Joe Thornton, Antti Niemi and the San Jose Sharks have reached the Western Conference final in back-to-back years. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
After 2009’s Stanley Cup championship, the hockey world was buzzing at the prospect of a Pittsburgh Penguins dynasty. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Marc-Andre Fleury – all the main pieces that brought a title and back-to-back final appearances to Pittsburgh were in place and they were all still at the beginning of their careers.
Three years later, the Penguins are still a good hockey team, but now Crosby’s future is in limbo, Malkin’s production has waned and, because of the salary cap, there are constant questions surrounding the team’s ability to keep its three big centers and goalie together, while still icing a team with enough depth to win it all.
Did expectations spin out of control? Likely. Not since the Edmonton Oilers of the late-‘80s has the NHL had a traditional dynasty team. In the meantime, Major League Baseball has had the New York Yankees (1996, ’98, ’99, ‘00), the NFL has had the Dallas Cowboys (1993, ’94, ‘96) and New England Patriots (2002, ‘04, ‘05) and the NBA, of course, had the Chicago Bulls (1991, ’92, ’93. ’96, ’97, ’98) and L.A. Lakers (2000, ’01, ’02).
The question was even posed about the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 until the salary cap crushed that reality. The fact is, everyone is rooting for a traditional dynasty to come back and they have more of a positive influence on the league than a negative one. If it’s your team of choice, you’re on cloud nine – if it’s a team you loathe, you’ll pay attention just to be there for the downfall.
But in the salary cap age when big-market NHL teams can’t throw money around like the Yankees or Boston Red Sox to build a roster, can’t cut players without consequence as an NFL team can and can’t dedicate most of their payroll to just two or three star players to run roughshod on the league as often happens in the NBA, the traditional hockey dynasty is an endangered species.
It’s going overboard to say an Oilers, Islanders or Canadiens-type run of championships won’t ever happen again, but it’s surely becoming increasingly more difficult with the current business model and sheer number of teams. Perhaps it’s time to redefine what we consider a “dynasty.”
Think of baseball’s Atlanta Braves, for example. From 1991-2005, the Braves won 14 consecutive division titles and made the World Series five times, the last in 1999. But they only ever won the championship once, in 1995 - surely Bobby Cox’s boys were a dynasty.
The chances of a current NHL team winning three or four titles in a row seem to be growing slimmer. With 30 teams, there are more franchises than ever, each has the capability of going from worst to first in a matter of three or four years in the young man’s league and struggling expansion teams to beat on are a thing of the past. All you can reasonably expect from your team as its manager is that it will reach the Final Four, because if it does, you’ve had a successful season – from there it’s a crapshoot.
We shouldn’t get so lenient with the definition of a dynasty that we automatically have one each decade, because that would water down the feat. But if a team is consistently dominant and has at least one championship, it’s fair to put it in that pantheon. It may not be the greatest ever, but it’s still up there.
Which begs the question – does the NHL have a current dynasty? The first team to look at would certainly be the Detroit Red Wings. From 1992 until now, the Wings have 14 division titles, reached eight conference finals, won the Cup four times and lost in the final twice. Dynasty?
Type “Sports Dynasty Definition” into Google and the first response you get is: “A sports dynasty is a team that dominates their sport or league for multiple seasons or years.” That would pretty much sum up the Wings, wouldn’t it?
Usually we don’t recognize a dynasty until it’s passed, but if the Wings finished 30th in the NHL this season it’s clear their resume is written. Pittsburgh and Chicago are a far, far cry from what Detroit has accomplished, but the next most logical team to look at would also be the most contentious: the San Jose Sharks.
With six division titles in nine years, a Presidents’ Trophy and three conference final appearances, the Sharks are a dominant team, but they aren’t a dynasty. Would one championship get them there? The vast majority would likely say “no” if for no other reason than the fear of assigning the tag too frequently. But what if the Sharks won one and continued to be a force in the West for another couple of years?
How do you define a sports dynasty?
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.
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