Since the NHL instituted a salary cap after the lockout that cancelled the 2004-05 season, only one team has failed to make the playoffs. Can you guess who they are? Here’s a hint: They live in a hockey-mad city in which their team think they are the center of the hockey universe. No I’m not talking about the Chicago Cubs, I’m pointing at you Toronto Maple Leafs fans.
With the Stanley Cup coming down to two teams who have literally came from nowhere to advance this far in Los Angeles and New Jersey, at least one NHL record will be broken: the lowest seed to win the Stanley Cup. The previous record was held by the fifth-seeded New Jersey squad (again led by Martin Brodeur in goal) that swept Detroit. From here on out we can add the cliche of “Anything can happen when you make the playoffs” to the ever growing list of hockey cliches made by players, coaches and general managers and they will sure reference this year’s final.
But overall, is parity good or bad for the NHL? I think it’s good because it means every team has a shot to win. In most NHL cities the regular season means something. Not so much in Detroit because the team has made the playoffs for 21 straight seasons and most of the fan base doesn’t pay attention to the regular season until January at the earliest because it’s almost always a given that the team will make the playoffs. I personally think the team will miss the playoffs before winning another Stanley Cup. They, like San Jose, have made the playoffs every season post-lockout and both experienced disappointing yet not surprising first round exits this season.
Los Angeles had the talent to make it this far, but no one expected them to play this well as they dispatched three division winners in the playoffs. Jonathan Quick has established himself as arguably the best American goalie in the world with his playoff win. Not to say he was a slouch previously as he was the No. 3 goalie on the 2010 U.S. Olympic team behind Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas, but both of those have seen downward slides in their play while Quick has stepped things up.
Looking back on it, a key trade the Kings made in February have given them more firepower up front during their playoff win when they traded well-liked defenseman Jack Johnson to Columbus for Jeff Carter. Carter hasn’t put up Conn Smythe Award winning number but his nine points places him seventh on the team in points. He’s tallied two power play goals and one game winning goal during their playoff run. Should the Kings win the Stanley Cup, they would be able to erase bad memories of 1993 when Wayne Gretzky lost to Montreal.
With New Jersey, they will be able to erase memories of a season from hell 12 months ago. They brought in Peter DeBoer, a coach that couldn’t do anything with Florida during his time there and has turned around the Devils during this playoff run. They were 10-29-2 on January 9, 2011 and following the sacking of coach John MacLean and trading of captain Jamie Langenbrunner they went on a run that allowed them to avoid finishing in last place in the division and 11th place in the conference.
Regardless of what happens in the Stanley Cup Final, there will be pundits praising and criticizing the large amount of parity in the NHL because it diminishes the meaning of the regular season. I disagree, because if you don’t make the playoffs you can’t win the Stanley Cup. But once you make the final 16, anything can happen.