The days of the NHL dynasty have come and gone. No franchise has celebrated back-to-back championships since the Detroit Red Wings turned the trick during the 1997 and 1998 seasons. With the Bruins Game 7 loss in Round 1 to the Capitals this past week, NHL fans will have to wait at least one more season before they have chance to see such consistency and dominance again. With the parity in today’s game, two Cups in a decade is every bit as impressive as two in a row would have been 20 years ago when Mario Lemieux and the Penguins were repeat contenders.
Salary caps, free agency, and expansion have all changed the game drastically over the years. The task of assembling and running a team built for long term success in today’s NHL is certainly an unenviable one. General Managers must balance budgets and ensure their superstars security with the increasingly popular long term contracts while leaving enough in the tank (or bank) to satisfy the role players who often have the greatest impact on the game come spring. Coaches must stay fresh and motivate their high profile and insanely wealthy athletes over the course of 100 plus games each season if they hope to be crowned champs. And the players have to not only endure the rigors of the aforementioned schedule but thrive throughout the back end of it if they hope to have their names etched on the Cup…..And that is just to win the first one!
But for as challenging as these roles are in the game today, you know who may have it toughest with regards to making critical decisions in hockey in this post dynasty era? The youth hockey player just trying to choose his favorite team.
If the New Jersey Devils don’t win the 2012 Stanley Cup, we will see the 11th different franchise celebrating a championship in the 13 seasons since the Wings repeated in the late 90’s. Now I am not saying that all kids are frontrunners, but they haven’t exactly had the time on earth and in front of television to develop a strong loyalty to one team or another in most cases.
It used to be so easy. Take the late 70’s and most of the 80’s for example. In the 13 seasons between 1976 and 1988, the Cup had just three final destinations, Montreal, Long Island, and Edmonton. That was it. If you were born in 1972, picked up a stick for the first time in 1978, and your father was not a die hard Leafs or Bruins fan, there is a good chance you were Guy Lafleur every time you laced them up in the back yard or the local rink during Montreal’s run of four consecutive Cups. Born four years later outside of Manhattan? Better than average shot that by 1981 you were Mike Bossy if goal scoring was your thing or Denis Potvin if you were a five year old defensive stalwart. And if you arrived on the scene in 1980 and took the ice for the first time four years after that in any North American city other than Calgary, you likely spent at least a little time pretending you were #99, unless it was your turn to put the pads on and call yourself Fuhr. Yep, those were simpler times for sure.
Today, where does this generation even begin? If you were born in 1999 you have already seen a third of the League win at least one Stanley Cup. The cost of ice time used to be the greatest economic barrier for parents when trying to get and keep their kids in the sport. Now they must be losing sleep and contemplating cashing in their 401K just to keep Johnny outfitted from head to toe in the gear of his new favorite team every June.
Of course, Mom and Dad, there is hope. You can always hang on to the Ducks, Wings, Pens, Hawks, and Bruins gear you have accumulated since the 2007 Playoffs in case one of them rebounds and wins another title before the kids have outgrown their sweaters…..But if recent history is any indicator, you shouldn’t hold your breath.