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Melrose: Some teams happier than others to see 2011 go

by Barry Melrose /
It was a heck of a year for hockey in 2011, but it was certainly better for some teams than others. As we saw the Bruins and Canucks battle it out for the Cup this spring, there were plenty of other teams looking at draft boards and planning how to be better in 2012 and beyond. Now that 2012 is just about here, we're going to take a look at the top five teams that wish 2012 didn't have to come, and the top five teams that can't wait for the calendar to turn over.

Five teams that wish 2011 wouldn't end:

5. Vancouver Canucks -- Obviously, the Canucks had a great season and went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, they had great years from their stars, the city was crazy, they're off to a good start this season, they're still one of the better teams in the NHL, the Sedin twins are fantastic and Luongo looks like he's finally playing better. So 2011 has been an excellent year for the Vancouver Canucks, apart from not winning the Cup.

Daniel Sedin
Left Wing - VAN
GOALS: 15 | ASST: 26 | PTS: 41
SOG: 114 | +/-: 12
Despite their slow start to this season I still think they'd love to keep 2011 going now that they've finally picked it up. I think Ryan Kesler turned them around. We saw in the playoffs that while the Sedins are their stars, the guy that makes that team go is Kesler. He didn't start the year and now you're seeing him healthy again and you're starting to see him score goals and you're starting to see him drill people, and I think that picks the whole team up. They had a little bit of a hangover like Boston, but I think it was just a case of Kesler not being in the lineup that affected them more than people realize. That guy is the catalyst of the Vancouver Canucks.

4. Winnipeg Jets -- This doesn't include the half year they spent in Atlanta. This is just for Winnipeg. The Jets have been back for half the year, but this will always be the year the Jets came back to Winnipeg. The city responded unbelievably, the building's rockin' -- a lot of people say it's the loudest building in the NHL -- the team is good, they have one of the top six home records in the NHL, and if you want to keep your fans happy you win at home. Evander Kane has turned into a star, Dustin Byfuglien is playing well and they've just got a heck of a hockey team. 2011 is the year Winnipeg fans are going to point back on and say this is the year they came home and this is the year we got our team back.

3. Toronto Maple Leafs -- Maybe people expect so little of the Leafs that when we see mediocrity we think it's great, but we've got a team that finished the season strong last year, found a goalie in James Reimer and started the season very well this year. Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and company have been very good and they're fighting for a playoff spot legitimately for the first time in a long time. Given the start of 2011 and the finish of 2011, this has been one of the better years the Toronto Maple Leafs have had lately.

2. Chicago Blackhawks -- They finished the season great last year to make the playoffs and then almost beat Vancouver. If they beat Vancouver we could have been looking at a repeat Stanley Cup winner. They readjusted their team this summer, which I think made it better. They've got a nice battle in goal with Corey Crawford and Ray Emery, who's been a good pickup. Andrew Brunette's been a good pickup, Steve Montador's been a great pickup, and right now they're the best team in the Western Conference. With the finish they had last year and the start of this season, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are playing great, Patrick Sharp's on fire, Marian Hossa's off to a great start and Chicago's stayed pretty healthy so far. It just looks like it's going to be a heck of a finish to the season, so 2011 has been a heck of a year for the Chicago Blackhawks.

1. Boston Bruins -- Nobody wants 2011 to keep going like Boston. They won the Stanley Cup and even though they struggled at the start of this season, now they're just about unbeatable. And they're not beating teams right now. They're embarrassing teams right now. They're just playing great, they have arguably the best goaltender in the game in Tim Thomas and arguably the best defenseman in the game in Zdeno Chara. All the top plus/minuses in the NHL are Boston players, their goal differential is fantastic and they've even got a power play this year. 2011 was just one of those years you dream of if you're the Boston Bruins.

Five teams that can't wait to get to 2012:

5. Edmonton Oilers -- I know everything is positive here for most people, but they got another lottery pick after missing the playoffs again last year, and right now they're the third-worst team in the West. With all those high picks over the last six or seven years this team should be better. Yeah, they're fun to watch, yeah they've got some talent, but they're still not in the playoffs and I don't think that's good enough for a team that's drafted that highly over the past few years. Look at Pittsburgh, which drafted highly for several years and is now one of the best teams in the NHL. The Oilers should be better than they are. For 2011 they're just living on hope, but how long can they last on hope? I just think this should be a better team right now.

4. Washington Capitals -- They made the playoffs last year but they got beat in four straight. Alex Ovechkin is just a mere shadow of what he once was, Alexander Semin gives them nothing, Nicklas Backstrom has been great but bad in the playoffs, and they fired Bruce Boudreau and the change hasn't really improved them. I know Mike Green has been hurt, but he's been hurt the last couple of years, and for this team to not be in the playoffs right now with that lineup is pretty ridiculous, so I just think they're very happy that 2011 is going to be over. Three years ago, you thought you had a dynasty on the way with Ovechkin getting 60 goals and guys like Backstrom and Green, but they also have other talented players like Marcus Johansson and John Carlson. This is a talented, talented team and they're just treading water, playing .500, giving up a lot of goals, and they try to change their identity every three weeks. I'm a big believer that your best players have to be your best players, and if you look at their talented guys, they just aren't getting the job done. If you look at Pittsburgh, Sidney Crosby goes out and Evgeni Malkin becomes the best player in the world. That's how you win, and we just haven't seen it out of Washington.

3. Carolina Hurricanes --
Where is this team going? They won a Stanley Cup a few years ago, they had Eric Staal, they had Cam Ward, they had other good young players, guys like Erik Cole, they looked like a good young team on the rise that was going to be a powerhouse for years to come, and now they're arguably the worst team in the NHL. They fired Paul Maurice and Kirk Muller hasn't made any difference. Staal is having an awful season, Ward sees too much rubber, they can't score, they can't hit, and they don't have any great young players that are healthy. Staal is still good and Ward is still young, but Jeff Skinner is out and so is Joni Pitkanen. Nothing has gone their way, and you don't look at the team and say that they have five great young players like you would the Oilers, so I just think Hurricanes players and Hurricanes fans will be happy to see 2011 go out the door.

2. Calgary Flames -- This is a little bit of a different direction, but you've got a team here that has a great history but has not been good lately, and they have a lot of decisions to make, like what they're going to do with Jarome Iginla. This is a guy who has been one of the best players in the NHL for a long period of time. He hasn't won a Cup -- he's only played for it once -- but as he gets older and your team doesn't get better, what do you do with him. Jay Bouwmeester's been a disappointment, Miikka Kiprusoff's been a great goaltender for a number of years and they haven't been able to win, so I think 2011 is the end of the old Flames, because in 2012 some really tough decisions have to be made in Calgary. I really think 2011 might be the swan song for the previous group of guys there.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins -- Sidney Crosby has played a grand total of 10 games in 2011, Evgeni Malkin was hurt, Jordan Staal was hurt, Kris Letang's been hurt -- they've just had a ton of injuries. Yeah, some good things have happened like getting James Neal and Marc-Andre Fleury getting better in net, but this has been a long year for Pittsburgh. They got beat by Tampa Bay last year and had a terrible power play in that series, they've had a great start this season and everything's positive, but you've got the face of the team and the face of the League still out. I think it's been a really tough year for Pittsburgh and a hard year on the team and its fans because of Crosby's situation.
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