HISTORY HARD ON RUNNER UP
Teams slip after Cup final loss
What becomes of the Montreal Canadiens upon losing the Stanley Cup?
Well, if history is to repeat itself, expect the Canadiens to fall back to the pack, which is where they were for most of this shortened National Hockey League season, and return to being just another team, not necessarily a contender, and certainly not a league finalist.
This isn't a debate or discussion about the quality of their team — there's a lot to like about the young Habs on the roster — it's a look at the historical reality of what happens to teams that get to the Stanley Cup Final and lose.
It is that hard to get there in the first place. It is that unusual. And normally, for the teams that lose the championship, close as they may believe they are, there is rarely a path of return.
Over the past 10 seasons, 10 different teams — including two very different Boston Bruins teams — played for and lost the Stanley Cup. None of them returned to the final in the following year and in most cases, none of them returned to that same level at all.
In fact, over the past 18 years, only one team has lost a Cup and gone on to win one shortly thereafter — and that was Lou Lamoriello's New Jersey Devils in 2003. In fairness to history, the Devils already had won two Cups prior to their championship defeat in 2001.
They won three Cups with only five players on all three title teams — Martin Brodeur, Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens, Sergei Brylin and Ken Daneyko. They won with three different coaches — Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robinson and Pat Burns. They won with a variety of lineups up front.
“I don't think there's any science to this,” Lamoriello said on Sunday morning. “If you want to find out a reason, why you won or why you lost, you have to go roster to roster. If you look hard enough, you will find your reasons.”
That's the practical and pragmatic view of winning in the NHL. Getting to the final, though, is more than just that. It's staying healthy. It's getting lucky. It may be getting a call in your favour. It may be getting a shocking performance from an unexpected player.
The last time a Canadian or Canadiens team won the Cup, in 1993, also happened to be the expansion seasons of the Ottawa Senators and the Lightning. When Tampa wins the fourth game of this current series, it will carry the Cup for the third time in its history.
A rather amazing number, considering the circumstances.
Since Tampa entered the NHL, only Detroit, with four Cups, has
won more often than the Lightning will have when they get to three. Chicago, Pittsburgh and New Jersey also have won three Cups since 1993. Los Angeles and Colorado each have won two.
The teams with one: Montreal, St. Louis, Washington, Dallas, Carolina, Anaheim and Boston.
Fifteen different champions over 28 years. Twenty-two different finalists. Since 1993, 25 of the NHL'S 31 teams (soon to be 32) have played for the Cup. Only Toronto, the Islanders, Winnipeg, Minnesota, Arizona and Columbus have never been there.
And when you consider that the Coyotes began in 1996, the Blue Jackets and Wild began in the 2000 season, and the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg for 2011, the history of the Maple Leafs appears all the more disappointing.
Every Canadian team has played for the Cup except the Leafs since 1993. Montreal won. Calgary lost a final it should have won. Edmonton lost a final it could have won. Vancouver will never stop thinking about the championship it left behind. Winnipeg has never been close, Ottawa got to the final and then quietly disappeared. Toronto came within a game of the Stanley Cup final once, 28 years ago. Since then, never close enough again.
Carey Price turns 34 next month. Next year will be his
16th NHL season. Shea Weber turns 36 next month. Next year will be his 17th NHL season. Those two are the leaders of the Canadiens.
The divisional format, which gave opportunity and belief that a Canadian team — almost any Canadian team — could win or at least play for the Cup, returns to normal scheduling next season.
Montreal will play in a division with the Leafs, the Lightning, the Bruins, the Florida Panthers: There are no free passes here.
Dallas played for the Cup last year and didn't make the playoffs this year. Nashville played for the Cup in 2017 and has since drifted into irrelevance. San Jose played for the Cup and, in the following four seasons, has won two rounds.
The challenge for Montreal, beyond this season, is immense. The opportunity lost lingers, in some cases, forever.
(To learn) why you lost, you have to go roster to roster. If you look hard enough, you will find your reasons.