“Just get in to the playoffs, and you never know what can happen!”
That’s the message we are fed by the media, and by bubble teams when it comes to the playoffs and Cup contention. They’re partially right, because you have a 0% chance of winning the Stanley Cup if you don’t make the post season.
Since fans of any given team will dismiss damning statistics and tell themselves whatever they need to in order to continue to believe that their team has a good shot at glory, I expect that most fans of bubble teams (hello Habs fans!) that happen to be reading this will completely ignore or dismiss what they’re about to read.
The below table of Cup winners since ’94 will show you that since the Habs last won the Cup in ’93, that if you don’t start the playoffs with home ice advantage, your chances of winning the Cup aren’t much higher than zero. If the following breakdown doesn’t sober you up, or pop the lenses out of your bleu-blanc-rouge coloured goggles, then I’m afraid nothing will. In that case, may I suggest heading to the online Canadian Pharmacy (why get off the couch?) and buying the the most potent drugs you can afford in order to clear the cobwebs?
|Cup Winner||Started Playoffs With Home Ice?||Cup Finalist||Started Playoffs With Home Ice?|
|00-01||Avalanche (D,C,L)||Yes||Devils (D,C)||Yes|
|01-02||Red Wings (D,C,L)||Yes||Hurricanes (D)||Yes|
|07-08||Red Wings (D,C,L)||Yes||Penguins (D)||Yes|
|08-09||Penguins||Yes||Red Wings (D)||Yes|
|10-11||Bruins (D)||Yes||Canucks (D,C,L)||Yes|
(D) = Division winner
(C) = Conference winner
(L) = League champ
It’s pretty resounding, isn’t it? Of the last 34 teams to play for the Cup, only 7 teams (21%) didn’t start the playoffs with home ice. That doesn’t sound too bad, and it sounds almost like a team has a puncher’s chance of winning it all if they could just get to the finals. Not so much. Of those 7 teams, only the Devils in 1995 actually did win it all without the benefit of the home ice (and really, given the sleep inducing hockey they won with, would it have mattered if they did?). That’s 1 team in 34, or 3%. What’s more? The last FIFTEEN consecutive Cup winners all had home ice advantage to start the playoffs. I’d call that more than a trend. Indeed, 16 of the last 17 Cup winners (94%) entered the playoffs with home ice advantage, and 11 of the last 17 runners-up (64%) did the same. Uh-oh.
I won’t blame you if you bury your head now.
On the bright side, we Habs fans could always aspire to be like the 2006 Oilers, who pushed the Hurricanes to the absolute brink of game 7 in the Cup Finals, and maybe they would have won it if they hadn’t lost Dwayne Roloson for the deciding game.
Looking back at the NHL since it’s major realignment in 98-99, 10 out of 12 Cup winners (83%) won their division (and thus had home ice). Even 6 of the 12 losers had won their division. Indeed, it appears as though the path to winning the Cup goes through winning your division. Perhaps this is why I’m so disappointed in the Canadiens. My simplistic brain told me that a team that finished the 2010-11 season with 96 points would improve upon that total with a full season of Max Pacioretty, the addition of Erik Cole and a healthy Josh Gorges (with Markov yet to show up). Silly me!
So if you see me on twitter, or read this blog and find that I’m too critical, or “glass half empty”, you now see the reason why. While I love the players on the team, and want them to succeed, I believe in precedent, in historical records and in trends. We make all kinds of excuses why the Canadiens didn’t beat the Islanders last week, why they get stymied time after time by a “hot goalie”, and why it’s ok for them to be where they are (“just wait until everyone is back!” – don’t talk to me about injuries. Habs fans have done a terrific job of pretending that they’re the only team with guys out of the lineup). The hard truth is that the mantra of “you never know” is pretty much rubbish, and the above facts prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt. That doesn’t mean that I don’t root for the Habs with everything I’ve got, because I do and I always will. But I’m also not blind to reality. When it comes to sneaking in to the playoffs, all you’ve done is given yourself a tiny chance to win the Cup. Is that enough for you? For me, it’s not.