by PuckStopsHere on 06/09/09 at 03:44 AM ET
There were a couple of questions left in my elite goalies post by J.J. from Kansas that I would like to address. He asks:
Has this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs and especially the finals to-date been less entertaining to watch than other playoff years throughout your history as a fan?
If so, is it because none of the teams are historically elite?
If so, are you saying that a Stanley Cup playoff run featuring one truly historically elite team would be fun to watch? Wouldn’t that team be an unstoppable titan, making the games less competitive and therefore less fun to watch?
I will take these questions as a group, because they all lead to the same points and in some cases misunderstandings.
Let’s start by looking at historically elite teams. I will pick the 1980’s as a period to look at. This period is after a significant NHL expansion, but before the most recent rounds of expansion. The league has 21 teams and no salary cap. During that decade I would consider the following teams to fit my definition of elite teams: the 1980-1984 New York Islanders, 1983-1988 Edmonton Oilers and 1988-1989 Calgary Flames. Teams are listed by playoff year, so that is five years of the Islanders, six years of the Oilers and two of Calgary. Obviously, there isn’t a sharp boundary between an elite team and a non-elite team and we might not agree with every one of my picks. I am consistently using standards outlined here. Not all elite teams win Stanley Cups. Some face each other in great playoff series. Once in a while they are upset by teams that are not elite (1986). That is the nature of hockey.
Into the 1990’s most teams that won the Stanley Cup remained elite teams, with a few exceptions (for example the 1995 New Jersey Devils didn’t have enough Hall of Fame track core players to count in my book). For the most part this continued into the 2000’s as well, until the lockout occurred. The lockout brought in a salary cap which artificially weakened the best teams in the league. It significantly restricted the formation of elite teams. It is no surprise that the first year back after the lockout, when the salary cap was kept artificially low, the weakest Stanley Cup champion in recent memory (the Carolina Hurricanes) was produced. When I pointed this out one comment I often received is that I was just preaching sour grapes because “my Detroit Red Wings” had not done well in the playoffs. It shows that homer fans misinterpret the argument as putting down their team as opposed to impartially trying to gage the state of the league.
Since the salary cap, the best team so far has been the 2007 Anaheim Ducks. I think they were an elite team. If there could be a tournament played of all the post-lockout Stanley Cup winners (and for the sake of argument let’s include Detroit and Pittsburgh from this year), I think those Ducks should win. I think they are the only post-lockout cup winner that could stand up with the best of all time. They only had a one year run at the top because they had not acquired Chris Pronger yet in 2006 and in 2008 Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer were away for “sabbaticals” for much of the season.
After setting the stage with some examples of teams I think are elite, I can clear answer that yes my enjoyment of the Stanley Cup finals is reduced because I am not watching teams that are as good as their historical precedent. I think this is something that is clear to all the fans that are watching hockey for the sake of hockey and not watching it because their favorite team is in the finals. One of the NHL’s problems is that they lose too many fans during the playoffs. The highest number of hits on my blogspot blog would routinely come at the beginning of the first round of the playoffs. Things would drop off as more team got to be eliminated and we got to the finals. There was considerably less interest in the finals than in the first round. I don’t think those results are unique to the one blog. I think they are commonly seen. If the goal is to keep as many viewers as possible through the entire playoff, the NHL would be advised to allow for more great teams that will lead to bigger interest outside their markets from general hockey fans. From a personal level, I just want to see two teams that are as good as possible playing against each other.
Reducing restrictions on elite teams does not necessarily let one team jack rabbit ahead of the pack. There can be several teams that are really good. This can be seen from my 1980’s example when some years produced multiple elite teams. Playoffs are competitive. Playoffs are fun to watch and better teams remain at the end. That is not to suggest this year’s playoffs are not fun to watch (they are clearly the best hockey of the year), but they could be better with the level of teams we have historically seen in the finals.
Further, J.J asks:
Finally, I’d like to ask the author to weigh in on whether this Detroit team classifies as a Dynasty. My contention is that they are a dynasty and, as a result of that, have to be considered historically elite. If they’ve been able to do that with purely “acceptable” goaltending, then I believe they deserve credit for changing the very nature of the game itself to prove that a team could be elite without having an elite goaltender. If you take the 2008-09 Red Wings out of the vacuum that is this season and give them the 10-15 year context, do they qualify?
No. I would not call Detroit a dynasty. The NHL has in the past used the definition that a dynasty is a team that wins 3 cups in a row or 4 in 5 years or 5 in 7 years. I would subscribe to that as a good definition. Detroit clearly doesn’t make it with or without a cup this year.
I don’t contend that a team has to be historically elite to be a dynasty. It might be that the best teams in the league are not as good as those of the past, despite being able to win multiple cups. I contend that is what is going on with the Red Wings (should they repeat as cup champions).
It isn’t meaningful to look at a 10-15 year context when determining if a team is elite (by the definition I have used). This is not the same team we saw in the 1997 cup win. Only four players would get their names on the cup this year who did in 1997 (Kris Draper, Nicklas Lidstrom, Kirk Maltby and Chris Osgood - edit there is a fifth I missed Tomas Holmstrom who only played one playoff game in 1997). Osgood left and had tours of duty with two different NHL teams in the interim. That leaves three players who continuously remain with the Red Wings. They are clearly a different team today from the team that started their run in the 90s. It has been an incredible job of rebuilding the team. Turning over almost the entire roster and staying at or near the top is almost unprecedented. The only clear precedent is the Montreal Canadiens who from the 1950’s to the early 1980’s stayed at or near the top essentially continuously. They did so in a smaller league, but turned over their roster about four times in that run. It is an impressive achievement. It is a sign of a well managed team. It is not relevant to the discussion of elite teams as elite has been defined.
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