It was a year of change and surprises in the world of the NHL.
December 23, 2015
1 of 15David E. Klutho for Sports Illustrated
Blackhawks win Stanley Cup
Some might hesitate to use the “D” word, but as the first team to win three championships in the salary cap era, the Hawks have earned the right to call themselves a dynasty. Led by captain Jonathan Toews and the indefatigable Duncan Keith, who averaged 31:06 per game through a 23-game playoff run, Chicago overcame the Ducks in an epic seven-game Western Conference Finals and then knocked off the surprising Lightning in six to capture the Stanley Cup.
2 of 15Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Emerging from the legal cloud that dominated the summer news cycle and threatened to destroy his career, Kane re-asserted himself as one of the game's top stars with an epic scoring spree to kick off the 2015-16 season. The slithery winger notched 16 goals and 24 assists during his 26-game streak, the NHL’s longest since Mats Sundin counted in 30 straight games with Quebec during the 1992-93 season and the longest ever by an American-born player.
3 of 15Andy Devlin, John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images
McDavid and Eichel arrive
Years of hype, a feverish race to the bottom of the standings and a fortuitous lottery draw culminated in the Oct. 9 debuts of two of the most promising players in recent NHL history. Buffalo's Jack Eichel (right) made an immediate impression, scoring a spectacular power play goal midway through the third period of a 3-1 loss to the Sens. Edmonton's Connor McDavid took longer to get on track but rang off a seven-game, 11-point streak before suffering a long-term shoulder injury.
4 of 15Mark Humphrey/AP
Looking to diminish the impact of the shootout on the standings, the NHL adapted a new overtime format that reduced the number of skaters to three per side. The results were immediate: The cautious, get-it-to-the-skills-session approach became a thing of the past, replaced by fast-paced, end-to-end action featuring spectacular saves and brilliant goals. It was such a hit that the league reworked the format of the All-Star Game with the hopes of creating a similar spectacle for the big stage.
5 of 15Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Like every great player, Sidney Crosby's been through the occasional rough patch. Nothing, though, quite like this. He's shooting just 6.5%, less than half his career average (14.1%) and is on pace for career lows in goals, assists and points. His team has struggled with him, leading to the firing of coach Mike Johnston. Midway through the season, the Pens are touch-and-go to make the playoffs.
6 of 15Paul Sancya/AP
Leafs land Mike Babcock
For the first time in history, the hottest commodity on last summer's free agent market wasn't a player. Given a chance to shop his services after 10 years with the Red Wings, Babcock played the field expertly, inducing record-setting contract offers from Detroit and Buffalo before finally settling on an historic eight-year, $50 million deal with Toronto. It was a “rising tide” moment that bodes well for coaches around the league, and suggests their power is destined to increase right alongside their earnings.
7 of 15Brad Graverson/AP; Derek Leung/Getty Images; Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department via Getty Images
Kings no more
A lost season took a turn for the worse after the defending champion Kings were eliminated from playoff contention. In April, veteran center Jarret Stoll (bottom right) was arrested after admitting to the possession of cocaine and MDMA. In June, Mike Richards (top right) was stopped at the Canadian border and later charged with possession of a controlled substance. In September, Slava Voynov was deported to his native Russia after serving 90 days in prison for domestic abuse, essentially ending his NHL carer. Richards and Stoll are no longer Kings, too.
8 of 15Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images
Benn swipes scoring crown
Sure, Stars sniper Benn claimed the Art Ross Trophy with the lowest point total in a non-lockout year since Stan Mikita’s 87 points in 1967-68, which was a 74-game season, by the way. But how he did it will go down in history. Trailing John Tavares of the Islanders by three points heading into the regular season finale with Nashville, Benn scored three times, then clinched the title with an assist on a Cody Eakin tally with just 8.5 seconds remaining in regulation as Dallas won, 4-1.
9 of 15Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Price is better than right
It was a season for the ages. Building on his Olympic success, Carey Price claimed every major NHL award available to him last season, including the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie, the Hart Trophy as MVP, the Ted Lindsay Award as the players' MVP, and a share of the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals. He also set the Canadiens franchise record for goalie wins in a season with 44 and finished the year by claiming the Lou Marsh Award as Canada's top athlete.
10 of 15Jana Chytilova/NHLI via Getty Images
Hamburglar steals berth
Undrafted 27-year-old goalie Andrew Hammon was in the midst of nondescript season with AHL Binghamton when an injury to starter Craig Anderson prompted his recall to Ottawa. Once there, he went on a miraculous 20-1-2 tear down the stretch to lead the floundering Senators to a shocking berth in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
11 of 15Jim McIsaac/NHLI via Getty Images
Dubnyk saves Wild
With his team's season hanging in the balance, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher made a desperation deal to shore up his goaltending, sending a third-round pick to Arizona in exchange for their seldom-used backup. Devan Dubnyk seized the opportunity while playing 39 of the Wild's final 40 games, going 27-9-2 with five shutouts, a 1.78 goals-against average and .936 save percentage before guiding them to a first-round upset of the favored Blues.
12 of 15Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images
Ageless wonder of Jagr
Seemed like hardly a game went by this year without some new milestone being set by ageless winger Jaromir Jagr (center), but two in particular stood out. On April 9, he assisted on Sasha Barkov's second period power play goal to record his 1,799th career point to move past Ron Francis into fourth on the all-time list. Then, on Dec. 20, he beat Ryan Miller for his 732nd career goal, vaulting him past Marcel Dionne into fourth place on that list.
13 of 15Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Isles close the Old Barn
After more than 40 years and four Stanley Cup championships, the Islanders refused to give up Fort Neverlose, the only home they'd ever had, without a fight. John Tavares, Nikolay Kulemin and Cal Clutterbuck scored as New York knocked off the Capitals, 3-1, in a nasty, physical contest that extended their playoff series to a decisive Game 7 and sent the Old Barn off in fitting fashion before the team moved to new digs in Brooklyn.
14 of 15Harry How/Getty Images
Martin Brodeur retires
His tenure with the Blues lasted just seven games, but Brodeur made them memorable. On Dec. 29, 2014, the 42-year-old legend blanked Colorado, 4-0, for the 125th shutout and 691st win of his NHL career. Both standards seem nearly unbreakable. So do his final two marks. Dressing for one last time on Jan. 2, he extended his record for games played (1,266) and losses (397). That 4-3 defeat suffered at the hands of the Ducks might not have made for the most romantic exit, but it allowed Brodeur to leave on his own terms, a privilege few athletes enjoy.
15 of 15Lance Thomson/NHLI via Getty Images
Winnipeg gets loud
When the Jets took to the MTS Centre ice on Apr. 20, the SRO crowd reminded everyone that there's playoff hockey ... and then there's playoff hockey in Winnipeg. The sea of white-clad fanatics, amped up by nearly two decades of waiting for a taste of postseason action, unleashed a roar that peaked at 124 dbA when Lee Stempniak opened the scoring, the loudest ever recorded at an indoor hockey game.
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