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Winners and Losers of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Dave LozoNHL National Lead WriterJune 14, 2014

Winners and Losers of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Stanley Cup playoffs yield one winner and 15 losers, at least in the case of teams.

    The Los Angeles Kings are the one true king of the NHL, having dispatched the New York Rangers in five games to win a second championship in three seasons. It's also their second championship in the past two 82-game seasons, making them the first team to "repeat" in that regard since the Red Wings won in 1997 and 1998.

    But that doesn't mean there aren't individuals who emerged as winners and losers from these playoffs.

    Which unrestricted free agents increased or hurt their value? Which rookies showed they are ready for an increased role next season?

    All these questions and more will be answered as you dance through this slideshow like Drew Doughty through the Rangers defense.

     

    (All statistics via NHL.com)

Big Winner: Justin Williams, Los Angeles Kings

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    "Clutch" is a tricky word to define, and sometimes it's overused when describing players or teams.

    Justin Williams, however, appears to have become the embodiment of it.

    "There's no words that can describe what you're feeling right now," Williams said after winning the Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup on Friday. "What we went through this year makes it so much more special. Each Cup is unique, but God we earned this one."

    The man who earned the moniker "Mr. Game 7" cemented his reputation as a big-game player in these playoffs. He had two goals and three assists in the Kings' three Game 7 victories and finished tied for second in postseason scoring with 25 points.

    In the seven games this postseason in which the Kings were facing elimination, Williams had five goals and 10 points.

Winner: Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings

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    Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

    What a time to venture into unrestricted free agency.

    During the regular season, Marian Gaborik had a difficult time staying healthy. He played just 22 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets before being dealt to the Los Angeles Kings at the trade deadline. It's been the best thing that has ever happened to him in his professional career.

    Gaborik had five goals and 16 points in 19 regular-season games with the Kings before exploding in the postseason. He has 14 goals and 22 points in 26 games and would have been a lock for the Conn Smythe Trophy in most seasons.

    Gaborik has said he wants to remain in Los Angeles, and he will likely be handsomely rewarded for doing so.

    Winning, money and life in Southern California. It doesn't get much better than that.

Loser: Thomas Vanek, Montreal Canadiens

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    Dave Reginek/Getty Images

    What a time to venture into unrestricted free agency.

    Thomas Vanek reportedly turned down a seven-year, $50 million contract from the New York Islanders to instead accept a trade to the Montreal Canadiens at the deadline. The move gave him a chance to perform in the playoffs and, theoretically, increase his value.

    It very likely will have the opposite effect.

    After posting 27 goals and 41 assists in 78 regular-season games with the Sabres, Islanders and Canadiens, he pulled a disappearing act in the postseason. He had five goals and five assists in 17 games and zero goals and nine shots on goal in his final seven games.

    Vanek insisted he was healthy but had a hard time adjusting to new linemates during the postseason.

    We won't know exactly how much money Vanek flushed away by rejecting the Islanders' offer until he signs with a new team, but his postseason performance very likely cost him millions.

Winner: Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers

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    Rebecca Taylor/Getty Images

    The third-smallest player in the NHL will very likely find himself getting one of the bigger raises this postseason.

    The 5'7" Mats Zuccarello was one of the Rangers' most consistent players this postseason on a team when many of its highest-paid players came up quite small. He had five goals and eight assists in 25 games, which puts him tied for 20th in scoring.

    The 26-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, which means the Rangers have some control over his next contract. But he will see a nice bump in pay from his one-year, $1.15 million contract for this season.

Loser: Rick Nash, New York Rangers

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Rick Nash scored three goals in four rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs. All three were scored during the Eastern Conference final against the Montreal Canadiens after Carey Price was lost for the series after Game 1.

    Nash's three postseason goals were scored against Dustin Tokarski and Peter Budaj.

    He failed to score a goal in three of the four series, and while it didn't hurt the Rangers through two rounds, his inability to finish proved costly during the Stanley Cup Final.

    For his career, Nash has five goals in 40 postseason games.

    The 29-year-old carries a $7.8 million cap hit through the 2017-18 season. It's not impossible trade to Nash and that contract, and it's something the Rangers may want to consider this summer.

Winner: Dustin Tokarski, Montreal Canadiens

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Thrust into action during the Eastern Conference final, Dustin Tokarski showed he could handle a pressure-packed situation.

    Tokarski held his own in the final five games against the Rangers, going 2-3 with a .916 save percentage. He was asked to fill the shoes of Carey Price, and while his loss was detrimental to the Canadiens' hopes, Tokarski gave his team a chance to win the series.

    The AHL veteran is signed with the Canadiens for two more seasons, with Price as the clear No. 1 and backup Peter Budaj signed for one more year. But with Tokarski leapfrogging Budaj and showing what he can do, it's very likely he earned himself a regular backup job next season either in Montreal or with another team.

Loser: Ryan Miller, St. Louis Blues

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    Bill Smith/Getty Images

    The unrestricted free agent was dealt to the Stanley Cup-contending St. Louis Blues at the deadline, touted as the missing piece for a team that considered itself championship-worthy.

    Miller went 10-8-1 with a .903 save percentage in 19 regular-season games for the Blues, hardly impressive. But he had a chance to redeem himself and show he could be backstop a team deep into the postseason, something he hasn't done since 2006 and 2007 with the Sabres.

