Don’t Compare Your Marginal Playoff Team To The 2012 LA Kings.

Prior to this year’s NHL trade deadline, I reacted to reports of the NY Rangers’ trading for San Jose Sharks forward Ryane Clowe by posting “If Clowe was the answer, what the hell was the question?” on Twitter.

It was a good-natured jab at the Rangers struggles this season, part of which was pinned to the club’s apparent lack of character, depth and grit.

Most of the responses  from several of my Twitter followers – including a few Rangers fans – got the joke, even offering up humorous replies making note of Clowe inability to score this season prior to his move to the Blueshirts.

A couple of Rangers fans, however, didn’t see the humor, accusing me of being a Rangers “hater” (or “hatah”, though why I was compared to a double karate chop to the sides of an opponent’s neck puzzled me).

When I attempted to clarify my comment in a series of tweets expressing doubt Clowe’s addition addressed the Rangers other problems (struggling scorers and the sidelining of blueline stalwart Marc Staal to an eye injury), let alone made them a Cup contender, a Rangers fan replied, “You do realize only 10 months ago an 8th overall seed won the Stanley Cup?”

Ah yes, the “once you make the playoffs, anything can happen” rallying cry of some desperate fans of marginal NHL teams.  The LA Kings march to the 2012 Stanley Cup provides inspiration to those fans.

Now, I’m not picking on Rangers fans here. Every NHL team has been a marginal playoff contender in its history, and all have their share of fans who dare to dream their club could pull off a series of miraculous upsets to win the Stanley Cup.

The Kings indeed made NHL history as the lowest seed (8th overall in the Western Conference, 14th overall in the league, with the fewest regular season victories – 40 – of last season’s playoff contenders) to win the Stanley Cup.

That achievement, however, overlooks the fact the Kings were a much better team than their regular season record. They overcame a sluggish mid-season (thanks in part to hiring Darryl Sutter as head coach in mid-December) and with the addition of Jeff Carter in a trade with Columbus rallied down the stretch.

They were, and still are, a club filled with talented young stars (most in their mid-to-late twenties) like forwards Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, defenseman Drew Doughty, and goaltender Jonathan Quick.

Of this group, Quick had the best season, his stats ranking him among the league’s elite during the regular season (he was runner-up to the Rangers Henrik Lundqvist for the Vezina Trophy). He was well-primed for a strong playoff run, carrying the Kings to the Stanley Cup and earning the Conn Smythe trophy for his efforts.

This was no rag-tag motley crew of plucky underdogs beating superior teams, but a well-disciplined club led by young stars in their prime overcoming an inconsistent regular season to peak in the post-season.

Upsets regularly occur in the NHL playoffs, but most take place in the first couple of rounds. Underdogs don’t often reach the Conference Finals, let alone advance to the Cup Final.

Prior to the Kings championship run, the 2006 Edmonton Oilers were the last 8th seeded team to reach the Stanley Cup Final, falling to the Carolina Hurricanes in seven hard-fought, entertaining games. 

Four seventh-seeded clubs (the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers, 2003 Anaheim then-Mighty Ducks, 1999 Buffalo Sabres and the 1994 Vancouver Canucks) advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, all falling short of a championship.

The 2012 New Jersey Devils and the 2004 Calgary Flames were the only sixth seeded teams to advance to the Cup Final. They, too, fell short.

Most of those clubs could be considered underdogs, lacking the depth in talent of the 2012 Kings. The 2010 Flyers were the sole exception. Like the Kings, they were a better team than their regular season record indicated, though they lacked the latter’s depth in goal.

To summarize, in eighteen years under the current NHL playoff format, only two eighth seeds, four seventh seeds and two sixth seeds have advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Of those, only one won the Cup. That doesn’t bode well for fans of marginal playoff contenders with dreams of a championship dancing in their heads.

Sure, anything can happen in the playoffs, even an eighth seed winning the Stanley Cup. Just remember, it’s only happened once, and by a team which was superior to its regular season record.

So, cheer for your marginal playoff club, maybe they’ll pull off an upset or two, but don’t compare it to the 2012 LA Kings.

7 Comments

  1. Lyle, if you go through the respective rosters, it’s clear that a marginal playoff team such as, oh say, the Leafs, simply doesn’t match up with the Kings. It’s a great step along the way for Toronto to get back to the dance and the future looks much brighter than it has but not yet.
    I’ll be very interested to see how the Kings do this year – they need goaltending like they got from Jonathan Quick last year. Speaking of goaltending – the answer is “James Reimer”. What is the question?
    Cheers!

