2022-23 NHL Season Recap - Stanley Cup champions and NHL awards

July 22, 2023 Season Recaps

Part 1: Stanley Cup champions and NHL awards

Part 2: Best of the Season

Part 3: Worst of the Season

Before we start the recap, I'll recap my prediction. I'm happy the Vegas Golden Knights won. They were the better team and deserved to win. Although these were the two dirtiest teams in the playoffs, so not the best look for the NHL. I said this Stanley Cup Finals reminded me of the St. Louis Blues vs. Boston Bruins, and it did. The better team that should have won did not there. But I base predictions on probability. What usually has been true stays true. Which is why I reluctantly said the Blues would win.

This is true in any sport. Kansas had their come-from-behind wins all tournament and season-long in 2022. Either Villanova or Virginia had last-second buzzer beaters all season and tournament-long during their winning season. In soccer, France had their scoring outburst on their way to their World Cup win in 2018. Although it was only in two games, it seemed like more. The Panthers used sheer luck to win three series in a row. Something that isn't normally sustainable. But if they did it in three consecutive rounds against superior teams, why not a fourth?

But these finals also reminded me of the Vegas Golden Knights vs. Washington Capitals and the San Jose Sharks vs. Pittsburgh Penguins. In both cases, I picked the loser because they were the better team going in, and if they continued playing like they had been, they would win. While an opponent can pose match-up problems or get the team off their game, it's unlikely to be the sole reason a team suddenly does a 180 in their play.

The Panthers got off their game, and their luck ran out. But you'll notice their one win was textbook. They almost lost and probably should have, but they found a way to win. They almost found a way to win two other games but were clearly the inferior team.

Like most people, I love to point out when I'm right. But unlike most people, I also point out when I'm wrong. In last year's season recap, I wrote that the Vegas Golden Knights were going in the wrong direction and the Florida Panthers were stupid for hiring Paul Maurice. Neither aged well. I knew the Golden Knights would make the playoffs. I just didn't think they'd do much. I'm still surprised they did. Not that I don't think they have the talent, but because the team didn't have much time to gel. I figured they'd win it in the next few seasons.

As for Paul Maurice… Even if it worked out, I still consider it a stupid move. The Panthers thought they had a long-term coach in Joel Quenneville, but he resigned due to the various incidents that happened with the Blackhawks. So they replaced him with the guy that presided over the Winnipeg Jets' dysfunction. And this is after they passed on hiring the guy that led the Panthers to the best record after Quenneville left. It still irks me.

The 2022-23 Stanley Cup Champions

Vegas Golden Knights

It started with a prediction from owner Bill Foley who said, "Playoffs in three, cup in six," way back in 2017. I don't think anyone believed that at the time. I didn't even believe hockey would work in Vegas. But being the first professional team in Vegas helped, as did the unfortunate Las Vegas shooting. After their highly successful expansion draft, the Golden Knights management would go on to excessively tinker with the team. They made 27 trades between August 2022 and January 2019. From my rudimentary research, the most during that span. An unusual way to build a team since most build through the draft. But the Golden Knights only have two players on the active roster they drafted through their six drafts. While not sustainable in the long run, it accomplished its goal. When you reach four conference finals in six seasons, you're doing something right.

The most notable off-season loss for the Golden Knights was Max Pacioretty, who scored almost 100 goals during his four seasons with the Golden Knights. Due to injuries and COVID, it was really three season worth of games. But because of the salary cap and injuries, he had to go.

The Golden Knights were in first place for almost the entire season. January was the only month they had a losing record. Despite their success, they didn't finish in the top ten in any major statistical category except penalty minutes. The only one you don't want to lead.

The Golden Knights were plagued with injuries last season but avoided the bug this season, except at goalie. They hoped to start the season with Robin Lehner as the starter, but he needed hip surgery and was gone for the season. But backup Laurent Brossoit also needed hip surgery, so third-string Logan Thompson got the nod instead, an omen of things to come. Thompson went undrafted, but the Golden Knights have an eye for talent and signed him. Thompson excelled in his new role and became the first rookie goalie to make the All-Star game since John Gibson in 2016. But he became injured shortly after. Adin Hill picked up via trade with the San Jose Sharks in the summer, became next in line. Brossoit came back too. But then both Hill and Brossoit became injured, and in stepped Jonathan Quick at the trade deadline, who was acquired within 24 hours from the Columbus Blue Jackets after they acquired him for the Los Angeles Kings. Jiri Patera also played two games in the net. It would be an understatement to say it was an adventure in goal for the Golden Knights this season. But they weathered it better than any other team in recent memory. Usually, once you get to your third-string goalie, it's over.

The Golden Knights opened up their playoff run against the Winnipeg Jets, one of the worst teams to make the playoffs. But the Jets pounded the Golden Knights 5-1 in Game 1. There were many lopsided Game 1's this playoffs, so it was hard to know what it meant. But the Golden Knights bounced back and swept the Jets from there. Jack Eichel made his playoff debut in his eighth season.

In the second round, the Golden Knights faced the Edmonton Oilers in their first true test. Although the series was tied 2-2, the Oilers felt like the better team. But Game 4 is when the unraveling began. A slash by Alex Pietrangelo on Leon Draistail ruined the Oilers' win. Despite trying to injure him, Pietrangelo only received a one-game suspension. Compounding problems, Darnell Nurse was suspended in an ensuing melee. Losing Nurse hurt the Oilers more. In Game 5, the vaunted Oilers' power play had five minutes to score power-play goals, and they only scored one, McDavid, off a broken play. Adin Hill was the main reason, as he really came into his own during this series replacing the injured Brossoit. Luckily the Golden Knights' playoff injury bug stopped at one goalie. The Oilers made sloppy errors in Game 6 and basically didn't show up at home, which I don't get. Game 7, I understand, but you have to try in Game 6. Jonathan Marchessault had some beautiful goals scoring a natural hat trick in the series clincher.

