How tough is it to repeat as Stanley Cup champions in today’s NHL? Just ask Ken Holland in Detroit or Peter Chiarelli in Boston. Since 2008, each has not only built a Cup winner, they have also somehow managed to do so with the better part of their championship roster intact at the start of the following season. This feat is both brilliant and miraculous in today’s game. However, despite their best laid plans, neither franchise was able to hoist the coveted but elusive second straight Cup.
There are just too many factors, a few of which were mentioned in yesterday's blog, that make a repeat unrealistic in this day and age.
After winning the Cup in 2007 with one of the best blue lines in recent history (rarely did an opponent have the luxury of taking the ice without being confronted by Chris Pronger or Scott Niedermayer that spring), Brian Burke’s Anaheim Ducks seemed poised for a shot at having their names tagged on the trophy yet again the following year. Burke had managed the cap well enough to allow his veterans to return and his young stars (Perry and Getzlaf) to continue to grow within the organization. The vets wouldn’t be around forever so a dynasty seemed like a stretch, but a repeat certainly wasn’t out of the question. Unfortunately for Anaheim, the team never re-established that magic that led them to the title the year before. The chemistry was seemingly doomed from the start when aging but still very capable superstars Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer opted to sit out the first part of the 2007-2008 campaign contemplating retirement and recovering from the wounds suffered from the 100 plus games each competed in to win the ’07 Cup. Even once the two stars did return, it wasn’t meant to be and the Ducks quickly bowed out to the 5th seed Dallas Stars in Round 1 after just six games.
With the Ducks gone, the 2008 Playoffs proved to be the Wings time to shine. They dismantled the Preds, Avalanche, and Stars winning 12 of 16 games before making the talented young Penguins look dangerously out of place in the first two games of the finals (a combined score of 7-0) and winning in six. It looked for sure like Holland had this dynasty thing figured out and had taken the first step towards making it happen. He had a terrific young coach in Mike Babcock, a group of talented players brought up through the system who no matter how good they got all bought in to this philosophy that nobody would disrupt the structure and dare ask for more money than the Captain, and somehow, they had cash to burn and could load up with even more weapons. With another year and Cup Finals experience under the belts of Crosby and Malkin, the Pens seemed like the only club capable of preventing the Wings from an almost certain repeat, but the Wings looked as though they had taken care of that in the summer when they locked up all of their key pieces and brought one of Pittsburgh’s premiere players in Marian Hossa to the Motor City.
It was the best managerial job the NHL had seen in years when the Wings arrived in camp for the start of the 2008-2009 season, but it still wasn’t enough. They faced off in a much anticipated rematch that year with the Pens and after taking a 3-2 series lead including a dominant 5-0 Game 5 victory seemed destined for history. The Pens refused to die and rattled off consecutive 2-1 victories in Games 6 and 7, capturing their first title since 1992. Surely this was the start of the League’s next great thing. If anyone could put together a string of titles in today’s game it had to be Crosby and Malkin who had just turned 22 and 23 respectively when the quest for the repeat began in 2009, right? Wrong. After once again claiming the 4th seed in the East, the Pens toppled the Senators in Round 1 before falling to the Canadiens in Game 7 of Round 2. Pens GM Ray Shero had built his championship team through the draft picking first or second for four straight years and taking Fleury, Malkin, Crosby, and Staal, and he was able to keep all four cornerstone pieces following the Cup run. Unfortunately for Shero and Pens fans everywhere, the role players would have to go as they either “aged out” or sought “greener” pastures on the heels of their recent success. Eaton, Scuderi, and Gonchar no longer helped anchor the back end and veterans Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedetenko, who chipped in 7 key post season goals apiece during the Cup run, would no longer be at Dan Bylsma’s disposal. With their departures, Sid The Kid’s dynasty dreams had ended before they ever really began.
After years of struggles and frustration with ownership, the Chicago Blackhawks and their fans were happy to pick up where the Pens left off during the 2010 Playoffs. They were finally ready to reap he benefits of the young talents they had stockpiled due to their ineptitude with back to back first overall picks in the 2006 and 2007 in the form of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The Hawks went 16-6 that spring on their way to their first Stanley Cup since 1961. Kane, Keith, Toews, Sharp, and Hossa (who finally picked the right club after playing the role of bridesmaid for two straight years) all returned, giving the club all the firepower one would need to repeat. Unfortunately, there was no way they could afford to keep all of those guys and their necessary complementary pieces (and goaltender) who were integral parts of the chamionship run the previous season. Gone were guys like Madden, Sopel, Byfuglien, Burish, Ladd, and Versteeg, and with them, any chance at a repeat.
And that brings us to the League’s most recent champs, the Boston Bruins. In 2011, they rode one of the best goaltending performances in the history of hockey and brought an unmatched top to bottom toughness. The result was the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since Orr and Esposito lifted their second Cup in three years in 1972. The 2012 Bruins were an interesting case when considering a potential repeat. On one hand, they lacked that cupboard full of top five picks that made a dynasty seem possible for clubs like the Hawks and Pens. You could argue the only true first line talent they had on the roster when they won the Cup was 19 year old Tyler Seguin whose game hadn’t matured to the point where Coach Julien saw fit to even insert him in the line up when the Playoffs commenced last April. Despite the lack of top end talent, they persevered. They were certainly not the best crop of individual players assembled in the League last year, but they did buy in and played the best hockey at the right time. Heading in to 2012, things again looked bright for the B’s. The team would no doubt benefit from the experience the previous spring, Tyler Seguin would be a year older and ready to become a more dominant, everyday player, and Chiarelli had managed to construct all of his best players, and most of his role players, contracts in a manner that would allow almost the entire team to return this season. Mark Recchi finally hung them up and Michael Ryder found the paycheck he longed for in Dallas, but the champs were pretty much intact. So what went wrong in 2012? Nothing. The Bruins simply were not the undisputed best team in hockey and there is too much parity to allow for a repeat if that is not the case. Chiarelli built a team with the right guys in 2011, but even after that EVERYTHING had to go right including the previously mentioned once in a generation nine month dominating performance by Tim Thomas for the Bruins to win.
Yep, the days of the dynasty are officially over. Veterans retire on top having made enough money to never need to chase another check, role players cash in on their two months of clutch play in front of the national audience that helped their club capture the crown, and even when retained, the superstars find out quickly that they weren’t in fact doing it on their own all this time.
To the fans of whichever team wins the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals- Enjoy it, because based on recent history, I put the odds of a repeat up there with the chances of Bosnia-Herzegovina making the medal round in Sochi come 2014.