When the playoffs begin every year from now on we will be reminded of the 2012 Los Angeles Kings and their magical, swift run to the Stanley Cup as a No. 8 seed.
It will supposedly give hope to bottom seeded teams everywhere, and if they could get hot in the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup, then anybody can.
If only it were that easy. Based on this column from Bob Sansevere at Fox Sports North on Thursday (If Wild make playoffs, they can win playoffs) that talk has already started.
A brief excerpt:
Good news for the Wild and other fair to middling NHL teams. You don't need a spectacular regular season to win the Stanley Cup.
You don't even need an exceptional one.
You just need to get into the playoffs and get hot, as the Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings did as the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference.
The Kings offer hope to teams such as the Wild that a Stanley Cup might not be that far off if you can just heat up at the right time.
Let's keep in mind that bottom seeds have a pretty poor playoff track record. Since the NHL went to the current 1 vs. 8 format during the 1993-94 season only 10 of the 36 teams in the No. 8 spot have won a playoff round. Only three (including the Kings) advanced past the second round. That already puts a significant dent in the argument. The overwhelming majority of Cup winners come from one of the top-four seeds in their conference
We've also already addressed the perception that the Kings were a team that simply got hot in the playoffs and how it's not entirely true. They actually started to get hot all the way back in December, then caught fire in late February and never looked back.A bad start to the season (and a little bad luck in the form of an historically low shooting percentage that wasn't going to be sustained) had the Kings hovering around .500 through early December. It forced them to dig themselves out of a pretty deep hole in the second half in an extremely competitive Western Conference. They changed coaches, made a significant player addition during the middle of the season (Jeff Carter), and were pretty much unbeatable the rest of the way.
The other thing to keep in mind here is that the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings were a bit of a fluke. Not that they won the Stanley Cup. That was very legitimate. This is a team with All-Star talent up and down its roster, has great goaltending, and seems to be extremely well coached. They should be set up to be contenders for the foreseeable future, especially with such a large portion of their core not only signed to long-term contracts, but also signed to relatively cap-friendly contracts.
Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, for example, will make about $9 million -- combined! -- over the next two seasons. That's a steal.
A playoff hopeful like the Minnesota Wild (one of the longest shots to win the Stanley Cup next season, according to the early odds from Bovada) doesn't have anywhere near the level of talent the Kings have.
Very few teams in the NHL do.
The fluke wasn't the playoff run itself for the Kings. The fluke was the fact this team was even a No. 8 seed to begin with. They were better than that. Significantly better than that. And it was shown in their ability to dominate possession, which they did better than almost every other team in the NHL this season.
Such teams are almost always among the best in the NHL and either win the Stanley Cup, or finish as a top seed heading into the playoffs and seriously contend for the Cup. It's a common trait that all top teams (and almost all champions) have. Based on their ability to control the pace of the game they should have been viewed as a much better team than their seed and final record would have suggested when the playoffs started.
(And this isn't 20/20 hindsight after the fact, knowing that they won the Cup. I said the same thing before the first round started).
The Kings finished the regular season as one of the top Fenwick teams (a measure of possession, which is the percentage of 5-on-5 shots on goal and shots that miss the net taken by the team) in the NHL in every situation. They should have won more games during the regular season. If they maintain that sort of dominance over their opponents next season they most likely will.
Fenwick data is broken down by game situation (tied, close game, up by one goal, etc.) over at BehindTheNet.
Here are the rankings for the past five Stanley Cup winners by situation, and some additional commentary below...
|Past Stanley Cup Winners: Fenwick Rankings by situation|
|Team||Fenwick Tied||Fenwick Close||Up 1||Up 2|
|Los Angeles Kings (2011-12)||3rd||4th||4th||8th|
|Boston Bruins (2010-11)||16th||14th||14th||18th|
|Chicago Blackhawks (2009-10)||1st||1st||1st||1st|
|Pittsburgh Penguins (2008-09)***||18th***||14th***||15th***||26th***|
|Detroit Red Wings (2007-08)||1st||1st||1st||1st|
-- The 2008-09 Penguins have the asterisks next to them because they're pretty a unique team on the list that should probably be addressed. They played for two different coaches that season, using two entirely different systems, and had very different results in the standings with each one.
For the first part of the season they were led by Michel Therrien (now the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens), whose system was a bit passive offensively, and resulted in the Penguins getting absolutely crushed in the possession game as they spent most of the time defending in their own zone. It was sabotaging their season and skilled roster. Wasting it, actually.
Under Therrien during the '08-09 season the Penguins were one of the worst possession teams in the league (46.7 percent Fenwick rating, which would have finished the season in the bottom-five) and were in danger of missing the playoffs with a 27-25-5 record when they made their coaching change. Had they not made that change and continued to allow teams to take the game to them they very easily could have missed the postseason. Instead, they smartly made significant changes behind the bench and on the ice. As soon as Dan Bylsma took over the Penguins style of play shifted in the complete opposite direction and they went from being one of the worst possession teams in the league under Therrien, to one of the very best under Bylsma (52.8 percent Fenwick rating under Bylsma, which would have been top-five in the NHL).
Their record under Bylsma the rest of the season, including playoffs, as they dominated their opponents: 34-11-4.
-- Last year's Bruins weren't a dominant possession team by any stretch of the imagination (they were pretty average, actually) but they did have something that few other teams have that was able to make up for it -- an incredible 1-2 punch in goal with Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask that no other team in the NHL could roll out into the crease every night.
The point here is that a team's ability to possess the puck is vitally important to its ability to win games and championships, as four of the past five Cup winners have shown. (The fifth one had historically good goaltending.)
We shouldn't expect the Kings to win next season at the same ridiculous pace they did over the last half of this season and playoffs, but they will be closer to that team than the team that struggled through October and November.
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