The travails of the Pittsburgh Penguins this season should teach NHL teams one very important lesson – whatever you do, don’t lose in the Stanley Cup final.
Because over the past decade-plus, losing the Cup final has proved to be kryptonite for most NHL teams. Almost all of them have followed their appearance in the final by sinking to a level below mediocrity for the following seasons. Of course, some of that can be attributed to the fact some of those teams had no business playing in the final in the first place – the Edmonton Oilers in 2006, the Anaheim Ducks in 2003 and the Florida Panthers in 1996 come to mind – but it is almost uncanny how teams seem to fall flat on their faces after coming so close to hockey’s biggest prize.
Over the past 11 seasons, the team losing in the Stanley Cup final has made it out of the first round of the playoffs the following year only once – the Dallas Stars got to the second round in 2001 after losing the final to the New Jersey Devils in 2000. Four finalists failed to return to the playoffs a year after their run, a number that will grow by one unless the Penguins start playing with some level of consistency down the stretch.
Some have pointed to the oft-used Stanley Cup hangover, but if that exists, why did the Ottawa Senators get out of the gate with a 15-2-0 record to start the 2007-08 season? More than a hangover, the real reason for a team’s lack of success, at least in the salary cap era, lies more in what kinds of roster decisions the team makes after going to the final.
The reason for the Penguins’ demise has been fairly easy to figure out. With the top-end players they have in their lineup, they had to give huge pay increases or risk losing them the way they did Ryan Malone. Marian Hossa not re-signing with the Penguins hurt them, but it says something about the direction an organization is headed when a player turns his back on a multi-year deal in order to go somewhere else for a one-year contract.
People will say Hossa left to win a Stanley Cup and that might be true, but did he not think he could win one in Pittsburgh with the talent the Penguins have? Obviously not, or he would have stayed there.
The problem with the Penguins is one that many teams that achieve success are having. They have to commit so much salary to their core players that there’s not enough left for the rest of the lineup. And if you don’t draft and develop cheap players well enough to fill those holes, then you’re forced to go out and sign the likes of Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko and fill the rest of your roster with minor league-caliber players.
People have a wide variance of opinion on TSN analyst Pierre McGuire. I happen to like him. His knowledge of the game within the game is unparalleled and his excitement level is refreshing.
The other night in the Toronto Maple Leafs game against the Buffalo Sabres, McGuire had the line of the year. The Sabres were in the midst of totally dominating the Leafs in the second period and in the middle of the play, McGuire quipped to play-by-play man Gord Miller, “They’re goin’ Red Army on them, Gord.”
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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