When the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup earlier this year, the natural question asked around the hockey world (besides "will Chara melt it with the sun from lifting it so high) was: can they do it again?
The back-to-back Stanley Cup champion is as rare in the NHL as a "Todd Bertuzzi Fan Club" in Denver or a "Chris Osgood belongs in the Hall of Fame" post written by Ryan Lambert. The idea that a team can climb the mountain at the end of a hockey year then start all over the following season and do it again is a noble one, but hasn't come to pass in 13 years. We as fans have been deprived of a true dynasty since Bill Ranford and Mark Messier proved that Wayne Gretzky was the true passenger of the Oiler teams in the 1980s.
Rory Boylen of The Hockey News asked an intriguing question when he wondered "What Defines a Sports Dynasty?" I think that a lot of us have the same thoughts when it comes to the criteria involved in determining whether a team qualifies as a "dynasty" or not, but in the modern era we need to re-think how we evaluate organizations.
Do you know where I'm going with this? Well, considering the team we write for around here, I think you do. Follow the jump to see if you're right.
Looking back, there are obvious dynasties throughout NHL history. The Canadiens of the late 1950s won 5 Stanley Cups in a row, a record that will never be broken, and followed that up by winning 4 in a row in the late 1970s. The Islanders of the early 1980s picked up where the Habs left off, winning 4 consecutive Cups of their own, only to be knocked off by an upstart Oilers team that would dominate the rest of the decade.
What all of these teams have in common is that they won multiple championships in a row, except the Oilers, who won 5 Cups in 7 years. That's a remarkable stretch of dominance that few teams have ever matched. The question posed by Boylen is "What defines a dynasty?", and the first thing that comes to mind is teams that win consecutive titles or a lot of them over a very defined space of time.
I, like Boylen, believe the idea of a "dynasty" as we thought is dead. I find it difficult to imagine that a team will ever win 3 Cups in a row ever again, and 5 is almost unthinkable. Therefore, I believe that the old way of defining a dynasty needs to be tweaked, especially if the biggest reason for being considered a dynasty may never occur again? Looking back at the last 20 years (since the Oilers won their last Cup and their dynasty ended), what is a "dynasty"?
I tend to think, like Boylen does, that it's a team that dominates competition over a long period of time. This is why the Red Wings qualify. The multiple championships argument is out, because they never won more than 2 in a row, although the fact that the 1998 Wings team was the last to repeat as champions should speak volumes about how difficult it is to maintain that high level of success. However, 3 Cups in 6 years with a 4th occurring 6 years after that is something no team has done in the last 2 decades.
If we use 1990-91 as the starting point, that just so happens to coincide with the beginning of the Wings' playoff streak that last season reached 20 consecutive years. Consider what the Wings have done in that time: 20 playoff appearances; 14 division titles; 11-straight 100 point seasons; 8 Conference Finals appearances; 6 Stanley Cup Finals appearances, with 4 of those teams skating that beautiful trophy around the ice. The only other team that even comes close to the Wings are the Devils, but last season's belly flop of a performance combined with their ruining hockey for the rest of us by introducing the trap puts them firmly in the Wings' rearview mirror.
Boylen ponders whether the Sharks could be considered next in line behind the Wings, and to that I say: ah, hell no. While the Sharks have been very good for the last 5-6 years, they have been paper champions, able to barrel through the regular season before falling far short of their goal. Hell, they've never even been to a Cup Final in their history, and while back-to-back conference finals appearances are nice, it would behoove them to win more than 1 game in those 2 series before we start celebrating them as a dominating team.
The other 2 teams that have been discussed as possible future dynasties are the Penguins and Blackhawks. I'll wait for every Wing fan reading this to go empty your stomach contents at the possibility that Pittsburgh and Chicago could dominate the NHL landscape for the next 10-15 years. They get mentioned because they have both already won a Cup, and have a young nucleus of stars that should keep them at or near the top of the standings for years to come.
However, the Penguins are very top heavy in that they rely on Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to lead their team. Given the injury histories of both players (especially Crosby, who is dealing with concussions and has no timetable for his return), the loss of either one of those players makes the team worse. The Pens would still be a very good team with one of them, but given the parity in the NHL today not having 2 superstars of that caliber in the lineup would not result in many years of domination.
The Blackhawks are the opposite, in that their top talent is locked up for years (and still young), and their issue lies in their depth. They won the Cup in 2010 on the backs of not only their stars but also guys like Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien and John Madden; players who ate up valuable minutes, performed above expectations, and took the pressure off the top line to produce night in and night out. Third and fourth line players have the most movement in the NHL, as they are the ones who can improve the most in a playoff run and get themselves a nice contract offer as a result. Plus, it's not often that you see a checking line center get locked up to a 8 year contract. Because of the fluidity of their bottom two lines, the Hawks can't be guaranteed to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders year in and year out. As shown last year, they may even struggle just to make the playoffs if they lose a player or two to injury.
With the Red Wings seemingly on the decline and the retirement of many of their former heroes, one can't help but wonder if we are witnessing the end of the "dynasty" era. The idea of one team winning multiple championships in a very short, defined time period is very hard to believe at this time. Consider that since the Red Wings completed their back-to-back Cup wins in 1998, 10 different franchises have won Stanley Cups, with only the Wings and Devils able to accomplish the feat more than once. We're about to enter a season in which there are at least 3-4 legitimate Cup contenders in each conference, including last year's champion. Is there a team out there that can go on a run and dominate the NHL for years to come? And if so, what level of domination is necessary for them to be known as a "dynasty"?