Pro Hockey Talk touched on the transformation taking place in the NHL Monday, April 25. There is no denying it after the St. Louis Blues defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the night’s Central Division semifinals finale.
Out with the old, in with the new is a good thing for the NHL. The photo list of teams highlight the changing of the guard: Blackhawks out, Blues in; Los Angeles Kings out, San Jose Sharks in; Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers out, New York Islanders, Dallas Stars as well as arguably the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals in.
Perhaps no series better exemplified this change than this 2016 Central Division semifinals series. Chicago had won 15 of its last 18 postseason series en route to three Stanley Cups. The only series win St. Louis had since 2002 prior to this was against a San Jose team that had just one win of its own since 2011…over a team that has won just three postseason games over that same time.
Mark Purdy of San Jose Mercury News spoke of how those Sharks pulled off a similar turn-of-the-table series, beating the nemesis Kings that had made them the fifth victim in major sports history of a 0-3 comeback in a seven-game series. That win marked the second spring in a row ending the rival’s season and propelled the 2012 Stanley Cup champions to another title in 2014.
For most, those two Western Conference battles were not the only ones to feature a flipping of the script. Sure the Pittsburgh Penguins won a Stanley Cup in 2009, but they have a losing record and only four series wins in the seven years since.
The last two springs were ended in the first round at the hands of the New York Rangers. They may not have a Stanley Cup since 1994, but they had not bowed out before the conference semifinals in any of the last four seasons and won the Eastern Conference just two years ago.
As big as those series were to highlight the NHL’s changing of the guard, the biggest new direction for any individual team probably belongs to the Islanders for winning their first series since 1993. True, they were playing the Florida Panthers—a franchise that won three series in its third season back in 1996 and had won just four postseason games since—but releasing fan angst built up over a generation is always tough.
Meanwhile, the Capitals advanced to the second round a season ago but had just four series wins since winning the Eastern Conference in the 1998 playoffs. The Dallas Stars had not won a series since 2008 and had only four such victories since winning the 2000 Western Conference finals.
On the flip side, the Red Wings were a first-round casualty the last three playoffs, including last spring against the same Tampa Bay Lightning. Still, having a postseason fixture since 1991 be the first eliminated from the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs is not inconsistent with the changing-of-the-guard theme. Nor is having no postseason Canadian team for the first time since 1970.
That means nine of the 16 teams in this postseason have experienced some kind of change in direction. Moreover, Pittsburgh will be the only Stanley Cup champion since the full-season lockout to survive the first round if the Nashville Predators can beat the Anaheim Ducks Wednesday. The Tampa Bay Lightning is the only other team left with a win after the 1900s.
For everyone else, change is good. Having two teams win five of the last six titles is not. That makes the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs a coup regardless of what the numbers say.