* See update below article
Earlier this year before the regular season even began in the National Hockey League, the Anaheim Ducks were the early favorites to win the Stanley Cup. However, due to a poor early start* they are now (believe it or not) worse than the Edmonton Oilers in the Pacific Division standings. Regardless of the numerical positioning, though, let’s take a look at the number of points for each team. Aside from the Los Angeles Kings basically just running away with the division with 42 points, San Jose has 33 points. The Calgary Flames and Vancouver are currently tied with 32 points. Arizona and Edmonton are tied with 30, and then there’s Anaheim with 27. That’s just the Pacific Division.
The same general tightness applies throughout the League. The competition is just so high nowadays. It’s absolutely phenomenal. Now, why is it so high?
It Ain’t Old Time Hockey Anymore
Without trying to overstate the obvious, the game is played at a much faster pace these days. Now, I don’t know about the old days in terms of how much strategy there was to a team’s game play other than just shooting the puck on net and expecting it to go in, but every facet of the game has changed since. Teams are much more structured defensively, which makes it harder to make offensive plays. The importance of being a role player is most definitely well defined in today’s NHL. While offense is still an important part of the game today (because you need enough goals to win), it’s especially important to play that two-way game. Instead of going end to end by yourself or on the rush with team mates to score a goal without having to worry too much about defense, you’d need to be able to recognize the play so well both offensively and defensively.
Also, gone are the days of simply going after a guy from the other team and mashing their face in. Hey, we love rivalries, right? Who doesn’t love a good face mashing? However, again, this is hockey, and in the modern NHL, unless they can actually play hockey goons are quickly disappearing from the League. Of course, there are other reasons for this such as player safety, but the ability for a “goon” these days to be able to play hockey just like everyone else and provide the physicality and grit to help their teammates while also not being afraid to drop the mitts once in a while is important. The best they’d do is be a fourth liner, but that at least beats being cut completely from being on the roster.
I’m not a huge financial guy. In fact, I’d probably be bankrupt by now if my parents actually let me really spend my money on the stuff I wanted, but I can tell you that the salary cap is a definite huge reason for the high competition in this league. Let’s face it. Everyone wants to win. Everyone wants a shot at Lord Stanley, but of course not everyone gets a chance to. That’s why you’ve got teams rebuilding, retooling, and just trying to make themselves better by picking up better players.
However, with the salary cap system so tight now, it’s impossible to really retain a player or certain players for so long. Take Chicago for example. It’s amazing to me that this Blackhawks team has been able to keep their core in tact and win three Stanley Cups in just six years while under the salary cap. Of course, now Patrick Sharp is with Dallas, along with Johnny Oduya. Brandon Saad is with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but this team is still very dangerous with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. There’s just so much budgeting and knowing who to trade and get and who not to give up. It’s not easy to do that in the modern NHL, but the Hawks have done it.
The problem with a lot of teams, namely my own San Jose Sharks, is that they love to give out NTCs and NMCs to old veteran guys and key pieces. The problem with that it’s much harder to trade them unless they’re asked to waive their No Movement Clauses. Then there’s the buyouts, the cap penalties, and all that. It’s ridiculously hard to keep your team strong at an elite level and add the necessary players, not to mention you’d have to also draft really well and be lucky.
The Bottom Line…
The talent, compete level, and expectations for every player and team is only going to trend upwards I imagine. So, it’s not going to get any easier to win a championship. Honestly, while I don’t watch other sports much, I can’t imagine that there’s another League with more competitiveness and more parity than the National Hockey League.
UPDATE: I started this article late last year before my trip when the Ducks were still struggling at the bottom of the Pacific Division standings at around 6th or 7th place. Here’re the updated standings since then:
1. Los Angeles Kings (57 pts)
2. Arizona Coyotes (48 pts)
3. San Jose Sharks (44 pts)
4. Vancouver Canucks (44 pts)
5. Anaheim Ducks (41 pts)
6. Calgary Flames (40 pts)
7. Edmonton Oilers (38 pts)
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