    Instead, Miller was a sieve, allowing 13 goals over the final four consecutive losses to the Blackhawks that sent the Blues home in six games. For the series, he had an .897 save percentage and was severely outplayed by Corey Crawford.

    Now Miller is set to hit the open market, a far less attractive option than he was before the start of the postseason.

Winner: Jaroslav Halak, New York Islanders

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    Andy Marlin/Getty Images

    Jaroslav Halak didn't partake in the postseason, but he earned a hefty new contract thanks largely to not reaching the playoffs.

    The St. Louis Blues jettisoned him to the Buffalo Sabres at the deadline in order to "upgrade" with Ryan Miller. Halak was then dealt to the Washington Capitals, where he played well but saw his team fall short of the posteason. He had a .930 save percentage in 12 games with the Capitals and a .921 overall during the regular season.

    So while Miller was faltering in St. Louis and Jonas Hiller was being surpassed for rookie John Gibson in Anaheim, Halak had his rights traded to the New York Islanders.

    Halak eschewed free agency and chose to a sign a four-year, $18 million with the Islanders.

    So by missing the playoffs, Halak's value was not diminished like it was for other goaltenders.

Loser: Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks

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    Debora Robinson/Getty Images

    Jonas Hiller saw his value as an unrestricted free agent take a big hit during the playoffs.

    Rookie Frederik Andersen unseated the veteran as a starter during the playoffs, but an injury appeared to open the door for Hiller to reestablish himself in the net. But after allowing two goals on 12 shots in relief of Andersen, coach Bruce Boudreau turned to rookie John Gibson for the rest of the series.

    The 32-year-old Hiller now hits the market as an aging veteran who may not have much left in the tank. If he guides the Ducks past the Kings, perhaps that's different, but he was never given the chance.

Winner: John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Where Jonas Hiller was hurt by his showing, John Gibson was helped by his play in the second round against the Kings.

    The 20-year-old's postseason came to an inglorious end when he allowed four goals on 18 shots in 22 minutes of Game 7 against the Kings, but he otherwise acquitted himself quite well. Even with that shellacking, he finished the postseason with a .919 save percentage in four games.

    Frederik Andersen still has two years and $2.30 million remaining on his contract, but Gibson earned himself at least a backup gig in Anaheim next season, and very possibly the starting job.

Loser: Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    This time, Dan Bylsma could not survive his team squandering a 3-1 lead in a postseason series.

    The New York Rangers won three straight games, including Game 7 in Pittsburgh, to send the Penguins home far earlier than many predicted. It was the final straw for ownership, who fired Bylsma after new general manager Jim Rutherford took the reins last week.

    In 2011, the Penguins wasted a 3-1 lead to the Tampa Bay Lightning in round one, although Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin did not play in that series.

    There was no excuse this time around, as a healthy Penguins team surrendered another series to a lower-seeded team.

    There's a chance Bylsma winds up behind another team's bench this summer, but it won't have anywhere near the talent the Penguins possess.

Loser: San Jose Sharks

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    There's no shame in losing to the Los Angeles Kings in seven games. Ask the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks about it.

    But it was the way the San Jose Sharks lost their first-round series to the Kings that has the team in a state of transition and potentially massive upheaval this summer. The Sharks won the first three games of their series with the Kings by a combined 17-8 and looked every bit like the Cup contender they expected to be this year.

    Then the Kings ripped off four straight wins, including Game 7 in San Jose.

    Instead of viewing this as a hard-fought loss against the NHL's best team that had much to do with Marc-Edouard Vlasic missing nearly all of the final three games of the series and Logan Couture playing Game 7 with a broken hand after an idiotic fight at the end of Game 6, it has become a referendum on culture change in San Jose.

    General manager Doug Wilson announced Dan Boyle and Martin Havlat would not be back next season, hardly surprising moves. But now it seems captain Joe Thornton could be had in a trade.

    Thornton's agent, brother John Thornton, said to the Mercury News that Joe would waive his no movement clause if fans said he wanted him to go. There has been nothing specific involving the status of Patrick Marleau, but Wilson has said younger players will be given bigger leadership roles moving forward, so something big could happen this summer with one or both players.

    What makes the Sharks losers in all this is they are on the verge of blowing up a perennial contender because of losing seven games in an emotionally dissatisfying sequence and will have to accept 80 cents on the dollar for two of the league's top players. If fans hate losing a series after being up 3-0, ask others fans about teams that deal stars in panicky fashion for minimal return and become perennial rebuilders.

Winner: Todd Richards, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Andy Marlin/Getty Images

    By getting the Columbus Blue Jackets to the playoffs and pushing the Pittsburgh Penguins to six games after management dealt Marian Gaborik at the deadline for a sack of potatoes and remote control car, coach Todd Richards earned a two-year contract extension at the end of May.

    It was just the second time in franchise history the Blue Jackets reached the playoffs, and they took one of the East's best teams to six games. The series was tied 2-2 before Marc-Andre Fleury decided to play one of his rare good games in Game 5, giving the Penguins a series lead they would not relinquish.

    The Jackets are a young, up-and-coming team, and Richards proved he's the right man to guide them for the next two years.

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