When the expected 48-game NHL season kicks off Jan. 19, the margin for error will be slimmer than we’re used to. Whereas a five-game losing skid could be just a blip on the radar for a playoff team in any other year, it could spell the end of its Stanley Cup hopes in a shortened season.
But the best teams and players will come through. By no means should this season be considered illegitimate or the Stanley Cup ceremony tainted.
History shows a shortened season is unlikely to produce a flash-in-the-pan champion. In 1995, the West’s eight playoff teams remained the same from the prior season, while in the East, Quebec (11th to first) and Philadelphia (10th to second), were the only two new teams. Far from being lucky and taking advantage of an abbreviated schedule, these two teams used 1995 as a launching pad: Quebec moved to Colorado and won the 1996 Stanley Cup with mostly the same key players, while Philadelphia entered a decade of relevancy after missing the post-season five years in a row. Meanwhile, the Islanders missed the playoffs for the first time in what turned out to be a seven-year drought.
The Detroit Red Wings, who had advanced past the first round of the playoffs only once in the previous six seasons, lost in the Stanley Cup final and ushered in an era of dominance and franchise stability that still lingers today. After 1995, they advanced to the conference final three times in a row, winning the Stanley Cup twice.
The New Jersey Devils played off Martin Brodeur’s Calder-winning 1993-94 season and conference final appearance and won their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Though they surprised and missed the playoffs in 1996, they then began a run that included three straight division titles, three conference titles in four years and two Cups.
Even the individual performances and awards were earned without any glitch: Eric Lindros built off a 97-point 1993-94 season to win the Hart Trophy and recorded 115 points in 1995-96; Dominik Hasek, winner of the 1994 Vezina, held it for the 1995 season; and Paul Coffey, still going strong, won his third and final Norris Trophy and followed it up with a 74-point season.
While injuries could throw a wrench in any team’s plan, especially in a short year when conditioning could be in question, the same can be said for any other season. Teams still have to take on all comers in the post-season and navigate through – and history shows there’s little reason to believe the top teams and ultimate winner should be considered tainted.
Stamkos, Malkin, Giroux - Kings, Rangers, Canucks. Expect all of them to be back, with a vengeance.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.
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