Boston Bruins v Vancouver Canucks - Game Seven

NHL leads the four major sports in championship parity during the last 12 seasons

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One of the most common debates in sports goes something like this: Should a league strive for widespread parity or for dynasties to establish long periods of dominance?

There’s some easy arguments for both sides. Parity is probably the superior money-maker because it naturally gives fans of just about every team (even the Florida Panthers) a reason to believe that “this might be the year.” On the other hand, that might lead some to believe that a given sports league is settling for mediocrity rather than the majestic dominance that comes with a truly great team running roughshod over its competition.

Perhaps the ideal scenario is a reasonable compromise between those opposing ideas: a nice variety of different champions that manages to include familiar faces along the way. That’s a tough balancing act to achieve, so it’s interesting to see how the four major sports (NHL, NFL, MLB and NBA) end up looking when it comes to parity. Kevin Oklobzija compared the championship matchups and winners over the past 12 seasons for each sport and found that the NHL has a slight advantage over its peers when it comes to parity. The NHL’s 12-season period goes from 1999-2011 because of the lockout, while the other sports factor in championship matches from 2000-2011.

NHL

17 different teams in the NHL finals; 10 different champions

MLB

16 different teams in the World Series; nine different champions

NFL

16 different teams in the Super Bowl; nine different champions

NBA

11 different teams in the NBA finals; six different champions.

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It’s not surprising that professional basketball lends itself to dominance because that’s how the sport tends to work. There are less players involved (and a limited amount of room to work with), which allows superstars to establish eras of superiority – even in a salary cap era.

The most surprising thing might be that the NFL and MLB have an identical number of finalists and champions. It’s not surprising that the NFL has a lot of parity, with the New England Patriots being the football equivalent to the Detroit Red Wings. I wouldn’t have guessed that baseball had so much variety, though; in my minds eye, it’s a league where the rich (especially the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox) get richer while fans of the poorest teams have little hope. In a grand scheme of the playoffs, that might still be somewhat true, but the playoffs prove to be unpredictable. Baseball teams play 162 regular season games only to see a first round series that can end in three losses, which means that its playoffs can be even less representative of true dominance than other sports (which is saying something).

The interesting thing about the NHL’s end of the discussion is that the it represents the end of the Dead Puck (and salary-cap free) Era and then the first six post-lockout years. Naturally, I couldn’t help but wonder how much parity existed in the 12 previous seasons. Let’s take a look (keeping in mind that we’re looking at champions from those 12 years alone, not factoring in crossover wins by the Red Wings, Devils and Avs.)

Year   Winner Loser
1998   Detroit Red Wings Washington Capitals
1997   Detroit Red Wings Philadelphia Flyers
1996   Colorado Avalanche Florida Panthers
1995   New Jersey Devils Detroit Red Wings
1994   New York Rangers Vancouver Canucks
1993   Montreal Canadiens Los Angeles Kings
1992   Pittsburgh Penguins Chicago Blackhawks
1991   Pittsburgh Penguins Minnesota North Stars
1990   Edmonton Oilers Boston Bruins
1989   Calgary Flames Montreal Canadiens
1988   Edmonton Oilers Boston Bruins
1987   Edmonton Oilers Philadelphia Flyers
total   8 different champs 16 different teams

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So if you look at parity as championship finalists and winners alone, then the NHL’s parity did increase a bit (two more champions, one extra finalist) in the most recent 12 seasons compared to its previous dozen. The last remnants of the true dynasty era are seen in 1987-1998, especially when you compare those years to 1975-1986; in those years just four teams (Montreal, Edmonton, the Islanders and Flyers) won all the titles while 10 different teams made the Stanley Cup finals.

It’s obviously not all about championships, though. The important thing is to have a solid mix of teams who are consistently in the hunt while also providing a little room for Cinderella stories. It seems like teams are figuring the salary cap era out to some extent now, with several teams who are consistent contenders (even ones whose pursuits have fallen short of the final round, particularly the San Jose Sharks) while other teams tend to come and go. We’ll have to see if these trends continue over the next 12 seasons, especially with a new CBA needed after the 2011-12 season.

Feel free to weigh in on the parity vs. dynasties debate in the comments.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.