SCP: Just How Good is the Parity?
As the Stanley Cup Playoffs kicked off earlier this week, there were a few surprise teams that are working on their golf game early, rather than competing for the Cup. None bigger than the Edmonton Oilers….oh wait that was my attempt at humor.
Those teams that stand out though are the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings, and the 2011 Cup Champs Boston Bruins. Both clubs came into the season with high expectations not only to make the playoffs but of course go deep. While these clubs didn’t play up to expectations this season for varying reasons, this also shows the continued parity and overall depth around the National Hockey League.
In the past, especially in the 90s, if a lower seeded team beat a much higher seeded club, it was normally considered a huge upset because of the disparity between the clubs during the regular season.
Lets look at the playoff matchups for more evidence.
Looking at this year, in the Eastern Conference, the top seeded New York Rangers (my pick to win it all) face the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens, similar to the Kings and Bruins were considered by many a legitimate Cup contender when the season began. They ended up barely getting into the playoffs, however, the Pens despite injuries and lack of overall depth up front, still have that Sidney Crosby fellow and Evgeni Malkin. While the Rangers should win this series, it shows the parity example more in that a team that has two of the top five players in the world barely got into the playoffs, yet anything is possible once the playoffs begin.
The other Eastern Conference division winner, Montréal Canadiens kicked off their first round series Tuesday with a victory over the Ottawa Senators, in a highly heated battle that should only get better. So here we have the Habs, who were one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference all season, doing battle against a Sens team that looked like they had no shot at the playoffs in February-early March. The Sens were one of the leagues hottest clubs to end the season and despite being the much lowered seed, it would not be a surprise at all if they advanced. (Plus I’m picking them to advance). 😉
In the West, the Pacific Division winning Anaheim Ducks, who also are the top seed in the conference began their series with the very big and physical Winnipeg Jets. Again, the Jets made some nice moves near the trade deadline and played outstanding hockey during the stretch drive. While their main question is goaltending, there is no doubt their forward and defense corps are very solid and will give the Ducks fits. While it’s just one game of course, the Jets took a one goal lead into the third period of game one, before the Ducks rallied. Again, it’s just one game and the Ducks played a ton of close games during the regular season, but while I feel the Ducks will advance, this will not be a huge upset if the Jets pull it off as their size can wear down the opposition and they have enough speed and skill to compete with some of the leagues best clubs.
The Central Division winning St. Louis Blues have had a nice core for a number of years now, however, they have not been able to find playoff success. In recent seasons they’ve had to meet up with the Chicago Blackhawks and Kings, which of course the past three seasons those clubs have sent the Blues packing. With the continued development of top young stars Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz, the Blues finally boost top line offensive talent to go with their overall outstanding depth. Can young goaltender Jake Allen get the job done? We’ll see. So you think, aw the Blues, great team, great regular season. Nobody should be taken lightly but they are probably playing a much weaker opponent right? Right? Wrong! The Blues first round opponent, the Minnesota Wild were the best team in West after the all-star break. Once they acquired goaltender Devan Dubnyk from the Arizona Coyotes, they went on a huge roll and never looked back. These clubs are much closer in comparison than their seedings suggest. So while the Blues are my pick to get out of the West, it’s not going to be easy and they’ve already lost home ice advantage in round one as the Wild defeated them in the series opener. It will be a surprise to nobody if the lower seeded Wild take this series.
We can go on all day and night about this.
Some Friday morning tidbits.
Good day to Craig Berube, as he was fired Friday morning as head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Dallas Stars signed calder trophy candidate defenseman John Klingberg to a seven-year deal worth an average annual value of $4.25 million.
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