Ear to the glass: Out of the dark
Players compare their team's breakthrough year with their seasons in the cellar
Every year, there are hockey teams that just can't lose, and teams that just can't get out of the basement. But there are also teams on the verge, the ones who have endured years of losing, of rebuilding, of getting bad to get good who are about to break through and, perhaps, take that giant step into the playoffs. Two seasons ago, it was Boston and Washington. Last season, it was Chicago and Columbus. This year, it could be Atlanta and Los Angeles. We talked to three players who started with their now-humming teams when times were thin, and picked their brains about the differences between winning and losing clubs, and how to make the transition.THE PLAYERS Patrick Sharp, C, Chicago Blackhawks
The Hawks had made the playoffs just once in 10 years, and had missed in five consecutive seasons, before last season's storybook run to the Western Conference Finals. Sharp was traded to Chicago by the Flyers in December of 2005. That season, the Hawks won just 26 games and finished second-to-last in the West.Brooks Laich, LW, Washington Capitals
The Capitals had missed the playoffs three years in a row before making the playoffs in 2008. Last season, they finished second in the East and made it to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the furthest they'd gone since losing in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998. Laich was traded to Washington by Ottawa in February 2004, a season in which the Capitals won just 23 games and finished fifth in the Southeast Division and second-to-last in the East.Jason Chimera, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets squeaked into the playoffs last year for the first time since joining the NHL in 2000. Chimera was traded to Columbus by Phoenix in October of 2005. That season, the Blue Jackets finished 13th in the West.
To see what Brooks Laich, Patrick Sharp and Jason Chimera believed made the biggest difference in their teams' turnaround, you must be an ESPN Insider.
Ear to the Glass
Do you hear what we hear?
ESPN The Magazine senior writer Lindsay Berra takes readers over the boards and onto the ice every Friday to pick players' brains about the varied and stirring storylines that comprise life in the NHL.
Berra has covered everything from tennis and baseball to snowboarding and roller derby since joining the staff in 1999. But she's played hockey since she was a kid, and her main beat at the Mag has always been the NHL.
She's dropped gloves with Donald Brashear and P.J. Stock, been to Zamboni school, shamelessly hooked Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey and covered hundreds of hockey games, including 10 Stanley Cups. She even shed a tear in the press box when Ray Bourque won his first and only Cup with the Avalanche in 2001, despite her beloved Devils coming up on the losing end. She's also a Jersey girl, a Tar Heel, a triathlete and a yogi.