The way things are going in these Stanley Cup playoffs, it will be a shock if we’re not surprised some more. Or maybe nothing will stun us now. This is some postseason, with the status quo having no status at all and with outcomes last seen 23 years ago, or never.
A series victory for the Islanders for the first time since 1993 was only the start of a new direction. It is as if history had completely lost its GPS:
For the first time, not one of the NHL’s final eight is either from Canada or one of the Original Six teams.
Of the teams that have won Stanley Cups in the past 10 years, only one still is alive, the Penguins.
Pittsburgh eliminated the Rangers, who had knocked them out each of the previous two years.
The Predators reached a Game 7 for the first time, and won it.
The Panthers made the playoffs for only the second time since 2000.
After having been knocked out by the Kings in 2013 and 2014, the Sharks eliminated Los Angeles.
Having had good seasons ruined by first-round knockouts in each of the previous three seasons, the Blues defeated the defending champion Blackhawks in Game 7 in the first round.
So what does hockey have to say for itself after this reverse whirlwind?
“Parity,” said Scotty Bowman, who is as good a spokesman for the sport as anyone. He won a record nine Cups as a coach, has been involved with 14 Cup winners overall and still is working as an adviser for the Blackhawks, whose general manager is his son Stan.
Scotty lives in Florida and regularly attends Lightning games, including Tampa Bay’s 4-1 win over the Islanders in Game 2 of their second-round series Saturday.
“The agreement has been going about six, seven years now, so it’s going to level off for some teams. You can only keep so many players. It’s hard to keep your team,” he said. “There are a lot of teams that are similar.”
Maybe no one knows the playoff teams better than does Rangers play-by-play radio voice Kenny Albert, who seemingly works a playoff game every night on TV for NBC or NBC Sports Network. He also listed parity as a prominent reason for the turnarounds around every corner. “We don’t see as many dynasties these days,” he said.
But he mentioned several other factors, including the new intra-divisional format. “There were probably three matchups in the first round — Rangers-Pittsburgh, L.A.-San Jose and Chicago-St. Louis — where, heading into the playoffs, you could have said the loser could have made a deep playoff run. So some of it is just the matchups,” he said. “And home ice doesn’t seem to mean as much. Home teams were 21-27 in the first round.”
Albert added that teams that have played many postseason games in the past five years or so probably found that the wear and tear has taken its toll.
In any case, it all leads to the inevitable question: Is this a good thing?
It is not so great for the traditional powers and it might be a TV ratings disaster for Canada’s Rogers Sportsnet, which spent a fortune for NHL rights. Then again, Bowman said, “It can keep teams afloat, I guess. If you have a league that’s imbalanced and you only have a few good teams, it’s hard for the other teams to keep going.”
Maybe, maybe not. The NBA has almost zero competitive balance and its brand is as strong as ever. On the other hand, the NFL has revolved around parity for generations and is the biggest sports brand of all.
All that this observer can say is that there sure has been a whole lot of hockey fervor in Florida the past two weeks. And the excitement on Long Island Rail Road trains and at Barclays Center has been off the charts. So my vote says, here’s to this new (or temporary) world order.
This leaves just one other question: Who are they rooting for in Canada, hockey’s home and native land? “I know a lot of Quebec guys, Montreal people, come down to Florida, so they’ll be rooting for us,” said Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin of Sainte Agathe, who scored the winning goal Saturday. “Beyond that, I don’t know, to be honest.”