    • Of course, this year’s version of the Leafs doesn’t match up with the Kings. I wasn’t trying to single any fans of any one team. I’m simply pointing out to some fans who buy into the myth of “once you make the playoffs, anything can happen” that it simply doesn’t work that way.

      You, of course, are like most fans, taking a sensible approach and tempering your expectations. I daresay most Leafs fans are just pleased the club is poised to finally return to the playoffs after eight long years. My wife is a Leafs fan and so are several of my friends, and they all say the same thing: “Just make the playoffs this year, and we’ll be happy”.

      Of course, if they make the playoffs this year, next year, they’ll not only have to make the playoffs, but also win a round or two.

  2. Sorry Lyle. I have disagree. The Rangers mirror the 2012 Kings.

    The Rangers are a club filled with talented young stars (most in their mid-to-late twenties *OK- couple of early 30′s*) like forwards Rick Nash (28), Ryan Callahan (28), Derek Stepan (22) and Brad Richards (32), defenseman Ryan McDonagh (23) and Marc Staal (26), and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (31).

    The Rangers record overlooks the fact they are much better team than their regular season record. They overcame a sluggish mid-season (thanks in part to Ryan Callahan returning from injury) and with the addition of Derrick Brassard and John Moore in a trade with Columbus rallied* (*TBD) down the stretch.

    The 2012 Kings had trouble scoring goals (AV/G 2.25)
    The 2013 Rangers have trouble scoring goals (AV/G 2.33)

    The 2012 Kings kept the puck out of their own net (AV/G 2.03)
    The 2013 Rangers keep the puck out of their own net (AV/G 2.26)

    They both have potential Vezina quality goaltending.

    Their team save percentages are almost identical. (92 vs 92.4%)

    Their PP% is nearly the same. (16.5 vs 17%)

    The Rangers are only one season removed from getting the most points in the Eastern Conference (2012) so it is not like this group does not have history of success. The 2011 LA Kings finished in 7th before finishing 8th the next season and winning the cup.

    If there is an marginal 8th place team to compare to the 2012 Kings I would argue that it would be the 2013 Rangers.

    • Nice work with the stats, but what have they won? Nothing yet. Talk to me in June if they’ve won the Stanley Cup. Otherwise, my point stands.

      • I would also argue the Kings weren’t dealing with a hot-tempered coach they appear to be tuning out, plus you overlook Staal still hasn’t returned to action. His absence is a huge void on their blueline. The stats may be similar, but they’re also not the same group of people as the Kings were. You can’t measure emotion, desire and determination. Do the Rangers have it in the same measure as the Kings did last season? Maybe, but right now, we don’t even know if they’ll even make the playoffs.

    • First they have to make the playoff’s which at this point is no sure thing…

  3. the ’94 Cup Final ranks among the best of all time. the series had it all great goaltending, HOF players, and 2 teams at the top of their games in an epic series that went the full 7 games and was a goalpost away from having to be decided in OT. the tone for the series was set in the first game where Vancouver won in OT despite losing their gamebreaking superstar (Bure) when his stick inadvertently clipped a Ranger player and he got tossed(yet a couple of games later Messier delivered a 2 hander to Brian Glynn’s head drawing blood and only got 4 minutes making it back in time to score the tying goal and set up the winner … explain how that’s fair). it was revealed after the playoffs that Vancouver captain Linden was playing with broken ribs suffered earlier in the playoffs and had to have them frozen before every game. Linden saved his best for game 7 where he scored both of Vancouver’s goals and would’ve assisted on LaFayette’s tying goal had it not hit the post. anyone who watched that series would’ve been hard pressed to tell you which team was the 7th seed going into the playoffs.
    one thing you forgot to mention about the Kings playoff run was they received a HUGE boost when Vancouver’s top scoring winger Daniel Sedin wasn’t available for the start of the playoffs due to a cheap vicious elbow by Keith to his head. it was a low scoring series that turned on 2 goals (game 1 & 3 were 1 goal games decided in the 3rd period ), once Sedin came back Vancouver won and only lost the last game in OT, arguably the reigning Art Ross winner could’ve been a gamechanger in a low scoring series.