The Tampa Bay Lightning were supposed to run away with the Atlantic Division after pushing the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins to seven games in the conference final. But it was the Montreal Canadiens that finished atop the division. All three Canadian teams surprisingly made the playoffs, and the Lightning came up just short despite a valiant effort near the end of the season. Injuries to Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Huberdeau changed some fortunes, a general manager became a head coach, a long time champion coach was fired, the Red Wings’ long playoff streak came to an end… this division had it all.
1st Star: Brad Marchand, LW, Bruins
After setting a career high with 37 goals last season, the agitating winger topped that, scoring 39 goals in the 2016-17 season. He also chipped in 46 assists, which shattered his previous career high of 28. Marchand also had a +18 rating to go with 81 penalty minutes, 24 power play points and 226 shots on goal. His two game suspension to end the regular season likely ended some championship dreams, but it was a career year nonetheless for the potential Hart Trophy finalist.
2nd Star: Nikita Kucherov, RW, Lightning
Kucherov nearly single-handedly got the Lightning into the playoffs, but it was not to be. The Russian winger scored 40 goals for the first time in his career, finishing with 40 on the nose. 17 of those goals came with the man advantage, which led the league. He also had 45 assists as well for a total of 85 points, which destroyed his career high of 66, set last season. Kucherov carried a lot of fantasy teams to championships, finishing with 36 points in his final 23 games. He also finished with a +13 rating, 38 penalty minutes, 32 power play points and 246 shots on goal. He’ll only be 24 to start the 2017-18 season, and with Steven Stamkos set to return next season, the Lightning power play that finished sixth in the league could be even better.
3rd Star: Erik Karlsson, D, Senators
One of the best offensive defensemen in the league, the Swedish born Karlsson had his fourth consecutive season of more than 65 points (17 goals and 54 assists). Despite playing for one of the worst power play units in the league (24th overall), the likely Norris Trophy finalist finished with 27 points with the man advantage. His shots on goal did decrease substantially for the second season in a row, but he was still an elite defenseman for fantasy hockey and in real life. He even finished second in the league in blocked shots, and more and more leagues are counting those.
Biggest surprise: Jonathan Marchessault, C/LW, Panthers
After being signed by the Panthers on July 1st, not many people thought much of the former Lightning forward in fantasy circles. He responded with the first 30 goal season by a Florida Panther in almost a decade (David Booth, 2008-09). He was a hot free agent pickup at the beginning of the season thanks to an injury to Jonathan Huberdeau, and he took full advantage. He only had 21 assists, and his plus/minus was horrible, but nobody saw this coming.
Biggest breakout: David Pastrnak, RW, Bruins
The 2014 first round pick from the Czech Republic had shown flashes of brilliance in the past, but he finally put it together in the 2016-17 season. He shattered his previous career high in points with 70. He had 34 goals and 36 assists for his 70 points. He was also in the top 10 in shots on goal with 262. His 24 power play points were tied for second on the Bruins. Of course, playing on a line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand helped, but the 20 year old should be very good for a long time.
Biggest bust: Petr Mrazek, G, Red Wings
At the beginning of the season, it was a no brainer that the Red Wings were going to protect Petr Mrazek as their goalie from the expansion draft. After his 2016-17 season, they may be having second thoughts. Iin 50 games, Mrazek had an 18-21-9 record with a brutal 3.04 goals against average and a .901 save percentage. Jimmy Howard played well when called upon, but he was injured for some of the season. Jared Coreau even got some starts in the cage for the Red Wings. Will the Red Wings bank on a bounce back season from Mrazek? We’ll see.
Top rookie: Auston Matthews, C, Maple Leafs
Well, duh… this one is obvious. The first overall pick from the 2016 draft set numerous franchise records for a rookie, and the Leafs team was full of first year players. Matthews finished tied for second in the league in goals with 40, and he was also eighth in shots on goal. His 40th goal of the season was an empty net goal that clinched a playoff spot for Toronto, who had not been in the playoffs in a few seasons. The rebuild in hockey’s biggest market is going much faster than expected, and a lot of it has to do with Matthews. He only had 14 penalty minutes to contribute to fantasy owners, but who’s complaining?