There is plenty of parity in the NHL today, and Stanley Cup finalists New Jersey and Los Angeles are perfect examples of this.
Last season, the Devils finished 11th in the Eastern Conference. In the off-season, they hired a new coach and came up with a new identity. They rebounded with a 102-point season and here they are, back in the Cup final.
The Kings, meanwhile, are only the second 8th seed to make the final. With two weeks to go in the regular season, they were actually on the outside looking in.
Now at first glance, you wouldn’t think a No. 6 vs. No. 8 Stanley Cup final would be too exciting. We’ll soon find out, but one thing is for sure; there are plenty of interesting story lines here.
First, of course, is the fact that Los Angeles steamrolled through the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in the Western Conference; they went 12-2 in the process, including an incredible 8-0 on the road. And, they’ll start this series away from Los Angeles as well.
Also interesting is the fact the Devils are the NHL’s single oldest team. They happen to be up against the Kings, who are the league’s fourth youngest team. Oh, and L.A. has played four fewer games.
And you’ve got a classic matchup in goal. Martin Brodeur, 40, going for his fourth Stanley Cup, in which could very well be his last NHL season. At the other end is Jonathan Quick, who almost single handily got the low-scoring Kings into the post-season.
Then, you’ve got a pair of American captains, leading the way for their team. Dustin Brown has been Mr. Everything for L.A. He scores big goals and delivers big hits. The Kings struggled to score in the regular season, but their top line of Brown/Kopitar/Wiliams has been a threat almost every night in the post-season. As for Parise, well he’s simply the heart and soul of the Devils.
Whichever team hoists Lord Stanley will become the highest seed to ever win hockey’s biggest prize. That’s the reality of today’s NHL… you can miss the playoffs one year and be a contender the next.
‘03 DRAFT WAS A GEM: Several first round picks from the 2003 NHL draft will be front and centre in the Stanley Cup final. In ‘03, Jeff Carter (11th to Philadelphia), Dustin Brown (13th to Los Angeles), Steve Bernier (16th to San Jose), Zach Parise (17th to New Jersey) and Mike Richards (24th to Philadelphia) were all selected in the first round of that impressive draft. While Bernier never developed into the player many thought he would become, Carter/Brown/Parise/Richards are stars in the NHL.
YOUNG STARS CASHING IN: Even though the Kings are one of the league’s youngest teams, they still have one of the highest payrolls in the NHL. The Kings are 7th in payroll, as young stars such as Anze Kopitar, 24, and Drew Doughty, 22, are being paid big bucks. Kopitar pocketed $6.4 million this season, while Doughty cashed in $6.0 million. Quick, 26, is set to become an unrestricted free agent after next season and he is sure to get a hefty raise over the $1.7 million he’ll earn in 2012-13.
MICKEY MOUSE NO MORE: Wayne Gretzky will attend the Stanley Cup final in Los Angeles in support of his former team, against a Devils squad that he once called a ‘Mickey Mouse organization’. After a 1983 game in which Edmonton routed New Jersey 13-4, Gretzky was frustrated for his former teammate Ron Low (who was playing for the Devils) and was quoted afterward as saying: “Well, it’s time they got their act together, folks. They’re ruining the whole league. They had better stop running a Mickey Mouse organization and put somebody on ice.” In response, many Devils fans wore Mickey Mouse shirts when Edmonton next played in New Jersey. Gretzky learned his lesson from the incident and very rarely has anything bad to say about anyone since.
GRAPES LOVES HIS BABY BUDS: The Toronto Marlies have advanced to the American Hockey League final, where they will face the Norfolk Admirals beginning Friday night. I can already hear Don Cherry next fall if the Maple Leafs farm team captures the Calder Cup. “Carton Ashton, Joe Colborne, Nazem Kadri… these guys are beauties and let me tell ya somethin’ right now, the Leafs would have made the playoffs with these guys in their lineup. A bunch of good Canadians down there but they’re not good enough for Tarranna (Toronto!).” Gotta love Grapes.
SMART MOVES BY HABS: A week after snagging Rick Dudley from the Maple Leafs, Montreal GM Marc Bergevin has added Scott Mellanby as director of player personnel for the Habs. It’s great to see Montreal hire good hockey people, no matter the language they speak. With Bergevin, Dudley and Mellanby now in place, the Habs can turn their attention to the vacant head coach position. Perhaps the Canadiens are waiting until the Devils are eliminated to speak with assistant coach Larry Robinson.
LAST CALL, THANKFULLY: With E6 vs. W8 in the final, most people have struggled with their playoff predictions this spring and I’m no different. With one series left to call, I’m 7-7 so far. I’m going with Los Angeles. How can you bet against the Kings, who demolished the Top 3 seeds in the West? They’re younger, faster and bigger than the Devils. Kings in 6.
PIPER’S POINTS: The NHL isn’t the only pro hockey league with parity these days. Cornwall fans will be treated to a league with plenty of balance when the LNAH comes to town in the fall. The top team in the regular season finished with 61 points last season, while the last-place team was only 16 points back at 45. The seven-team league plays a 48-game schedule. Last year, only two points separated second from fifth place.
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