BOSTON — The NHL has a lot of parity. Making the Stanley Cup playoffs one season can just as easily be followed by missing the 16-team tournament the very next year.
It’s a hard league to establish consistency in.
When the league made several rule changes — including the creation of a salary cap — coming out of the 2004-05 lockout, parity greatly increased. The next seven seasons featured seven different champions, and just two of the 14 finalists over that span reached that round multiple times.
There hasn’t been a repeat Stanley Cup champion since 1998. It’s the longest back-to-back title drought among the four major North American sports leagues.
“Our competitive balance is so extraordinary,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Friday at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston.
“Last year, we had seven teams that made the playoffs that didn’t the year before. If the playoffs started (Friday), I believe there would be six teams that weren’t in the playoffs last year that are in this year. Our teams are constantly looking for whatever information will give them an edge.”
What else does Bettman attribute the competitive balance to?
“The economic system that we have,” Bettman said. “We paid a high price to get it, but the fact of the matter is we have a system where all teams can afford to compete, and as a result, we probably have the best competitive balance in our history and the best competitive balance in all of sports because we will go down to the wire to determine playoff matchups.”
The league’s parity is being challenged a bit, though, at least as far as crowning a champion is concerned.
Beginning the with the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, when the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in six games to end an almost 40-year title drought, the Hawks (2010, 2013, 2015) and Los Angeles Kings (2012, 2014) have won five of the last six Stanley Cup Final series.
That trend could continue this season as Chicago is tied for the best record in the Western Conference and Los Angeles leads the Pacific Division. Each team improved at the trade deadline and isn’t dealing with any catastrophic injuries.
These franchises are well set up for the future, too. Throughout their respective tenures, Chicago general manager Stan Bowman and L.A. general manager Dean Lombardi have signed superstars to long term contracts, have drafted well and have owned the trade deadline, giving their team a fantastic chance to be successful for the foreseeable future.
Parity is great, but dynasties and dominant teams also can be exciting and good for the league.
The Golden State Warriors and superstar guard Stephen Curry are owning the NBA and are the overwhelming favorites to repeat as champions. The NBA is greatly benefiting from the Warriors’ pursuit of history and Curry’s historic season. People are talking about the Warriors on all major TV networks and kids throughout the world are trying to imitate the great shooting of Curry.
There’s no reason why the Blackhawks and/or Kings can’t do the same for hockey as a dominant franchise with great players.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images
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