by PuckStopsHere on 06/10/13 at 10:57 PM ET
The Pittsburgh Penguins were considered the team most likely to win the Stanley Cup this year according to the Las Vegas odds. They lost in the semi-finals to the Boston Bruins. This isn't an unpredicted result in my mind. If you asked me before the playoffs, I would have agreed that Pittsburgh was the team most likely to win the Stanley Cup. I certainly would not have told you that they were anywhere near 50% likely to win the Stanley Cup. I would probably have estimated that they had a 20-30% chance to win the Stanley Cup this year. Hence Pittsburgh probably was not going to win the Stanley Cup this year. The same thing can be said for any other NHL team. Somebody is going to win the Stanley Cup, but it probably isn't going to be you. In that way it is kind of like the lottery. The best you can do is build a good team that has a serious chance, but there will be several other teams with approximately the same shot that you have. Ideally you can build a team that remains a contender for a period of several years and you may win in one or more of them.
Pittsburgh has essentially done this. They won the 2009 Stanley Cup and remain a top contender today. In fact they probably took a bigger run this year than they did in the last few years by adding Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray at trade deadline time and that is more than they did in previous years. If we assume there are five or six teams with solid shots at the Stanley Cup in any given year, then any team should win once every five or six times they are a serious contender on average. Pittsburgh has done this. Essentially they have lived up to expectations, but many fans have over-inflated their expectations and believe that they have failed.
So what happens now? The Pittsburgh Penguins have to dismantle themselves somewhat due to the shrinking salary cap. Many assume Jarome Iginla is gone and I have read suggestions that some of Evgeni Malkin, Pascal Dupuis, James Neal and Marc-Andre Fleury should follow suit. This is the wrong approach to team building but a necessity of the salary cap - especially when it is scheduled to shrink. You don't improve your team by subtracting pieces. That is how it gets worse. You might be able to find some pieces to jettison that won't hurt you much, but that is your best case.
We have a Pittsburgh team that is pretty good. They are not an elite team today but they possess a lot of good pieces and if they continue to build their team they could get there. They are not going to get there is they have to dismantle themselves. This is why we no longer have elite teams. If a team gets good enough that a path might be seen that they could reach the elite level soon, the salary cap ensures that they are broken up.
This is especially true next year as the salary cap drops. I think that means next year's best team will be even further from elite than we have seen in the recent past. The best comparison we have is when the salary cap was kept artificially low after the 2004/05 lockout. Carolina beat Edmonton in the Stanley Cup finals and both teams promptly missed the playoffs the next year. It was the weakest Stanley Cup match up in recent history and we may see worse next year.
Pittsburgh has lived up to expectations in the last few years winning one Stanley Cup. In no single year have they been greater than about 30% likely to win the cup that year. Thus they probably were going to lose in any one given year and there is no need to believe they failed when that was the most likely outcome. The problem is their team will be somewhat broken up for next season. They will be further back from being an elite team as a result. That is a result of the salary cap system in the NHL. It keeps us from seeing elite teams. They are broken up before they reach that stage.
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