First off, congratulations to the Los Angeles Kings on winning their second Stanley Cup championship in three years. They certainly didn’t have an easy road, playing in three straight Game 7s against the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks, then downing the New York Rangers in a five-game series which was more closely contested than expected.
I read somewhere the Kings are now the closest thing to a dynasty in today’s NHL salary cap world, having marched to three straight Conference Finals and winning two championships in three years. That’s probably an apt description. The Blackhawks (Three Conference Finals, two Cups in four years) also belong in this category. Should the Boston Bruins (Two Conference Finals, one Cup in three years) win the Cup next season, they could also be included.
The original measurement of an NHL dynasty was winning three consecutive championships. It used to happen frequently (Toronto Maple Leafs in the late-40s and early-60s, Montreal Canadiens in the late-50s and late-70s, New York Islanders in the early-80s) every decade. While the Oilers never won three in a row, they were such a dominant team for so long (five championships in eight years) that they are now considered a dynasty.
Establishing a Stanley Cup dynasty is now very difficult. The last team to win consecutive titles was the Detroit Red Wings (1997 and 1998). Between 1994-95 and 2003-04 (the first CBA under NHL commissioner Gary Bettman), the Wings and New Jersey Devils went to the Final four times, winning the Cup three times. They were as near to dynastic during that period as it was possible to be.
Parity was spreading throughout the NHL long before the salary cap came along. Smart general managers learn to work within whatever system is employed. The Wings had the cash during their glory years to retain their best players and bid competitively for free agent talent, but they also built from within and via the trade market. The Devils weren’t usually among the league’s biggest spenders but their management compensated with savvy draft picks and shrewd trades.
It took a few years for teams to adjust to the implementation of a salary cap back in 2005, but since then few clubs have done it better than the Kings, Blackhawks and Bruins. Their secret is one which long predates salary caps and free agency. They simply draft and develop young talent better than most, and tend to win more trades than they lose. Sure, they’ll augment their talent with free agents, but most of their core was built with draft picks and trades.
While the Kings, Blackhawks and Bruins have dominated the first half of this decade, they could be soon challenged by the Anaheim Ducks, Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues, which have employed the same roster-building methods.
It’s not just the salary cap which led to the parity that made consecutive championships harder to come by. The expansion of the NHL since the early 1990s saw the league grow from 21 to 30 teams. As a result, talent is more widely spread throughout the league. The managements of those clubs also tend to be much savvier than those of early expansion teams from 1967 through 1979. The days of a handful of experienced general managers fleecing desperate counterparts on struggling new teams are now ancient history. Some teams in today’s NHL are badly managed but they’re not as prevalent as in the past.
While there is only a handful of teams which can be considered true Cup contenders, such teams remain among the league’s elite for only a few years. The salary cap has not only made it difficult for teams to spend their way toward a championship, it’s also made it tough to keep a winning roster together.
The days of winning three-or-more consecutive championships are long past, while winning two-in-a-row is increasingly difficult. We now consider a team which goes to three straight conference finals and wins two Cups in three years a near- dynasty.
Had the Blackhawks repeated as Cup champions this year they would’ve been anointed as a dynasty, as not only would they have won consecutive championships, but also three in five seasons. If they rally back and win it next season, that’ll be three Cups in six years.
If the Kings manage to repeat next season, it will mark the third time in four years they hoist the Stanley Cup, making them a salary cap dynasty club.