Are We Really Happy To Make The Playoffs?

Sirius Xm’s NHL Network Radio was on in my car the day after the Rangers defeated the Pens 2-1 to move 2-1 in the series and Mike Ross was talking on Hockey This Morning from Ottawa.  I had never heard the show (bad me! No donut) but I caught a bit where Ross was talking about the San Jose Sharks and how they talk about a winning culture but they are one of the few teams who have never made the Stanley Cup Finals.  It’s an interesting thought.  In fact there are only 6 teams, SJ, Arizona, Nashville, Minnesota, Winnipeg and Columbus.  One could argue it’s because they are mostly expansion teams (Minnesota and Columbus entered in 2000, Winnipeg 1999, Nashville 1998) but San Jose and Arizona (the original Winnipeg Jets) have been in the league for over 20 years.  I don’t always believe it comes down to when the team was founded; Florida made the Cup Finals in 1995-1996, two years after joining the league.

Maybe it comes down to the mentality of not only the coaching staff but the players as well?  Ross said something about that as well, some teams are happy to make the playoffs.  We’ve gotten to the point where that is everything and winning the Cup is “gravy.”  I think this applies to other sports as well.

I get the sense that sports franchises look at fans and think that they just want to pull them along to get whatever they can out of them.  “Hey we’ll squeeze just enough out of this team to make the playoffs even though we know we won’t be able to get anywhere near a championship but we’ll make tv revenue and ticket sales and merchandise.”  Meanwhile they’ll string fans along thinking that the team MIGHT just have a chance to do something.  They’ll make just enough waves to think of next year they could sign someone to get over a hump and maybe get to a second round or even a third but there’s no development.  It’s just whatever to sustain that business model.

It’s a business model isn’t it?  I mean I’ve talked about this before but no one buys a sports franchise to lose money.  No one buys a team to dump money in and not get anything back.  Yeah teams have loyal fanbases that come to games and buy jerseys and watch on tv and collect stuff and tweet stuff but they want winners.  Or do they?  I guess it depends on the market.  For as many years as Toronto has gone without a Cup and a Stanley Cup Finals appearance you would think the entire organization would have been run out-of-town on the rails.  I still can’t believe it’s been 46 years since they’ve been in the Finals.  How does that work?  One of the most storied franchises in the history of the game.  46 years.  Does it just get to the point where people just don’t expect it anymore?

I can remember in the 90’s when the team had Doug Gilmour and Dave Andreychuk and Felix Potvin but ran into a Los Angeles Kings team headed to a date with destiny.  Of course, Gretzky clipped Gilmour with a high stick that Kerry Fraser missed in Game 6, but I’m not bitter or anything?  Can someone please tell Kerry Fraser that was a high stick?  I know I know, it’s The Great One.  That might have been the greatest Leaf team to never make the Finals.

But is it a winning culture or is it winning players?  Players that want to win one Cup or win many?  Players that want to win one championship or many?  I think you have to fill a team with players that have that mentality that they are going to do anything to win a Cup.  Then after they get that Cup they want another and it also has to be the same for the coach as well.  He can’t rest with one either.  He’s going to have to trade a guy even if he’s the face of the franchise if it means improving the team.  I think that’s what the winners realize and some of the midlevel teams miss.  Some of the others teams hang on too long to a guy who the fans love and try to squeeze something out of him, but end up wasting resources and losing out on winning because of it.  It’s a delicate line.  But that’s the difference between a Cup and Cups.  The salary cap has changed the face of the game, it used to be you never left a team, the days of Mario Lemieux and Jagr on the Pens for years is no more or those Canadiens teams that used to rule the NHL team aren’t going to happen anymore.  Free agency and salary caps have changed pro sports.

The guys in the locker room won’t be the same guys you had two years ago most of the time and many won’t be the same you had last year.  Gone from this year’s President’s Trophy winning New York Rangers who made the Stanley Cup Finals are Brian Boyle, Raphael Diaz, Derek Dorsett, David LeNeveu, John Moore, Benoit Pouliot, Brad Richards and Anton Stralman.  It’s amazing when you think about it.  That’s quite a bit of turnover from a team that went to Finals and is expected to push for another Cup.  But when you have a solid core, you can do things like that.  Plus you have great goaltending and a good coaching staff.  You keep it all together and back to the Cup you start heading.  It’s a mix of everything that you need, and maybe one day these six teams will put it together.