The Los Angeles Kings are poised to win their first Stanley Cup, sparking suggestions they could become the first NHL dynasty team in years. Several factors, however, could work against them.
Sportsnet.ca’s Mike Brophy recently published an article suggesting the Los Angeles Kings could be a “dynasty in the making”, citing their depth in young talent as a key factor which could have them competing for the Stanley Cup for several seasons to come.
Brophy also acknowledged the difficulty of achieving that goal in today’s NHL, with its interminably long seasons and salary cap making it difficult to maintain healthy and competitive rosters, let alone perennial Cup contenders.
The last time a team won consecutive Stanley Cups was in the late-1990s, when the Detroit Red Wings turned the trick in 1997 and 1998.
Since then, only the Red Wings, Dallas Stars, New Jersey Devils, and Pittsburgh Penguins have made consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup Final. None won consecutive championships.
Last year at this time, I stated my belief the 2011 Cup Finalist Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks had the depth in talent and sufficient cap space to repeat as Cup Finalists, suggesting the Bruins could be the first team since those Red Wings of the late-’90s to win consecutive championships.
We all know how that turned out. While the Canucks won the President’s Trophy for the second straight year, and the Boston Bruins finished second overall in the Eastern Conference, both were bounced from the opening round of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
As Brophy pointed out, not even depth in talented youth is a guarantee of consecutive Cup contention.
The Penguins made consecutive trips to the Finals in 2008 and 2009, winning the big mug the second time around. Despite being built around a youthful core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury, they’ve since failed to get within sniffing distance of the Final.
In 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks ended their 49-year Cup drought, with a roster built around young stars Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but salary cap constraints gutted their championship roster, leaving them a shell of their brief greatness.
Looking at the Kings salary cap hit for 2012-13, they’re in good shape to maintain their current roster.
Goaltender Jonathan Quick, defensemen Drew Doughty, Matt Greene, and Slava Voynov, and forwards Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Justin Williams are under contract for next season.
Their notable free agents include Dustin Penner, Jarret Stoll and Dwight King, all of whom should be affordable re-signings if Kings management decides to keep them onboard.
It would therefore fall upon management and the coaching staff to keep their roster motivated for another six-month slog through the 82-game regular season, followed by another nearly two-month march through the playoffs.
That certainly appeared the problem for the Bruins this past season. They lurched from the gate in the opening months of this season, caught fire midway through the season, including a nearly two month stretch where they were almost unbeatable, followed by an inconsistent final two months of the regular season, and their first round playoff elimination.
It’s understandable why it’s so difficult for players in today’s NHL to maintain their focus and desire after winning the Cup. During the 1970s and 80s when it was financially feasible to maintain dynasties, regular seasons typically began in mid-October, finished in early April, with the playoffs wrapping up by mid-to late-May.
That allowed championship teams nearly an extra month and a half of time off to rest and recharge, taking a necessary mental break away from not just the game, but also the rigorous off-ice physical training.
For me, the first true telling sign of the recent difficulty for teams to repeat as Cup champions came at the end of the 1998 Stanley Cup Final.
During a post-game interview, a happy – but also visibly exhausted – Steve Yzerman, respected captain of the Cup champion Red Wings, was asked if he felt his club could “three-peat.” A weary Yzerman said the only thing he cared about at that point was getting out of his gear and forgetting about hockey for a while.
Brophy also suggested parity plays a part in the lack of repeat champions.
In the days when the Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers were regularly winning consecutive championships, there wasn’t the kind of parity in the league as we see today.
Since the early 1990s, expansion has led to considerably more parity throughout the NHL, increasing the competitiveness around the league, making the path to Cup contention much more difficult.
A mentally and physically draining regular season and playoff schedule, league parity, and the tight constraints of the salary cap have made it considerably more difficult for Stanley Cup champions to repeat.
The Kings have the components to be Cup contenders for several years. It remains to be seen, however, if they can overcome the aforementioned factors which have waylaid other teams which once seemed bound for perennial championship greatness.