Northwest Notes: Looking back at highs, lows of 2000s
It was an eventful year in the Northwest. Every team but the Canucks changed coaches. The Avalanche’s Joe Sakic retired. Marian Gaborik left the Wild as a free agent.
Only two Northwest teams -- the Canucks and Flames -- made the playoffs. The Flames were dumped by the Blackhawks in the first round. The Canucks swept St. Louis in Round 1, then lost to the Blackhawks.
In terms of regular-season play during the 2009 calendar year, the Canucks had the best record (49-28-8, 106 points), followed by the Flames (47-31-7, 101), Wild (42-35-10, 94), Oilers (37-40-10) and Avalanche (36-41-10, 82). But as 2010 began, it was the surprising Avalanche atop the division standings.
The decade of the 2000s was no less compelling for the division. Here’s a team-by-team look:
Decade highlight -- As the decade began, the Flames were in the midst of seven consecutive seasons out of the playoffs. But in 2003-04, Alberta native Darryl Sutter guided the Flames to the Stanley Cup Final. The Flames ousted the Canucks, Red Wings and Sharks during their playoff run before losing in seven games to the Lightning. Calgary hasn't missed the postseason since.
Flame of the Decade -- Not only was Jarome Iginla the Flames' best player in the decade -- which is saying something given the performance of goalie Miikka Kiprusoff -- he was one of the best players in the NHL. Four times, Iginla had 89 or more points, and he scored 50 or more goals twice. In the 2004 playoffs, Iginla had 13 goals, 22 points and 45 penalty minutes. The best news for the Flames is that as the new decade begins, Iginla is showing no signs of slowing down.
Best regular-season record: 2005-06: 46-25-11, 103 points.
Seasons in playoffs: 5.
Best playoff showing: 2004, reached Stanley Cup Final.
Decade highlight -- After losing in the conference finals two years in a row, the Avalanche rolled through the NHL during the 2000-01 season, recording 118 points and winning their second Stanley Cup. Six players had 59 points or more, including Ray Bourque, who finally won the Cup in the final year of his distinguished career. They beat the Canucks, Kings, Blues and Devils (in seven games) to win the Cup.
Avalanche of the Decade -- On a team that included Patrick Roy and Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic was clearly the team's best player during the 2000s. Sakic had 54 goals and 118 points in the Stanley Cup year, and was consistently dangerous the rest of the decade, recording 87 points twice and 100 points in 2006-07, which turned out to be the final full season of his career. Even last season when he appeared in only 15 games due to injury, Sakic recorded close to one point a game. Next stop, Hall of Fame.
Best regular-season record: 2000-01: 52-16-14, 118 points.
Seasons in playoffs: 8.
Best playoff showing: 2001, Won Stanley Cup.
Decade highlight -- The Oilers came out of nowhere to reach the Final in 2006. The team's leading scorer was young Ales Hemsky, and the Oilers also got big contributions through the season from Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff, Jarret Stoll and Chris Pronger, among others. The eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs, the Oilers eliminated the Red Wings, Sharks and Ducks to reach the Final before losing in seven games to the Hurricanes.
Oiler of the Decade -- Ryan Smyth, now with the Kings, was the face of the Oilers through most of the decade, before being traded to the Islanders three years ago. Smyth consistently produced in the 60- to 70-point range throughout his time in Edmonton, but it was his grit and toughness that made him stand out. The Oilers haven't been the same since they traded him as the result of a contract stalemate.
Best regular-season record: 2005-06: 41-28-13, 95 points.
Seasons in playoffs: 5.
Best playoff showing: 2006, reached Stanley Cup Final.
Decade highlight -- The Wild entered the NHL in 2000-01, and missed the playoffs their first two seasons. But in 2002-03, the Wild improved by 22 points in the standings, from 73 to 95, and reached the playoffs for the first time. The Wild created more memories for their fans in the playoffs, eliminating Colorado and Vancouver in seven-game series before being swept by the Ducks in the conference finals.
Wild of the Decade -- It was the Wild's good fortune that they entered the League the same year as a young forward by the name of Marian Gaborik. Strangely for such a defensively oriented team, the Wild had one of hockey's most exciting offensive players throughout the 2000s. Gaborik's best season was 2007-08, when he had 83 points. The only thing that ever slowed him down was injuries. He left Minnesota this season, signing with the Rangers, where he has led the NHL in goals most of the season.
Best regular-season record: 2006-07: 48-26-8, 104 points.
Seasons in playoffs: 3.
Best playoff showing: 2003, Reached Western Conference Finals.
Decade highlight -- The Canucks often were a fine regular-season team through most of the 2000s, but they never advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs. The most excitement for the Canucks came in 2003, when they almost reached the conference finals. The Canucks rallied in the first round from a 3-1 deficit to oust the favored Blues, then lost in seven games to the Wild in the second round.
Canuck of the Decade -- You might make an argument for Roberto Luongo, but this is only his fourth year in Vancouver. Or you could argue for the Sedin twins, but they were just kids at the start of the 2000s. The best Canuck of the decade was Markus Naslund, who remained with the team through 2008. For many of his years in Vancouver, Naslund was one of the NHL's quietly great players. His best year was 2002-03, when he had 48 goals and 104 points.
Best regular-season record: 2006-07: 49-26-7, 105 points.
Seasons in playoffs: 7.
Best playoff showing: 2009, Lost Western Semifinal.