Friday, August 22, 2008

What Happened to the Cup Champs of the Last Decade?

Certainly, the hardest thing for an NHL team to do is win the Stanley Cup. If there's anything more difficult than that, it is winning the Cup two years in a row. Back before the days of free agency and expansion to 30 teams, winning multiple Cups in a row was commonplace. However, since the league switched to six divisions in 1998-99, no team has repeated as Stanley Cup champions. Why has this been the case? Let's see who (or what) has prevented each of the last nine defending champions from keeping the Cup. Pay close attention, Detroit Red Wings, as you guys could easily be the next team on this list.


The Red Wings saw a 10 point drop off in the standings from 1997-98, a season that resulted in their second straight Cup. Their goals for and goals against averages were almost the same, but the Wings simply did not win as many close games as they had the previous year. Detroit still managed to win the Central Division in 1999, and started off the playoffs with a blistering 6-0 record, sweeping the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and jumping out to a 2-0 series lead on the Colorado Avalanche. From that point on, however, the Wings simply played terrible hockey, losing the next four games to the Avs by a combined score of 19-7. Detroit fans needed not worry too much, as the Wings would be hoisting the Cup again in three years.


This Dallas Stars team was one of two in this time period to make it back to the Finals a year after winning it all. Despite a 12 point drop from the previous year, Dallas still finished with 102 points and their fourth straight division title. The Stars made it back to the Finals with a 12-5 record in conference play, defeating Edmonton, San Jose, and Colorado. Unfortunately for Dallas, they ran into a red hot New Jersey Devils team that had just rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Devils held Dallas to just 9 goals in the series as they won in six games for their second championship in franchise history. New Jersey would have a great chance of winning it all again the next year.


New Jersey actually had a better regular season in 2001 than the year before, earning eight more points in the standings and leading the NHL in goals scored. The Devils made it back to the Finals by beating Carolina, Toronto, and Pittsburgh to the tune of a 12-6 record. The only team standing in the way of a second straight Cup was the Colorado Avalanche, the President's Trophy winners from this season. The Devils actually led the series 3-2 after five games, but were unable to penetrate Patrick Roy with any regularity in the final two games. Colorado won Games 6 and 7 by a combined score of 7-1 to win their second Stanley Cup, with Ray Bourque finally getting to hold hockey's holy grail after 22 seasons.


The Avs suffered a massive drop-off in team performance in 2002, recording 19 fewer points and scoring 58 fewer goals. For the most part, their eighth straight division title was a result of the Vezina-caliber play of Patrick Roy, who also earned a nomination for the Hart Trophy that year. Colorado made the Western Conference Finals for the fourth year in a row and sixth time in seven, but did so in the most difficult way possible. The Avs went all the way to seven games against both the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks, which put them at somewhat of a disadvantage against the much better-rested Detroit Red Wings. Colorado still managed to build a 3-2 series lead before totally running out of gas in Games 6 and 7, losing those two by a combined 9-0. The Avs have not been back to the Conference Finals since 2002.


See, Red Wing fans? I did not lie when I said that your team would win the Cup again. Expectations were very high for Detroit once again in the 2003 playoffs, as the Wings finished the regular season second in the West. Detroit just happened to run into one of the best goalies in NHL playoff history in Anaheim's Jean-Sebastian Giguere in the first round. Giguere held Detroit to just six goals in the first round as the Mighty Ducks completed a shocking four game sweep of the defending champs. Anaheim parlayed this momentum into a playoff run that took the Mighty Ducks all the way to Game 7 of the Cup Finals, where they lost to the New Jersey Devils.


New Jersey was cruising along in the first half of 2003-04, posting some defensive numbers that were simply unbelievable. This all changed after Scott Stevens was injured with a concussion after 38 games, as he would never play in the NHL again. The Devils' defensive prowess dropped off significantly after the loss of their captain, to the point that they lost the Atlantic Division race to the Philadelphia Flyers by a single point. This proved crucial as the two teams met in the first round of the playoffs, with Philly taking the series in five thanks largely to winning all three home games. Since Stevens retired, the Devils have not even come close to winning another Cup. Coincidence? Certainly not.


Considering that Tampa Bay had to defend their title after a year off due to the lockout, it was understandable if the Lightning struggled to do so. However, part of this struggle was their own doing, as they let goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin go to the Chicago Blackhawks and replaced him with a platoon of John Grahame and Sean Burke. This tandem just barely got Tampa Bay into the playoffs in eighth place, where they were outscored 23-13 in losing their first round series to the Ottawa Senators in five games. Two years later, the Lightning sank to being the worst team in the NHL, but the prize for that was Steve Stamkos, so things are not all bad for Lightning fans.


