Monday, April 13, 2009

It's Now How You Finish, It's Where You Finish

We admit, we had a little too much free time on our hands Saturday and went back through some records because we've mentioned before the effect of the overall standings on a team's chances of winning the Stanley Cup in that, with exception of the New Jersey Devils in the lockout shortened 1995 season, no team that has ever finished lower than 7th overall has ever won the Stanley Cup. This is why we've never bought into the old "just make the playoffs" theory. Sure teams that snuck into the playoffs at the end with a low seed have made waves and inspiring runs, but they've always come up short of what is the ultimate goal, winning the Stanley Cup.

So only the San Jose Sharks, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Washington Capitals, New Jersey Devils, Chicago Blackhawks, the Vancouver Canucks have a real shot at this year's Cup. Vancouver's chances hinged on the result of the Flyers-Rangers game yesterday. The Flyers loss dropped them to 9th and is why Vancouver finished seventh.

This of course means that the Pittsburgh Penguin Scum, Philadelphia Flyers, Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Columbus Blue Jackets, Anaheim Thug Ducks, and St. Louis Blues are all nothing but cannon fodder/spoilers for the serious contenders.

The NHL has exclusively awarded the Stanley Cup to its playoff champion since 1927. 36 times the team that finished first overall, this year San Jose, went onto win the Cup. It happened last year too and interestingly enough, the last four times a team has won the President's Trophy, awarded to the team with the best record in the regular season, and the Stanley Cup, that team has come from the Western Conference. Only once has team from the Eastern/Wales Conference won the President's Trophy and the Stanley Cup. That was the New York Rangers in 1994. The President's Trophy has been awarded since 1986 and only seven times has the President's Trophy winner gone onto win the Cup. Two President's Trophy Winners, the 1990 Boston Bruins and 1995 Detroit Red Wings lost in the Stanley Cup finals. So if San Jose ends up in the Stanley Cup Finals, you have plenty of reasons to bet on them to win.

Overall the 2nd place team, this year the Boston Bruins, have only won the Cup 17 times since 1927. Since the 1979 Montreal Canadiens, the second overall finishers have only won the Cup once a decade, the 1985 Edmonton Oilers, the 1996 Colorado Avalanche, and the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning. So if you had doubts about Boston, keep them.

The third overall finisher has 10 Cups since 1927 but has only three Cups since the end of the Original Six era in 1967. The 1975 Philadelphia Flyers, the 1988 Edmonton Oilers, and 1998 Detroit Red Wings have overcome the handicap. Can Detroit do it again and repeat? The three other 3rd overall finishers since 1967 did. The interesting note about the 3rd overall spot, it was the position that the Toronto Maple Leafs came from in 1967 to win the Cup. Every serious hockey fan knows that the Leafs haven't even reached a Cup final since then.

The fifth and sixth place finishers, this year New Jersey and Chicago, have won a total of four Stanley Cups each. The most recent of the bunch was the 1997 Detroit Red Wings who were 7th. The 1980 New York Islanders were the first fifth place finisher since the 1938 Chicago Blackhawks, who finished 6th, to come from that far down in the standings to win the Cup. Most of the fifth and sixth place finishers come from the 1990's, with the 1990 Edmonton Oilers (5th), 1997 Detroit Red Wings (5th), 1993 Montreal Canadiens, and 1992 Pittsburgh Penguin Scum (both 6th overall) getting the job done. The 1983 New York Islanders (6th) and 1928 New York Rangers (5th) complete the Club.

Seventh isn't very advantageous either, Vancouver. Only twice, the 1991 Pittsburgh Penguin Scum and 1986 Montreal Canadiens won the Cup from there.

That leaves, the fourth overall finisher, this year the Washington Capitals. The fourth place team has won the Cup 7 times since 1927. So at first blush, ignoring the questions surrounding the team, Caps fans should be doing something other than scouting out spots on Pennsylvania Avenue for a Stanley Cup parade in June. But not so fast folks, 5 of the 7 Cups have been won by the 4th place team since the end of the Original Six Era in 1967. Still not impressed? Ok, the first of that bunch was the 1971 Montreal Canadiens, the next one didn't happen until the 2000 New Jersey Devils. Of the 5 Post-Expansion era Cups, four have occurred in this decade. In addition to the 2000 Devils, the 2003 Devils, the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes, and 2007 Anaheim Thug Ducks have won the Stanley Cup after finishing 4th overall.

That's the most any standings position has won the Cup this decade. #1 has done it 3 times, and #2 just once. We also learned that certain decades favored certain positions over others since the expansion era began. The #1 teams dominated the 70's and 80's but team outside of the top four were successful in the 90's. Right now in the first decade of 2000, the fourth place finishers have the edge. Will the Caps be able to hold serve this year? We don't think so but there's certainly some good history on our side.

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