This has never happened before in the NHL.
Not back when the Anaheim Ducks were Mighty, and mighty terrible as an expansion team whose leading scorer was Terry Yake. Not back in the aimless post-Wayne Gretzky years for the Los Angeles Kings, when the only thing uglier than their play was their "burger king" jerseys. Not back in those rare seasons when the San Jose Sharks would fail to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, which has only happened six times (!) since 1991.
The NHL has never had a season where all three California-based teams finished in the bottom three spots of the Western Conference.
It almost happened before. In 1995-96, the Kings (12th) and Sharks (13th) were at the bottom of the conference, but the Ducks were ninth. The Kings and Sharks were in the basement again the following season, but the Ducks were fourth.
But we've never had all three teams suffering through horrific seasons simultaneously. Unless one of these teams makes a miraculous move up the standings in the next two months, it's going to happen this season.
For the moment, the shine is off Golden State hockey.
What a run it has been, though.
The Ducks broke through first, winning the Stanley Cup in 2007, and then making the conference final twice more in the next 10 years. The Kings would win their first Stanley Cup in 2012, and follow with another in 2014, with a trip to the conference final sandwiched in between. While the Sharks infamously have never won the Cup, they've been a bridesmaid more than Katherine Heigl: five trips to the conference final since 2004, with that Stanley Cup Final loss to the Penguins in 2016. But hey, Metallica played the national anthem, so it wasn't a total loss.
Is this California bummer a one-year anomaly? Has the sun set on West Coast hockey for a bit?
Here's a look at the present and future for the NHL's Golden State teams:
Record: 24-29-7 (55 points), 14th in the West
Last made playoffs: 2018
Current status: The Ducks hired Dallas Eakins as their head coach last summer while buying out Corey Perry, signaling a shift toward a youth movement on the roster. This season has been a combination of injuries and ineffectiveness from players like Ondrej Kase (23 points in 49 games), Josh Manson (six points in 41 games) and previously reliable late line of defense John Gibson (17-23-4, minus-6.59 goals saved above average, per Hockey Reference). They're 29th in goals per game (2.52). It has been bad.
Future status: We had the Ducks ranked eighth in our September 2019 prospect rankings, with potential future star forward Trevor Zegras leading the way. Anaheim has 10 players that are 26 and under on their roster, with players like Sam Steel and Troy Terry still maturing into NHL talents. Gibson's better than this -- and he'd better be, having been signed through 2027 -- and general manager Bob Murray appears to want his veteran defense corps to remain intact as a foundational part of the team. There's something here that can develop in the next few seasons, but not without some tough decisions on players like franchise legend Ryan Getzlaf (a free agent in 2021).
Record: 21-34-5 (47 points), 15th in the West
Last made playoffs: 2018
Current status: The Kings added coach Todd McLellan last summer but didn't jettison too many veteran players. That's because GM Rob Blake needed some placeholders until the next waves of Kings talent arrived -- and because he had some frankly untradeable assets on the roster. Anyway, while Los Angeles has been a tough out this season, they're also the worst team in the conference and the second-worst offensive team in the NHL (2.47). But at least Tyler Toffoli, Alec Martinez and Ilya Kovalchuk found good homes.
Future status: Depending on whom you ask, the Kings have either the best or second-best prospect pool in the NHL. Many rank them first because of the depth of that pool, which only got deeper with the addition of Tyler Madden from the Canucks in the Toffoli trade. Others, like our Chris Peters, rank them second because the Rangers have more clear-cut potential stars on their runway. Either way, this group led by Alex Turcotte and Rasmus Kupari has the chance to be something special, and with 11 picks in the first three rounds of the next two drafts, more help is on the way.
Outlook: The brightest future of any of the California teams, but we're wondering how this youth movement ultimately fits into the timelines of Anze Kopitar (32, signed through 2024 at $10 million average annual) and Drew Doughty (30, signed through 2027 at $11 million AAV).
Record: 26-29-4 (56 points), 13th in the West
Last made playoffs: 2019
Current status: One of the biggest disappointments in the league this season. The Sharks followed their conference final appearance by signing Erik Karlsson to an eight-year contract with full no-move protection that was rich enough to start a chain reaction through their cap. Gone were Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi, Gustav Nyquist and Justin Braun. The young, cheap reinforcements weren't ready for prime time. That, combined with sub-replacement goaltending early in the season, cost coach Pete DeBoer his job. The goaltending has gotten better under Bob Boughner. Not much else has, thanks to injuries -- Logan Couture was out since Jan. 7, Karlsson's out for the year -- and ineptitude.
