NEW YORK -- Following are some highlights of the 2013-14 National Hockey League regular season, which concluded yesterday:
A total of 21,758,902 fans filled NHL venues to 96% of capacity in 2013-14. The total figure includes the 376,837 who packed the six Winter Classic, Heritage Classic and Stadium Series games. Had those six games instead been played before a sellout crowd at the designated home team’s arena, the attendance figure (21,492,671) still would have exceeded the previous single-season high of 21,475,223 set in 2008-09.
RIVALRY-DRIVEN REALIGNMENT, PLAYOFF FORMAT
Realignment and a revised playoff format that emphasizes rivalries has resulted in a tantalizing list of first-round playoff matchups that features:
* the first postseason meeting of the ‘Original Six’ Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings since 1957
* the inaugural clash between Eastern Conference newcomers the Columbus Blue Jackets and their closest geographic rival just 185 miles to the east -- the Pittsburgh Penguins
* the third San Jose-Los Angeles ‘Battle of California’ in the past four seasons
* 10-time playoff foes the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers squaring off for the first time since the 1997 Eastern Conference Final
* 10-time playoff opponents the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks facing off for the first time since 2002
Over a two-month stretch from Jan. 1 through March 2, hundreds of thousands of fans experienced the excitement of NHL regular-season games at iconic stadium venues throughout North America. The 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs on New Year’s Day attracted an NHL-record crowd of 105,491 to Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, while attendance for the six combined Winter Classic, Heritage Classic and Stadium Series games hit 376,837, an average of 62,806 per game.
These big events bookended an exciting Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey tournament which showcased the NHL’s finest players on the world stage. Each of the 12 men’s ice hockey teams featured at least one NHL player and every NHL club had at least two representatives. Sixty-three of the League’s 147 players who went to Sochi came home with a medal.
TOUGH TO GET IN…
Intense competitive balance, a hallmark of recent NHL seasons, again was a notable feature of the 2013-14 campaign. Twenty-five clubs returned from the Olympic break within four points of a playoff berth; there was a four-way tie for the final two Eastern Conference playoff spots with two weeks left in the season; seven of the eight playoff matchups were finalized over the final weekend of the regular season; and the League’s top seven finishers enter the playoffs separated by only 10 points.
... AND TOUGH TO STAY IN
The turnover rate among playoff teams again exceeded 30% as five teams – the Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning -- qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs after missing the postseason in 2012-13. There has been a playoff turnover of at least five clubs in seven of the past nine seasons.
CELEBRATING PRESENT AND FUTURE GREATS
Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (36-68—104) captured his second career Art Ross Trophy as the League scoring champion, reaching the 100-point milestone for the fifth time in his career. Crosby also became the fourth player in Penguins history to earn multiple Art Ross Trophies, following Mario Lemieux (6), Jaromir Jagr (5) and Evgeni Malkin (2). His 17-point gap over second-place Ryan Getzlaf of Anaheim (31-56—87) marked the greatest differential for the League’s scoring champion since 1998-99, when Jagr beat out Teemu Selanne by 20 points.
Washington Capitals right wing Alex Ovechkin scored 51 goals to capture his second consecutive and add his fourth overall Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy to the ones he earned in 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2012-13. Ovechkin became the 11th player in NHL history to record five 50-goal seasons and just the fifth to do so in his first nine campaigns, following Mike Bossy (9 in 9), Wayne Gretzky (8), Guy Lafleur (6) and Brett Hull (5).
NHL fans paid extended tribute to 43-year-old Ducks forward Teemu Selanne, savoring the 21st and final regular season of one of the game’s greatest and most popular players. In addition to helping the Ducks post a franchise-record 116 points, Selanne led Finland to a bronze medal at the Sochi Olympics. He picked up his fourth Olympic medal (one silver, three bronze) in his sixth Games.
One year Selanne’s junior, 42-year-old New Jersey forward Jaromir Jagr also turned in a memorable season by leading the Devils in assists (43), points (67), plus-minus (+16), game-winning goals (six) and shots (231). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Jagr became the oldest player to lead his team in points since 1969-70, when Gordie Howe paced the Red Wings with 31-40—71 at the same age. Jagr also set the NHL record for career game-winning goals (124) and finished the season tied for sixth all-time in points (1,755 in 1,473 GP), seventh in goals (705) and eighth in assists (1,050).
Not yet born when Jagr captured back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Penguins in 1991 and 1992 and Selanne scored an NHL rookie record 76 goals in 1992-93, 18-year-old Avalanche rookie Nathan MacKinnon (9/1/95) topped all first-year players in points (63), goals (24-tied), assists (39), power-play goals (8), game-winning goals (5-tied), shots (241) and games played (82-tied). The first overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft tallied at least one point in 13 consecutive games from Jan. 25 to March 6 (5-13—18), breaking Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record for the longest single-season point streak by a player age 18 or younger (Gretzky: 12 games, Dec. 9, 1979-Jan. 5, 1980).
The Colorado Avalanche jumped from 29th in the NHL standings in 2012-13 to third overall in 2013-14, becoming the first club since the League expanded to 21 teams in 1979 to go from the bottom three to top three in a single season. The Avalanche matched a franchise record with 52 wins while goaltender Semyon Varlamov set a franchise mark with 41 victories, surpassing coach Patrick Roy’s previous single-season high of 40 set in 2000-01 -- the same season the Avalanche won 52 games en route to the club’s second Stanley Cup.
The Detroit Red Wings qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 23rd consecutive season, extending the longest active streak in North American professional sports. Detroit has not missed the postseason since 1989-90.
GOLDEN IN THE GOLDEN STATE
The three California-based clubs reached the 100-point mark, finished 1-2-3 in the Pacific Division and concluded the season in the top 10 in League standings. The Anaheim Ducks finished with the top record in the Western Conference for the first time in franchise history and were second overall with 116 points; the San Jose Sharks finished fifth overall with 111 points; and the Los Angeles Kings were 10th overall with 100 points. On Jan. 25, the Kings and Ducks made history by contesting the first NHL outdoor game in the U.S. west of the Mississippi River in front of a sold-out crowd of 54,099 at Dodger Stadium.