Every NHL season there is a strong crop of players that rebound and earn a measure of redemption with an unanticipated, outstanding season. While the players are usually in the spotlight, this year’s crop of NHL redemption stories includes a head coach that went from being considered on the hot seat to a potential coach of the year candidate. Here is a look at the best redemption stories of the 2016-17 NHL season so far.
John Tortorella, Columbus Blue Jackets
It wasn’t long ago that Tortorella was on the hot seat with many experts calling for him to be fired by the Blue Jackets. However, Columbus has completely turned things around with the fifth-best record in the NHL and is right there with the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins among the top teams in the Eastern Conference. The Blue Jackets put together an incredible franchise-record 16-game win streak that pretty much guaranteed they are playoff-bound barring a disastrous collapse. Maybe more importantly, that put the franchise on the map. The Blue Jackets have made very little noise as a franchise since their inception as they haven’t had much playoff or regular season success. However, now they’re in the record books as their 16-game winning streak is the second-longest in NHL history. Only the Pittsburgh Penguins 17-game streak is longer.
Tortorella has been a big part of the turnaround for the Blue Jackets. Columbus ranks fifth in the NHL in both goals scored and goals allowed, with the third-best powerplay percentage and a top-15 penalty kill. The Blue Jackets have gone from an afterthought to a contender and the turnaround has made Tortorella an incredible redemption story.
Peter Budaj, Los Angeles Kings
Budaj was expected to spend this season in the AHL but an injury to Kings’ starting goaltender Jonathan Quick opened the door for the veteran to earn an opportunity for redemption and he has taken full advantage. Budaj is 26-16-3 with a 2.11 goals against average and a .917 save percentage that has him in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy – if you can believe that. The Colorado Avalanche are probably looking at that and wondering how that’s even possible. Most people figured that the Kings would sink with Quick out for a while as Los Angeles in the playoff picture. They would still be on the outside looking in if the playoffs were to start today – they are currently in ninth place – but they are just one point behind the Calgary Flames, who are in eighth place. Also, it’s worth noting that the Kings have three games in hand over the Flames.
Quick is expected to be back in March but with Budaj playing at such a high level, the Kings could decide to stick with him and allow Quick as much time as he needs to recover and get back in to game shape. Even when Quick returns, he might not get the No. 1 job back.
Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild
Staal’s move to Minnesota has provided a spark for the 32-year-old as he has 16 goals and 44 points in 56 games this season. Staal’s 44 points is already 11 more than he recorded in 63 games with the Carolina Hurricanes last season and if he stays healthy he still has 26 games left to add to his point total. The Wild are thrilled with Staal’s production as their No. 1 center, especially considering they are paying him only $3.5 million per season over three years.
Thomas Vanek, Detroit Red Wings
Montreal Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw and Columbus Blue Jackets forward Sam Gagner both deserve honorable mention in this spot but it’s Vanek that deserves the final spot on this list of the top redemption stories. Vanek has 14 goals and 36 points in 43 games for the Red Wings and while he has struggled with injuries at times this season his production makes him a steal for a veteran winger making just $2.6 million this season. Vanek is set to become a free agent after this season and if Detroit can’t lock him up then they could decide to trade him at the deadline to a Stanley Cup contender.
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