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The New Dynasties

Oct. 06, 2014
Oct. 06, 2014

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Oct. 6, 2014

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The New Dynasties

The era of four-year Cup runs is far in the past, but it's still possible to build an NHL empire

The House of Orange, founded by William the Silent, has ruled the Netherlands since 1544. A more bellicose House of Orange, led by Bobby (the Toothless) Clarke, ruled the NHL four centuries later, in 1974 and '75, but no one would ever claim that the Flyers' back-to-back Stanley Cups signified a dynasty like the one that is still in business on the Continent. Those two Cups were swell but hardly legendary. The Canadiens won every year from 1956 to '60. The Maple Leafs won three in a row in the early '60s. Montreal started a string of four Cups after deposing Philly in '76. And the Islanders and the Oilers reigned in the '80s.

This is an article from the Oct. 6, 2014 issue Original Layout

But times change. Certainly the NHL has. Given shifting parameters in a league where recently it has seemed a huge achievement to win one Cup, the idea that a crown for the Kings in 2015, their second straight and third in four years, would certify a dynasty is not absurd. Maybe that diminishes the label—"To me dynasty sounds like something that should last, like, 10 years," says L.A. winger Justin Williams, last season's playoff MVP—but it reflects the sensibilities and circumstances of an era that has not had consecutive Cup winners since the Red Wings in 1997 and '98. "The four or five in a row, I don't think we'll ever see that again, in any sport, what with cost certainty—the salary cap, or the luxury tax in baseball," says Toronto president Brendan Shanahan, who played on Detroit's back-to-back winners. "So maybe we have to rethink what a dynasty is."

The salary cap, introduced after the 2004--05 lockout, should have killed any chance for a 20th-century-style dynasty to flourish, but that hasn't been the case. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman notes that many teams have been willing to lock up players at a young age for a longer term, keeping rosters almost as intact as they had been in the days before free agency. (Fifteen men played for all four of the Canadiens' Cup-winning teams in the late 1970s. Sixteen players were on all four Islanders champions from '80 to '83.) There was upheaval in Chicago after the Blackhawks won the '10 Stanley Cup—they jettisoned a raft of complementary players because former GM Dale Tallon had left his successor, Stan Bowman, in salary-cap jail—but a nucleus of young stars, including Patrick Kane (above) and Jonathan Toews, led a rebuilt team to another title three years later. The NHL's other leading organizations, the Kings and the Bruins, have been even more stable. Of the 20 L.A. players who dressed on June 13 for the Cup-clinching Game 5 win over the Rangers, 15 had been part of the team's '12 champions. Only one of those 15 is no longer with the team. The '13 Bruins, who lost in the finals to Chicago, took the ice with 16 players from the team that had won the Cup two seasons before.

Shanahan thinks the biggest factor in the dynasty's demise is fatigue. There were 64,035 hits in the regular season and playoffs last year. The 1970s was a violent era, but the game was not as relentlessly fast or as physical as it is today. The tyranny of attrition can derail any modern pretender to the throne. "The issues we've dealt with most are complacency, a tired team and how best to recover," Kings GM Dean Lombardi says.

It may seem odd to call L.A. a dynasty, but welcome to the 21st century. If the Kings repeat, easy will lie the heads that wear the crown.

PHOTOMIKE WULF/CAL SPORT MEDIA