The 2016 Stanley Cup Final is history and the Pittsburgh Penguins are the champions. Here’s some final, random thoughts on the series.


 

Penguins Stanley Cup

  • Penguins captain Sidney Crosby already secured his legacy as this generation’s best player before the 2016 playoffs. Winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP while leading his club to a second Stanley Cup title in his NHL career is merely icing on the cake.
  • Several other players would’ve also made deserving winners of the Smythe.For the Penguins, rookie goalie Matt Murray took over the starter’s job and backstopped his club to a championship. Right wing Phil Kessel led the Penguins in scoring, while defenseman Kris Letang was an invaluable factor in their march to a title.
  • San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones saved his best performances for the Cup Final, giving his outplayed teammates a chance to win in every game and flatout stealing Game 5. Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski were this postseason’s highest-scoring forwards, while Brent Burns was the leading scorer among defensemen.
  • We’ve probably seen the last of Marc-Andre Fleury as a Pittsburgh Penguin. Murray is now entrenched as their starter, they’re squeezed for salary-cap room and they’ll likely want to protect Murray in an expansion draft next June. Expect him to be dealt in the coming weeks, perhaps to the Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes or Toronto Maple Leafs.
  • It had to be heartbreaking for long-time Sharks forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to fall two games short of winning their first Stanley Cup. I think they deserve one more shot at it with the Sharks. Given their full no-movement clauses, they’ll probably get it.
  • Phil Kessel’s critics in Toronto had to be dying a little inside watching him hoist the Stanley Cup only a year after the Maple Leafs traded him to the Penguins. I wonder if the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons will ask Kessel how those Stanley Cup hotdogs taste?
  • For the Penguins and Sharks, this was an incredible season. When this season began, no one would’ve predicted them to be Cup Finalists. The Pens, after all, barely qualified for the 2015 playoffs and were quickly eliminated from the opening round, while the Sharks didn’t even reach the postseason last year. By December, the Penguins were 18th overall, the Sharks 19th. Just goes to show how much things can change over the span of a season.
  • A change of coaches certainly helped both teams. The Sharks brought in Peter DeBoer last summer, while the Pens replaced Mike Johnston in December with Mark Sullivan.
  • Both clubs also benefited from an infusion of youth and some veteran changes.The Penguins added Kessel, Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen and Eric Fehr via trades and free agency last summer, acquired Trevor Daley, Carl Hagelin and Justin Schultz during the season and called up youngsters such as Murray, Brian Dumoulin, Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust and Tom Kuhnhackl. Meanwhile, the Sharks signed Joel Ward, Paul Martin and Joonas Donskoi via free agency last summer. They also got a boost from the improvement of young players such as Melker Karlsson, Matt Nieto and Chris Tierney. Most importantly, they landed Martin Jones in a three-way trade last June involving the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings.
  • Speed and depth not only tilted the Cup Final in favor of the Penguins, it also gave them an advantage throughout the 2016 postseason. The Capitals, Lightning and Sharks are fast teams, but they had trouble containing the Penguins fleet-footed offense and their swarming defensive game. Losing a key defenseman such as Daley to a broken ankle in the Eastern Conference Final should’ve been a devastating blow for the Penguins, but they simply gave more ice time to Olli Maatta and plugged in Justin Schultz on their third pairing.