Cup final.
And when it comes to championships, the Tampa Bay Lightning will attempt to win the Cup for three straight years, which no one has done since the New York Islanders won four straight in the early 1980s.
There will be plenty of good hockey on the TV each night. Really good hockey. Historically good. It just won’t be in Philadelphia. ••