Let the debate begin now as to whether the 2015-16 season was the best in franchise history. Lots of arguments can be made to push it to the top. Second most wins in franchise history, second most wins on home ice. The team claimed a U.S. Division banner, their third but first in 11 years. They overcame a nine point deficit in the standings with just 20 games remaining. They finished the regular season on a 13-0-1-0 run and the only loss, in overtime, came in a meaningless game the final weekend of the regular season, after they had clinched first place in the division and rested a few players. After 19 seasons, they won their second ever Western Conference Championship by rolling through their first three playoff opponents, going 12-1.
They finished the WHL regular season with the top ranked penalty kill and were #3 on the power play. Only two teams in the league allowed fewer then Seattle's 186 goals against. They accomplished all they did despite having only one player, Mathew Barzal, in the top 30 in league scoring which may be the most telling point of all when you start talking about the Thunderbirds best "team" of all time.
Best-in-franchise-history teams are defined by what they do in the playoffs. This year's team went 13-5 in postseason play with three of their five losses in overtime, including the first three games of the championship series. They easily surpassed their 8-7 postseason record the last time they made it to the WHL Championship Series back in 1997. By virtue of their 6-1 win in Game 4 versus Brandon, this T-birds team won one more game in the league final then did the '97 team that was swept by Lethbridge. When you combine regular season and postseason the 2015-16 T-birds won 58 games, tying it with the 1989-90 team for the most in franchise history. That 1989-90 team won 52 games in the regular season but only six in the playoffs and failed to make the league final.
So, is this the best T-bird team of all time? This group of players is certainly in the conversation. The season started well, even with key players not available at the start of the year. Seattle went 7-2-1-0 in their first ten games. They were 9-2-1-0 by the end of October. A couple of injuries just before their swing through the Central Division in early November, sidetracked them a bit. They returned from their Alberta sojourn though and promptly went 6-1-1-0.
Seattle reached December and fought through more player absences with their top three centers away at World Juniors, plus an injury or two. They still were able to play .500 hockey to end 2015. Seattle adjusted their roster a week into the new year, trading for Landon Bow, Cavin Leth, Andreas Schumacher, Bryan Allbee and Garan Magnes. It took almost a month to get the chemistry right, as they continued to play at a break even pace, but when they did finally get it going, they were nearly unstoppable, going 18-4-1-0 from the start of February until the end of the regular season in late March.
In the end, this team lived up to the expectations of others, if not their own. They were just one of four WHL teams ranked in the BMO CHL Top Ten preseason poll slotted at #7. The only team from the Western Conference to rank ahead of them was Kelowna at #4 and they vanquished them in the conference finals. In the end, the only WHL team to best them was Brandon and the Wheat Kings were ranked #1 before the season began. Certainly no shame in losing to the top ranked team in all of the CHL.
So I cast my vote, and say yes, this is the best T-birds team in franchise history.....for now. Stay tuned, you never know, but you have to believe the best is yet to come.