I have often thought that Carolina's 2006 Stanley Cup championship was somewhat of a fluke, and their performance as the defending champs seemed to validate my thoughts. In 2006-07, the 'Canes became the first defending champions since the 1995-96 Devils to miss the playoffs. Carolina went from second in the East in their title season all the way down to 11th the next year. Considering the Hurricanes missed the playoffs again in 2007-08, my conclusion is that they were one of the worst champions of all time, if not the worst.


Anaheim had a bit of a drop-off from their Stanley Cup-winning season, but not too much, as the Ducks still finished with over 100 points. Unlike in 2007, this version of the Ducks had a lot of trouble scoring goals, a trouble that continued into their first round playoff series against the Dallas Stars. Anaheim scored 9 goals in their two wins, but just four total in the other four games, all losses that allowed Dallas to advance. It certainly did not help the Ducks' cause that they took a multitude of dumb penalties. The grit and toughness from their Stanley Cup run became recklessness the next year, and as a result Anaheim's title defense did not last very long.

By: Dewey


Chris Cote said...

The Worst cup champions ever?

The 05/06 Hurricanes were first/second in the east THE ENTIRE SEASON that year, and only improved at the trade deadline.

This past season the hurricanes suffered immeasurable injuries, with 9+ starting players out at the same time.

say what you will about the past two years, but there is no denying just how good that 2006 team was.

Erik Cole/Eric Staal/Mark Recchi
Cory Stillman/ Rod Brind'amour/ Justin Williams
Ray Whitney/Matt Cullen/Doug Weight
Andrew Ladd/Kevyn Adams/Craig Adams

Aaron Ward/Mike Commodore
Frantisek Kaberle/Niclas Wallin
Bret Hedican/Glen Wesley

Cam Ward
Martin Gerber

also on the roster: Andrew Ladd, Chad Larose, Josef Vasicek, Andrew Hutchinson, Anton Babchuk

Dewey said...

Yes, Chris, the Hurricanes were obviously a good team. However, I don't think they were great, and I'm speaking mostly about the overall collection of players. Most Stanley Cup championship teams are loaded with Hall of Famers. This team has nobody who jumps out at you in that case; maybe Recchi and Brind'Amour will get in, but nobody else besides them will. Also, nobody on this team, with the possible exception of Eric Staal, has or will ever win a high caliber NHL award, ie the Hart, Vezina, Norris, Art Ross, Rocket Richard, or Pearson. If not for Brind'Amour's two Selkes, this team would have no hardware at all, save for Cam Ward's Conn Smythe (someone had to win it). Obviously, this is a good team, but none of the players are great in my opinion. Feel free to rebut my comments.

Chris Cote said...

Andrew Ladd WILL be better than Erik Cole this season.... albeit in Chicago.

Glen Wesley is a two time all-star, Justin Williams will likely win at least one Selke Trophy... Cam Ward is still only 24 years old and was in the top five in wins last season, despite playing on a team that failed to make the playoffs.

I will admit however that this is a team that consists not of super-stars but of average, above average, and very good players... built around balance.

The current incarnation of the Cane's has the team putting alot of faith in Eric Staal, Cam Ward Joni Pitkanen and Tim Gleason to emerge as stars in their respective positions.

Brodes said...

The worst champion is not the Hurricanes. They had a very deserving Cup run filled with a team that used grit and skill to their advantage!

The worst champion is by far the 1937-38 Blackhawks if you know what I'm saying...barely made the playoffs with a referee and umpire behind the bench (Bill Stewart) and won er all...but in the orginal six mind you. If you ever get the chance, their story is very unique and pretty amusing to say the least.

Will said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Will said...

Maybe the Canes team of '05-'06 won because they were a good all-around team. To be a good all-around taem is what a small market team has to do. They had three complete scoring lines which could be matched up with any of the other team's lines, they didn't need a sure fire hall of famer to find the success they had that season.

The Canes have missed the playoffs for the last two years due to a number of immeasurable injuries. Also a few players happened to peak and/or get injuries which really slowed them down like Commodore, Ladd, Kaberle, Stillman, etc. Last year they battled through injuries to Brindy, Whitney, Williams, Cole, Cullen, etc. and were still nearly able to make the playoffs. I know you don't want to us injuries as an excuse, but they kept most of their core players healthy during the 'Cup run and when they've been healthy (which hasn't been often) the last 2 years they've been one of the better teams in the league.

This year they have a revamped defense and have gotten much younger. Not only will this help the D and the number of injuries, but the improved D will benefit Cam Ward immensely. I strongly believe that the Canes will be one of the sleeper surprises this year.

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