Future status: Yeah, not great. The Sharks were 24th in Peters' prospect pool rankings, and lack any high-impact players in the system. Trading away early-round picks frequently will have that effect.
Outlook: The Sharks might as well load up for another run next season, considering the age of their core: Brent Burns (34), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (32), Couture (30), Karlsson (turning 30) and Evander Kane (turning 29). They're going to have over $17 million in cap space; alas, they only have 11 players under contract for next season. But the real necessity to go for another run at the Cup in the near future is that their farm system is ranked 24th in the NHL and lacks impact players. Like, for example, the one the Ottawa Senators are going to draft with the Sharks' first-round pick they acquired in the Karlsson deal. (The Ducks and Kings, for the record, own their own lottery picks this summer.)
That's the NHL picture. But the state of California hockey goes beyond these three teams. As they linger in the basement, burgeoning hockey hotbeds have taken root around them.
According to USA Hockey, the total number of participants in local hockey in Anaheim -- meaning youth and adult players, as well as officials and coaches -- was 19,282 within a 50-mile radius of the Ducks' arena in 2018-19. That's a 27.4% increase from five years previous. The gorgeous new practice facility the team built in Irvine will only grew that community further.
Los Angeles had a total number of participants of 15,337, or 24.2% higher than five years ago. That includes a 29.7% in youth hockey alone.
San Jose had a total number of participants of 8,908, which was 13.6% higher than in 2014. That includes a 58.4% increase in girls hockey.
The state of California's teams isn't strong this season. But the state of California hockey is stronger than it has ever been.
Brendan Shanahan never played in Toronto during his Hall of Fame career, but is currently president of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He wore No. 14 with the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers, but the number is retired by the Leafs in honor of Dave Keon. So this is blasphemy. If you want to honor someone in upper management, may we suggest the Jersey Foul we once saw in New Jersey that had team president Lou Lamoriello's name on it and, instead of a number, a dollar sign.
Three things about the trade deadline
1. I'm saying a little prayer to the Hockey Gods that someone unexpected gets traded, some buyer flips to seller, some veteran suddenly decides to drop his no-movement clause. Because as it stands, this trade deadline (a) is going to have most of its interesting business done before Monday, and (b) has Vladislav Namestnikov, Derek Grant and Barclay Goodrow among the top 15 players available at the deadline. Where have you gone, Matt Duchene Derby?
2. There are two reunions that would be incredible to see. Joe Thornton isn't likely leaving San Jose -- he had his chances over the years -- but seeing him finish his career with a Stanley Cup run as a member of the Boston Bruins (aka where it all began, when they drafted him first overall in 1997) would be a heck of a final chapter. (It would also be the height of irony to see someone pull a "Ray Bourque" in order to win in Boston.) The second actually seems plausible, if we're to believe the scuttlebutt and innuendo: Jeff Carter, 35, going back to Philadelphia, where he played from 2005-06 to 2010-11. Nolan Patrick's health status could mean the Flyers make a move for a center. It's not an outlandish assumption that Carter could find a little more left in his tank if he wasn't stuck in the soul-sucking abyss of the Kings' rebuild. A reunion worth it for the "Return To Dry Island" jokes alone.
3. Given the dearth of sellers and quality rentals, Chris Kreider could bring home a loot crate to the Rangers at the deadline. But given where the Rangers are in their maturation as a contender, and given Kreider's skill set and experience, it's in the best interests of both to strike a deal on an extension rather than ship him out of town. And while Kreider might want a max contract length, getting $7 million annually over five years for a team that's about to turn the corner would behoove him.
Listen To ESPN On Ice
What a fun episode this week. Emily Kaplan and I took your calls on the NHL trade deadline and responded to your rants and proposals. Plus, a deadline primer, Phil Kessel Loves Hot Dogs, and much more. Subscribe, rate and review here!
Winners and Losers of the Week
Winner: Leon Draisaitl
In five games without Connor McDavid, the Oilers star had 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists) to take an 11-point lead in the Art Ross race. I mentioned McDavid had a Leon problem when it came to the Hart Trophy race. It has gotten worse now that Leon has proof of concept for carrying the Oilers without McDavid in the lineup. Well, that and a potential scoring title. I still think Nathan MacKinnon deserves the Hart more, but Draisaitl will have a case.
