Thursday, June 8, 2017

The ten best teams of the salary cap era

The NHL unveiled its fan-voted list of the 10 best teams ever this week, and it’s… well, it’s not bad. You can defend the ’84–85 Oilers as the top pick, and dynasties like the late-’70s Habs and early ’80s Islanders make appearances. Having the ’91-92 Penguins ranked second is a little dicey — they only had 87 points — but they were stacked with Hall of Famers and closed out the playoffs with 11 straight wins, so we’ll allow it.

Since the NHL deprived us of our inalienable right as hockey fans to be furious at an arbitrary ranking, I figured I should step in and fill the void. So today, we’re going to try a ranking of our own: The 10 best teams of the salary-cap era.

No post-2005 teams made the NHL’s top 10, which makes sense — the cap ushered in an era of unprecedented parity, and the age of the truly-dominant team is probably over forever. That makes our job a little tougher today, but we’ll persevere, and rank our teams based on three categories.

Regular season: Every team on the NHL’s top 10 won the Stanley Cup, as well they should have. That list had 100 years to draw on, and in the pre-cap era a truly great team should win it all. But in today’s age of parity, when any team can beat any other in a seven-game series on the strength of a hot goalie and a few lucky bounces, we can’t limit our list to Cup winners. The regular season often tells us at least as much about how good a team is, so we’ll give 10 points in this category.

Playoff run: All that said, the post-season is still where great teams are made, so we’ll have 10 more points up for grabs here.

Star power: Maybe this shouldn’t matter — wins are wins, no matter who’s on the roster that gets them. But fans love to look back on star-studded teams like Gretzky’s Oilers or Mario’s Penguins, so we’ll toss in five points for especially loaded lineups.

I’ll give you a moment to prepare your outrage in advance, and then we’ll dive in…

10. 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings

Regular season: 10/10. The Red Wings came out of the lockout and basically steamrolled the league, racking up 124 points. That remains the highest total of the cap era, and wasn’t far off the all-time-record 132 by the 1976–77 Canadiens. Granted, the Habs did that in the pre-loser point days, but in a salary-cap league getting within range of the greatest regular season ever is astonishing.

Playoff run: 2/10. In what remains one of the most stunning upsets in recent history, the Wings were knocked off by the 95-point Oilers in the opening round. Honestly, I’m being kind of generous with a “2” here.

Star power: 4.5/5. This was the last year of the Steve Yzerman era, and while the team wasn’t quite as loaded with big names as the ridiculous 2002 edition, they weren’t far off. Four members of the team are already in the Hall of Fame, and Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg (and maybe Mike Babcock) could join them.

Total: 16.5/25. The playoffs can be cruel. If they’d won the Cup, they’d probably be a strong contender for top slot. Instead, they barely make the list as the first of many cautionary examples that the cap-era playoffs were about to become a coin flip.

9. 2009-2010 Washington Capitals

Regular season: 9.5/10. With 121 points, the Capitals ran away with the Presidents’ Trophy. They led the league in goals scored, and were one of just five teams in the cap era to have a power play over 25 per cent. (Three of the other four are also Ovechkin-era Caps teams.)

Playoff run: 4/10. Washington was knocked out in a seven-game stunner in the first round by the Canadiens. But I’ll give them a few more points than the 2006 Red Wings for a simple reason: The Capitals absolutely played well enough to win, but ran into a red-hot goalie in Jaroslav Halak. Despite dominating the games and pummelling Halak with shots, they couldn’t beat him. Hockey, like life, isn’t always fair.

Star power: 3.5/5. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both cleared 100 points, and back then we also thought Alexander Semin was good. The team featured Mike Green, just a year removed from his 30-goal season. And they even had a former MVP in net. (OK, so it was Jose Theodore, but that still counts.)

Total: 17/25. There are plenty of similarities to the 2006 Red Wings here. But while that Detroit team largely stayed the course and was rewarded with a Cup in 2008, these Capitals quickly decided to change direction. We’ll never know if it may have cost them.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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