In the Semifinals, the Golden Knights faced the Dallas Stars. The evenly matched teams played in three overtime games. The Golden Knights won the first two. Two other games were blowouts, with Game 3 featuring the dumbest playoff penalty of all time by Jamie Benn. They were terrible after that, but the Stars won the two games he was suspended, only to play terribly in his return game. If you remove the lopsided games, the Stars were the better team, but they counted. They even lost an overtime game because Ryan Suter turned it over in his own zone. But you either get the breaks, or you don't. The Golden Knights got them.

The Stanley Cup Finals pitted the Golden Knights vs. the Cinderella Florida Panthers, the two luckiest teams this postseason. The Panthers got all the breaks to get to the finals. They gave it their all but simply ran out of gas and luck. The Golden Knights were able to get the Panthers off their game and frustrate and injure Matthew Tkachuk. With Tkachuk out mentally and physically, the Panthers had no chance. But they did get a signature Game 3 overtime win. Although I pointed out how each opponent blew the series, the Golden Knights are worthy champions blowing out the Panthers 24 - 9 in their wins. And they built a winner in a very unorthodox manner proving there isn't only one way to win. Jonathan Marchessault won the Conn Smythe, one of only six original Golden Knights, with 25 points, second most, and 13 goals, first most. I was surprised when the Panthers didn't protect him during the expansion draft, and I still am. Jack Eichel led the postseason in scoring with 26 points, the third-most for any NHL player in their first playoffs.

The Golden Knights should be able to contend for a while, but the salary cap will pose problems. Reilly Smith has already been moved. The Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers aren't going anywhere, either. The Colorado Avalanche will also bounce back. Still, this deep team has shown it can play through adversity and injuries. Another Stanley Cup seems probable.

Breakout of the Year

Tim Stutzle and Jack Hughes – Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils

Last year I gave this to Jason Robertson, although Matthew Tkachuk and Tage Thompson could have easily been here. Looking back, Thompson deserved it most. I want to give it to him now to make up for last season since he improved again. But Stutzle and Hughes made bigger leaps, so again, Thompson gets screwed. Stuzle almost doubled his previous goals, assists, and points totals in his third season. The Senators picked Stuzle with the first-round pick acquired by trading Erik Karlsson. Hughes almost doubled his previous goals, assists, and points totals in his fourth season to finish a point shy of 100. Their teams will continue to ascend with them at the forefront.

Rookie of the Year

Matty Beniers – Seattle Kraken

Berniers was the Kraken's first-ever draft pick. He only played ten games in his first season and scored nine points, which is hard to do. Berniers led all rookies in points this season and tied for first in goals. In his first postseason, he produced seven points in fourteen games. But what makes him stand out is his stellar defensive game, that's well ahead of his experience.

Goalie of the Year

Filip Gustavsson – Minnesota Wild

I thought long and hard about this and gave the award to someone who wasn't even a Vezina finalist. I know my awards are so prestigious. As great as Linus Ullmark was, he wasn't so great in the playoffs, and I look at the postseason when applicable for these awards. The Boston Bruins were so dominant this season, and Jeremy Swayman almost put up the same numbers, making Ullmark's not as impressive. Then there's the fact that he probably won't be on the team next season. I thought about Ilya Sorokin, Connor Hellebuyck, Ilya Samsonov, and Jake Oettinger. All are somewhat deserving, and I almost gave it to Oettinger. But this season wasn't his best, and he can do better. Gustavsson deserves it because he posted a .931 SV% and a 2.10 GAA in his rookie season on the Minnesota Wild. A team not known for its defense. I'm surprised he wasn't a Vezina nominee. Perhaps it was the games played. He even played well in the playoffs stopping 51 shots in an overtime win, a franchise record. Let's see what he does next season.

Best Player

Connor McDavid – Edmonton Oilers

It's hard to put into words what McDavid did. McDavid scored over 150 points, the first since Mario Lemieux in 1995-96. He scored 64 goals, the first since Alex Ovechkin in 2007-08. Steven Stamkos and Auston Matthews last season also hit 60 in between. His 89 assists were the most since Joe Thornton in 2006-07. He would have had his seventh straight 100-plus points season without COVID. This season is mainly due to Leon Draisaitl telling McDavid he wished he scored more. Message received, Leon. If McDavid produces another 150-point season next year, he'll hit 1000 career points.

Most Valuable Player to his Team

Matthew Tkachuk – Florida Panthers

Johnny Gaudreau won it last season as a Flame, and now his former teammate wins it as a Panther. On paper, it seemed implausible how someone could win this when the team finished eighth in his first season after finishing first without him. But it's a no-brainer when you look at his play down the stretch and during the playoffs. Tkachuk scored 30 points in his last 20 regular season games with four game-winners. He continued in the playoffs with 24 points in 20 games and four game-winners. Tkachuk was the heart and soul of the Panthers and carried them the farthest they'd gone in twenty-seven years.

Alex Mueller
Alex has played floor and ice hockey but never anywhere near NHL level. He's been writing this column since 2013. He's finishing up his first novel entitled Bobby Sterling vs Truth. Learn move about the book here. He loves exploring the outdoors and photography. Join the adventure and view the photos here.