Loser: The Predators' stars
Filip Forsberg hasn't scored a goal in nine games, tallying three assists in that span. Matt Duchene has one goal in nine games, with three assists. Ryan Johansen has one goal in 10 games, with three assists. Viktor Arvidsson has one goal in 11 games, with one assist. GM David Poile put it squarely on the players when he replaced Peter Laviolette with John Hynes, proclaiming that "our best players need to be our best players." Apparently not much has changed under Hynes, who is 10-8-0 as Nashville coach.
Winners: The DeBrusks
Kevin Fiala awarded a young fan with a stick after losing a game of rock paper scissors 😂 pic.twitter.com/wP52OT9zwQ— FOX Sports North (@fsnorth) February 20, 2020
A young fan challenged the Wild forward Kevin Fiala to a game of rock, paper, scissors for a hockey stick. "I was always the rock, and then he figured it out. Always got to do paper," he told Michael Russo after the game.
Winners: Air Force cadets
At first, I bemoaned the NHL putting rows of Air Force cadets between the lower deck of Falcon Stadium and the outdoor rink where the Avalanche took on the Kings because, frankly, the seats sucked and they deserved better. But after the game, I got it: The interaction between the players and these fans was great. The Avs and Kings talked about how inspired they were, high-fiving those who (will) serve en route to the rink before every period. And more than a few cadets received sticks and other souvenirs from the teams after the game.
Losers: Stadium Series organizers
I attended the Stadium Series game at the Air Force Academy. I interviewed fans who didn't arrive at the game until moments before the third period started, because a one-hour trip took 4½ hours thanks to a horrific traffic snarl on the interstate and then around the parking lots.
Troy Garnhart, associate AD of communications for Air Force athletics, put out a statement that included the comment, "We appreciate the efforts of fans who planned ahead and arrived early." People left early. They budgeted time. It wasn't just construction on the interstate that had some of them arriving at the game having missed two periods, it was an unpreparedness once those cars arrived at the academy. Woody Paige has it right: Refunds and an apology, please.
Winner: The Kendall Coyne Schofield burrito bowl
Chipotle is going big for Hockey Week Across America, doing a buy one/get one deal on Friday in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice. It's also allowing some U.S.-born hockey stars create their own menu items. Coyne Schofield's burrito bowl -- unlike menu items from Charlie McAvoy, Hilary Knight and Jack Hughes -- is the only one that includes sour cream, which is essential for a successful bowl, in our expert opinion.
Loser: The Jack Hughes burrito bowl
The Devils rookie's signature burrito bowl: "brown rice, steak, black beans, cheese, lettuce, vinaigrette." Dude, you're at Chipotle. They have guac and sour cream and four different kinds of salsas, including that awesome corn one. Vinaigrette? Does Quinn know?
Ken Campbell on the Department of Player Safety: "The NHL would have you believe there's nobody qualified to do this job who doesn't have close ties to the game and, therefore, an inherent conflict. That's ridiculous."
Making the case for Henrik Lundqvist to be traded to the Sharks. "Lundqvist would also potentially upgrade the position for San Jose, and would fit right into the franchise's hopes to get back into contention next year."
Why Scott Howson is the best choice to take over the AHL.
Can Frederik Andersen figure his situation out and save the Maple Leafs? "For now the Leafs will stick with their guy, and try to see him through a tough stretch, and calm the waters. That makes sense. But they may reach a point where loyalty and feelings have to be put aside if he can't turn back the clock, and soon."
It's looking like North Dakota could be headed back to Las Vegas for a "destination" game.
The state of Canadian women's hockey. Said Sarah Nurse: "I think as we look back to last year the CWHL folding was a blessing in disguise. And I think it's what we actually needed to really propel the game forward."
Justin Bourne on high-risk hockey: "We take risks in hockey because sometimes the potential payout can be worth the potential negative outcomes. It's in those situations where we can't hold on to how it looks when it doesn't work out, and we have to remember the greater point. Small sample bad results don't always point to big picture bad decisions." ($)
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn't read)
Fun story with former North Stars GM Lou Nanne, talking about how he was portrayed in the movie "Miracle." Said Nanne to Herb Brooks: "If they do that to me, I'll sue you guys."
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
We wrote a ton for Hockey Week in America, so be sure to check it all out. But in particular, make time to read this look back at the Miracle on Ice through modern game-tracking and evaluation metrics. It's terrific.