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Incredible season should lead to eventful summer

by Kevin Weekes

It's hard to believe that the 2013-14 season is over. It's been an amazing season in so many ways.

The competitive balance was crazy with so much parity from team to team. That was definitely demonstrated in a great Stanley Cup Final between the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers.

I also loved how there were a lot of players who unexpectedly stepped up this season with different roles at different times. The emergence of some of these players made this season great, and there's a whole new list of unheralded players looking to make their mark next season.

One of my favorite breakout players was Ben Scrivens. He was an NHL/American Hockey League goalie who hadn't had a chance to prove himself. He went to the Los Angeles Kings and really worked on his game and solidified himself. He ended up with the Edmonton Oilers and grabbed that opportunity. At the same time, Jonathan Bernier going to the Toronto Maple Leafs was a big opportunity for him, and it worked out exceptionally for him and the team. He's a budding star goalie now, and it's been a nice fit for him so far.

This summer, I'm interested to see what a lot of the good teams do to stay good. What do the Chicago Blackhawks do? What do the San Jose Sharks do? How do the Vancouver Canucks turn their ship around? Who are the New York Rangers going to re-sign? Are the Montreal Canadiens going to step up and re-sign their best player, P.K. Subban?

All these questions demonstrate how competitive the NHL is right now. That parity was on full display in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Since 2011, 38.3 percent of playoff series have gone seven games. That speaks to the incredible parity we have in the League right now. You have to earn every win, it doesn't matter who you are. Look at how the Kings had to grind just to get into the playoffs. Every game, every day, no one is out of it. You have to earn your keep and your wins.

Look at the Pacific Division as an example. I don't know if there is a more balanced, tougher division in all of pro sports.

That competitiveness is great for fans. You know that very seldom will you get a game that is a clunker. On any given night, a team can compete. Look at the Phoenix Coyotes and the job Dave Tippett has done with them. When you play the Coyotes, you're expecting a tough game. They're well-coached, they're disciplined, and they play their system; that's a tough team to beat. They were on the outside looking in come playoff time, but they caused a lot of heartbreak for a lot of teams during the season.

There were so many great moments during the 2013-14 season, too many to mention in one blog. Looking back, I think about the Detroit Red Wings and what some of their young players did down the stretch. And I can't help but look at some of the other goalies who emerged this year, including goalies with each team that made it to the Cup Final.

At one point, Kings goalie Jonathan Quick got hurt and Scrivens stepped up and was posting the same numbers. Then Martin Jones stepped up and caught fire, and he earned the job. Did anybody think that would happen? With Henrik Lundqvist struggling, Cam Talbot came in and knocked it out of the park to keep the Rangers afloat. No one saw either of those scenarios playing out.

That strong play from the backups helped New York and Los Angeles get to the Cup Final in the long run.

For the people who act all condescending and call goalies "just a backup," there are 60 NHL goalies in the world, and only 30 can start. You can have that negative outlook all you want, but any team that didn't have a good "backup goalie" didn't make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Blackhawks had Antti Raanta. San Jose had Alex Stalock. The Anaheim Ducks had Frederik Andersen and then John Gibson. Don't be too quick to chirp a goalie for being "just a backup." There's a thin line between being a backup and a starter in the League, and that line has become even thinner in the past few years.

Remember, Jonathan Bernier was backing up Jonathan Quick. Bernier comes to Toronto and faces more shots per game than any goalie in the League, and he had a better save percentage than Lundqvist and Quick.

The process for all of this began during the offseason. And the same thing will happen this summer, meaning next season could be just as unbelievable as 2013-14. I already can't wait.

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