EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Darryl Sutter remembers being in the barn on his 1,500-acre cattle farm near Viking, Alta., when he first got the call from GM Dean Lombardi about the Los Angeles Kings coaching job. Let’s just say he was multi-tasking that late-December afternoon.
“I wasn’t shoveling sh–, I remember that,” Sutter said, “but I had that day. I was probably warming up. It was cold.”
Including the playoffs, the Kings have gone 40-15-11 since then and are now one win away from hoisting the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history. We are contractually obliged at this point in the proceedings to inform you that three teams in NHL history have come back from 3-0 deficits, including the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1942, a team that overcame a 3-0 hole to win the Stanley Cup. But as New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer pointed out, “I think ’42 is a little far back for anything I remember.”
But clearly, it’s time for the guys with the white gloves from the Hockey Hall of Fame to make their appearance. The Kings remain remarkably composed and spent the day between Games 3 and 4 reminding everyone they haven’t accomplished anything yet. But deep down, they and the Devils know what everyone else who has watched this series has determined.
This series is over. The Devils stood valiantly on the off-day Tuesday and professed their confidence in the group, but they look like a beaten group. When asked what he would most remember about this season, Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said, “That it was a great season. We did a lot of good things. There are 28 other teams that would love to be in the position we’re in right now.”
It’s one thing to be down 3-0, it’s another to have scored just two goals in the Stanley Cup final, neither of which came off a clear shot on goal. There has not been one moment in this series when the Devils have had a shred of momentum in their favor. Anyone who would attempt to make the case otherwise is shoveling more animal excrement than Sutter did back in his barn. The only question now is whether the Kings will complete the clean kill with a victory on home ice in Game 4 or allow the New Jersey Devils to win a game. If the Kings manage to win Wednesday night, they’ll match the playoff mark established by the 1988 Edmonton Oilers, who went 16-2 en route to the Stanley Cup.
And that is where the comparisons must end. The Kings are on a remarkable run to be sure, but to compare this team to the Oilers, or any other dynasty the NHL has had, is patently ridiculous.
In 1988, the Oilers won their fourth Stanley Cup in five years. They had five Hall of Fame players in their lineup in Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr. Gretzky missed 16 games and still managed to score 149 points.
It’s not right and it’s not fair to compare this Kings team to an outfit like the Oilers. The Kings have been breathtakingly impressive in this playoff run to be sure, but they are basically following a pattern that has been established in the 21st century by Stanley Cup winning teams. Capturing the Cup is no longer about building the best team in the NHL, it’s about building a team that is capable of being the best for a very short period of time. The closest thing we’ll ever see to a dynasty in the NHL is the Detroit Red Wings, a team that is among the best in the league almost every season, is always in the mix to win and manages to do it every couple of years.
In the NHL, dynasties have been replaced by teams that capture lightning in a bottle for eight weeks. The salary cap, parity and the grueling marathon that is the NHL post-season are all responsible for this. The mentality that all you have to do is make the playoffs and anything can happen has never received more credence than it has this season. And in a league that copies blueprints of winning teams, it’s an approach that will undoubtedly be replicated by teams that think they might have an opportunity to win one Stanley Cup.
When the Kings were fighting for their playoff lives at the trade deadline, Kings GM Dean Lombardi traded defenseman Jack Johnson to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jeff Carter, who hadn’t even completed the first year of an 11-year, $58 million contract. Carter has performed reasonably well for the Kings since he was acquired and was a clear difference maker when he scored a hat trick in Game 2 of the Western Conference final and the overtime winner in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final.
But how is that contract going to look five years from now? It doesn’t matter because the Kings will be able to point back to their magical run in 2012 and know that getting Carter was a risk worth taking. But that’s also why there are probably going to be term limits on contracts in the next collective bargaining agreement.
Because teams know the best they can hope for is to find their game and get into a groove for two months during the playoffs every couple of years, the way the Kings have this spring.
Ken Campbell will file daily from the Stanley Cup final.