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.

Kulikov returns to increasingly healthy Sabres lineup

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Dmitry Kulikov #77 of the Buffalo Sabres in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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No one’s going to confuse Dmitry Kulikov with Jack Eichel, but the Buffalo Sabres are likely happy to have him back after a long absence, too.

The Sabres have been on an upward trend lately (5-2-2 in their last nine games), and now they get a key defenseman back against the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

Kulikov last played on Nov. 9 and hasn’t recorded a point in 12 games, making for a tough start to his stint with the Sabres. Maybe he’ll begin to get a little more traction with his new team tonight?

He’s far from the only returning Buffalo player, either, as Josh Gorges and Nicolas Deslauriers are also back in the mix. Kulikov is slated to be on the Sabres’ second pairing with Cody Franson.

Buffalo sent Brendan Guhle to the AHL to make room for these tweaks.

With Foligno out sick, Columbus gives Bjorkstrand another shot

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 13:  Oliver Bjorkstrand #28 of the Columbus Blue Jackets lines up for a face-off during the game against the Boston Bruins on October 13, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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The Columbus Blue Jackets will be without captain Nick Foligno because of an illness on Friday, opening up an opportunity for interesting prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand.

The team tweeted out his linemates as Matt Calvert and Lukas Sedlak as a solid fourth line facing the Detroit Red Wings.

He failed to generate much (zero points, two shots on goal) in three games so far with Columbus this season, receiving about 25 minutes of ice time over that span.

With eight goals and 12 points in 19 AHL games so far in 2016-17, there’s the thought that he could eventually make the next step to becoming a decent contributor for the Blue Jackets.

Perhaps this will constitute his first real step in that direction?

Apparently this is a pretty abrupt situation for the 21-year-old:

Gretzky defends McDavid’s outburst after Manning incident

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23: Wayne Gretzky (L) and Dale Hawerchuk drop the puck in a ceremonial face-off between Blake Wheeler #26 and Connor McDavid #97 during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Fred Greenslade /Getty Images)
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PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) As the primary target of opponents over his Hall of Fame career, Wayne Gretzky can certainly empathize with the frustration of Oilers star Connor McDavid.

McDavid and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning jostled all evening long in a 6-5 Edmonton loss. McDavid denounced the tactics of his opponent after the game, claiming Manning intentionally injured him last season; McDavid missed 37 games with a broken collarbone.

“I guess we can put the whole ‘if he did it’ thing to rest because what he said out there kind of confirmed that,” said McDavid, who taunted Manning after scoring the second goal in the Oilers’ loss.

“I think anybody who knows me or who has played with or against me along the road here, knows that I am not that kind of player,” Manning said, according to a statement released by the Flyers. “I am not out there intentionally trying to hurt people. I’m a guy who plays the game hard and I take pride in that.”

Gretzky didn’t mind seeing that fire in McDavid, saying competitiveness is part of what makes the great ones great. And he said the targeting comes with the territory of being a superstar. It was something he and Mario Lemieux dealt with, too.

“And Connor, he’s going to get tested every night, but this is not new for him,” Gretzky said Friday at the NHL board of governors meetings. “He’s been tested since he was a kid and then playing junior hockey and now in the NHL and he’s always responded and done his part.”

Related: McDavid accuses ‘classless’ Manning of injuring him on purpose

Bishop trying not to let contract situation affect his play

TAMPA, FL - JUNE 06: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on against the Chicago Blackhawks during Game Two of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 6, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)
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Ben Bishop was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, and that makes it particularly striking to see his numbers a quarter of the way through 2016-17.

After 18 starts, Bishop is 8-10-1 with a .906 save percentage. He got the hook after two periods last night at Amalie Arena, where he surrendered four goals to the Vancouver Canucks in a 5-1 loss.

Last night marked the third time in his last five starts that he’d surrendered at least four goals, and one of the goals he allowed looked like this:

So, do things feel different this season?

“I feel fine,” Bishop said today, per Lightning Insider. “We go back and watch the games and technically it’s all there. There is really no difference from the way I’ve played the last couple of years to now. I don’t like saying this, but it’s been a strange season with goofy goals on tips and bounces, goals off your own players. So I think if you took some of those away, the numbers would be pretty similar to years past. I would like to get the wins a little higher.”

Bishop, of course, is a pending unrestricted free agent who is unlikely to re-sign with the Lightning. Andrei Vasilevskiy appears to be the goalie of the future in Tampa Bay. On July 1, the 22-year-old re-signed through 2019-20.

Vasilevskiy is also 6-2-1 with a .929 save percentage.

So in that regard, it’s a bit like the situation we’re seeing in New York, where Henrik Lundqvist is struggling and Antti Raanta is thriving.

The difference is Lundqvist isn’t going to be looking for a new team anytime soon. Remember that Bishop “was close” to being traded to Calgary in the offseason. He could still end up there in free agency, depending if Brian Elliott bounces back.

Bishop says he’s trying not to let his contract situation affect his state of mind; however, he admits he’d “be lying if I said I never thought about it.”

“It’s definitely there in the back of your head,” he said.

The Lightning host the Penguins on Saturday.

Expect Vasilevskiy to start that one.