Washington finally got their Stanley Cup after years of disappointing playoff runs, and the Vegas Golden Knights defied the odds of what an inaugural expansion team should have been able to do. It’s weird to say but there wasn’t really a loser when it came to the NHL Stanley Cup finals, but that’s simply not okay in my eyes… so I did some digging.
I present to you: the Montreal Canadians and Florida Panthers – Losers of the 2017/18 Stanley Cup Finals!
Third last in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic division with only 71 points amassed, Montreal were out of the playoffs for some time this season. But, when we look at the roster of the Washington Capitals there are some familiar faces for Habs fans.
Devante Smith-Pelly – The former Canadien winger is currently catching the run off booze out of the Stanley Cup from Ovechkin’s bender. Besides that, Smith-Pelly was cast in the right spot for Washington as a depth winger who can bring physical play and speed with the addition of some secondary scoring. In the regular season DSP managed 38 points, more than he had in two seasons combined in Montreal.
While having just a brief stint in MTL, Smith-Pelly was heralded a little too highly upon arriving. He was a promising prospect coming from the well respected draft and development system of Anaheim. It may have been too much too fast for DSP who has already played in seven NHL season at just 26 years of age, but knowing that he is a low ceiling depth forward rather than a high potential prospect has seemed to unlock his abilities for Washington.
In the playoffs Smith-Pelly chipped in 8 points with 7 of them being goals. Depth scoring and even playoff depth scoring (when they were there) is something Montreal has needed for some time, and missed out on by cutting ties with Smith-Pelly.
Lars Eller – A true Montreal Canadien to the core and veteran of six NHL seasons with the Canadiens, Lars Eller has just completed his career best season – away from the Habs. Lars Eller, Washington’s third (sometimes fourth) line centre has been a bit of a jack of all trades for his team. In the playoffs he was able to jump up in the line up when Nicklas Backstrom was out for four games against Tampa Bay. Eller was able to bring his physical, agitating game up to Washington’s second line, but also mixed in his offensive prowess too.
Eller had 38 points to his name this regular season, 18 goals and 20 assists and in the playoffs he added 18 points in 24 games. He is very effective in front of the net and brings more skill and physicality to the Washington line up in a depth role. With Devante Smith-Pelly below him in the line up and Tom Wilson above, Eller acted as a balancing out factor in the physical/skill hybrid style of play Washington thrived on this season and post season.
Eller wasn’t miscast in Montreal, and didn’t underperform really either. The Habs were not as offensively talented as the Capitals were this season and for years passed, but his presence in the centre ice position is desperately needed on the Canadiens team and a versatile player like Eller could help a team looking for help in the middle of the ice.
We’re all about to witness history as the Florida Panthers are about to over-develop their players to the point of diminishing their potential abilities as the Panthers fade back into NHL obscurity. But seriously, the Florida Panthers have been on the cusp of being a great team for so long that it just doesn’t seem likely anymore that they’ll take the next step. What rubs some salt in the wound for the Panthers is seeing two of their players from the season prior excelling and firing the Vegas Golden Knights to unbelievable success.
Jonathan Marchessault – Entering the league officially with Columbus in 2012-13 Marchessault would have to wait until 2016-17 to show what he could really be in this league with the Florida Panthers. He would go on to score 51 points in his first season with Florida. He was believed to be a found-money type of player that returned on a low investment and could help fill out and carry the Panther’s young core forward into the playoffs and further. They wouldn’t make the playoffs that season but everyone believed he would certainly be safe from the expansion draft, showing that he is a bit of a maestro offensively. Apparently we were all wrong, and Vegas made a no brainer and scooped up the surprisingly unprotected player.
Marchessault would continue his offensive outburst in Vegas, netting 75 points in the regular season. He didn’t slow down in the playoffs either, putting up more than a point a game in the post season with 21 points in 20 games. He was brought in with low expectations, as were all of the Knights players, and exceeded the likely predictions around him for the season. Florida ended up missing the playoffs without him, and he would have registered tied for second in team scoring with Vincent Trocheck, behind only Aleksander Barkov.
Reilly Smith – Vegas would pick up the $25 million dollar man from Florida before their inaugural season began in June 2017 for just a fourth round pick in the 2018 draft. A puzzling move as he was traded just one season after Florida signed him to a 5 year $5 million dollar a year contract. He did decline in production in his final year with Florida, only putting up 37 points, however his previous three seasons saw him collect 51, 40, and 50 points respectively.
Florida gave up on him too early, and what was the Panther’s loss was the Golden Knights gain. Smith would only play in 67 games this season but, you guessed it, he set a new career high in points with 60 – 22 goals and 38 assists. His playoff success mirrored that of his regular season, as he was over a point a game in the post season with 22 points in 20 games played.
He would have happily been sitting 5th in team scoring for Florida with his 60 points, and the Panthers really did lack scoring depth this season. Sitting at just +2 goal differential, Florida was approximately 43 goals off of their division mate and playoff race opponent Toronto Maple Leafs, and trailed them by 9 points at season end.
There always needs to be a loser, and if we justify losers by the players listed above who broke out for their respective NHL finals teams, Montreal and Florida fit the role perfectly. Both are disappointing in different manners for their fanbases, and both teamsvneeded what the players lost brought to their new teams a season ago.
For Montreal, their shining star Carey Price also takes a hit when comparing teams with Washington. Braeden Holtby the often second ranked Canadian goalkeeper behind Price, now has a Stanley Cup to his name and impressed in his playoff run. He can easily be justified over Price now with his new hardware in hand.
And for Florida (and outside of their players who lit it up for Vegas) it seems like just desserts for the team that so unceremoniously fired their likeable and successful head coach. Gerard Gallant, a shoe-in guarantee for the Jack Adams coach of the year trophy, deserves this success his new team enjoyed more than anyone. He was let go on the road against Carolina, literally on the curb outside of the team bus post game, players looking on from the bus. Now, he can boast the most successful expansion team in sports, while the Panthers achieved nothing this season.
For both Montreal and Florida, Washington and Vegas taking their scraps and incorporating them into elite, scoring teams should act as a wake up call. Rather than cut bait too soon, evaluate and cast your players right to maximize their potential. As mentioned at the top, it’s hard to call Vegas a loser in this Stanley Cup final. Roster moves from Montreal and Florida, however have made for nice losers for the 2017-18 finals.