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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.

Avalanche’s new head coach Bednar is at least saying the right things

jaredbednaravalanche
via Colorado Avalanche
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Look, there are exceptions, but new head coach press conferences feature the same basic terms and buzzwords.

After witnessing the high-octane Pittsburgh Penguins skate opponents ragged on their way to the 2016 Stanley Cup, any reasonable coach would throw “speed” into their phrasing.

Still, the Colorado Avalanche have been so deeply buried by even the most basic of modern measurements that you had to wonder: would they learn from Patrick Roy’s struggles? Can someone come in and at least attempt to keep up with the pack?

We won’t know for sure anytime soon, but hey, at least Jared Bednar seems to be saying the right things as he transitions from the AHL to the Avalanche’s head coaching gig.

When discussing his hire with NHL Network, Bednar seemed confident that his style in the AHL – “Up-tempo, aggressive style in all three zones of the rink” – will translate well in Colorado.

That interview hits the beats you’d expect from job interviews beyond hockey. There’s even a “detail-oriented” bit.

(If you space out, you might just assume there’s a mention of thinking outside the box, like every corporate interview in human history.)

Still, it’s OK to settle for baby steps, especially considering the tough situation Patrick Roy created in abruptly skipping town. For many, it might just be comforting to note that Bednar doesn’t outright dismissive “analytics” or “fancy stats.”

Mile High Hockey brings up a great point: if nothing else, the spotlight will shift from the Avalanche’s flamboyant head coach to the talented core of young players.

So, not only is Colorado bringing in a coach who is as savvy with spreadsheets as he is with the wipe-off board, but he’s going to allow the players to crawl out from under Roy and finally earn their own accomplishments. This is every bit as important as fixing the breakout play or eliminating the Collapse-O-Rama™ defensive system.

(Collapse-O-Rama, huh? Can we stash that term for future use regarding another coach or two?)

Bednar isn’t a retread, so we only know so much about what to expect.

There are positive early signs. Roll your eyes all you want, we have seen more than a few successful transitions from AHL glory (Bednar just won the Calder Cup) to the NHL.

He’s not necessarily anti-information and seems at least interested in implementing modern, attacking systems. Attacking systems that, theoretically, would best suit the talents of a gifted-but-flawed group.

It all feels a little vague, but then again, it’s not even September yet. So far, so good.

One way or another, Al Montoya will be important to Canadiens

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 02:  Goalie Al Montoya #35 of the Florida Panthers looks on in the second period against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center on February 2, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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This is part of Canadiens day at PHT …

Here’s an unsolicited opinion: a good backup goalie is often underrated.

Yes, getting a quality Plan B is easier said than done – goalies are an unpredictable lot – but it’s simple to see when it pays off.

(There are plenty of examples, but Matt Murray winning a Stanley Cup for the Pittsburgh Penguins is the shiniest one.)

Even if injuries aren’t a big issue, a No. 2 goalie is a pretty safe bet to play 20 games for a given team. In that regard, Al Montoya could be a significant upgrade over Mike Condon, and that could be important.

Waning workhorses

In 2015-16, no goalie played 70 regular season games. Jonathan Quick was the workhorse of the NHL with 68, while only 10 played at least 60. So, more than two-thirds of last season’s teams needed at least 24 games from their lesser-paid goalies.

Even in Carey Price‘s dominant 2014-15 campaign, he played 66 games while Dustin Tokarski was in net for 17.

Let’s ponder the outlook for a variety of scenarios as Price hopes to rebound from injury:

If Price resumes Vezina-caliber form

As PHT notes, Price seems confident that he’s at 100 percent.

That’s great … but what else is he going to say? Knee injuries can beguile just about any athlete.

He does admit that he’s getting up there in age a bit – relative to the sport, mind you – at 29. Earlier this summer, the Hockey News went over Montreal’s plan to scale Price’s workload a bit, injured or not.

So, even in a dream scenario, Montoya and/or Condon will still see plenty of reps.

If Price falters

The Canadiens are expected to live or die by Price. Let’s not kid ourselves.

The leash might not be very long for Michel Therrien if Price really falls on his face, however. A Condon-led Habs team stumbled terribly, but what might we see from Montoya being thrust into the spotlight for performance reasons?

  • With a .909 career save percentage, Montoya’s experienced his stumbles in the NHL. Montreal has to hope he follows more of the path from strong showings in 2013-14 (13-8-3, .920 save percentage with Winnipeg) and 2015-16 (12-7-3, .919 save percentage with Florida).

Long story short, there were flashes of the brilliance you’d expect from a guy who went sixth overall in 2004.

  • The good news is that he’s accustomed to a fairly heavy backup duty. He set a career-high with 31 games played and 26 starts with the Islanders in 2011-12. Including that season, he’s enjoyed 20+ appearances in five of his last six seasons.
  • The bad news is that he hasn’t ever even carried half of a season’s workload so …

Yes, a Price re-injury would be disastrous

Montoya hasn’t been “the guy” before, certainly not in a pressure-cooker like Montreal. Condon’s opportunity didn’t go especially well.

One can understand ownership giving Therrien and GM Marc Bergevin something of a “Price pass” after 2015-16, but would there be the same level of acceptance if they couldn’t thrive without their star goalie again? You’d have to ask about lessons learned.

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Long story short, Montoya matters to Montreal. The Canadiens just have to hope that he doesn’t matter too much.

 

Ducks lock up 2016 first-rounder Max Jones

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Max Jones poses for a portrait after being selected 24th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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The Anaheim Ducks handed their 2016 first-round draft pick Max Jones an entry-level contract on Friday.

Anaheim selected Jones 24th overall. It looks like he’s getting a pretty typical rookie deal, according to reporters including NHL.com’s Curtis Zupke.

In PHT’s “Get to Know a Draft Pick” series, THN’s Ryan Kennedy described Jones as “a power forward who can make you look silly with his offensive moves or simply plow you through the boards.”

Jones was one of three London Knights players who went in the first round in 2016, following Olli Juolevi (fifth overall) and Matthew Tkachuk (sixth overall). He certainly seemed to enjoy the team’s Memorial Cup victory:

You never really know for certain, but one would imagine that Jones may take a season or two to make it to the NHL level with the Ducks. From the sound of things, he’s in the sort of power forward mold that the team’s had a lot of success with.

With Lehner injured, Enroth will be in Sweden’s goalie mix at World Cup

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 04: Jhonas Enroth #1 of the Buffalo Sabres and Robin Lehner #40 of the Ottawa Senators warm up to play at First Niagara Center on October 4, 2013 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) Sweden has selected Jhonas Enroth to replace injured goaltender Robin Lehner on its World Cup of Hockey roster.

Lehner was bothered by an ankle injury last season while playing for the Buffalo Sabres. Sweden coach Rikard Gronborg said Lehner had not recovered 100 percent.

Enroth, who signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs, joins Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Jacob Markstrom of the Vancouver Canucks as the goalies on Sweden’s roster.

The 28-year-old has a 2.80 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 147 career NHL games. Enroth was on the Swedish team that earned a silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, though he never appeared in a game.

Enroth started for Sweden at the 2015 world hockey championship.

The World Cup begins Sept. 17 in Toronto.