The Hangover: Stanley Cup Style

As we enter the first week of November we are still hearing the term “Stanley Cup hangover” being tossed around by players, coaches, fans and media.  The Stanley Cup hangover of course refers to a slow start to the regular season by a Stanley Cup Finalist because of perceived emotional, mental, and physical fatigue from playing into the previous June.

And when you look at the point totals for the first 10 games for both the Cup champs Boston Bruins and the runner-up Vancouver Canucks, it’s hard to argue.  Boston started the season at 3 wins and 7 losses (for 6 points), tying the 1990 Edmonton Oilers for the dubious honour of the worst start by a Stanley Cup Champion.  Vancouver was only marginally better at a tally of 4-5-1 for 9 points after 10 games.  While Vancouver seems to be getting out of their funk, the Bruins have yet to put two straight wins together.

Boston netminder (and Conn Smythe Trophy winner) Tim Thomas recently stated “We’re not that far off” echoing similar sentiments from Canucks players including Henrik Sedin.  And Canucks GM Mike Gillis admitted on the TEAM 1040 just yesterday that it was hard for the team to get into things both emotionally and mentally. 

So is the Stanley Cup hangover in full effect?  The numbers seem to say so.

I took a look at the 12 Stanley Cup Finalists since the 2005-2006 season.  To refresh your memory, it was Carolina over Edmonton in 2006, Anaheim over Ottawa in 2007, Detroit over Pittsburgh in 2008, Pittsburgh over Detroit in 2009, Chicago over Philadelphia in 2010, and you know what happened in 2011.

Of these 12 teams, only 5 of them (Edmonton in 2006-2007, Ottawa in 2007-2008, Detroit in 2008-2009, Pittsburgh in 2008-2009, and Pittsburgh in 2009-2010) earned 12 or more points in the first 10 games of their post-finals season and two other teams had 11 points.  The remaining 5 teams had only 10 points or less over the first 10 games.

Over these 10 games, the average accumulated points were 11.7 for the Stanley Cup winners and 12.0 (again out of a possible 20 points) for the Stanley Cup runner-ups.  So virtually a dead heat.

I mentioned that Boston’s 6-point start is the worst-ever since the lockout.  Sadly, the Canucks are right behind them tied for second (with the 2007-2008 Anaheim Ducks) with only 9 of the possible 20 points.  And speaking of those 2007-2008 Ducks, they went on to finish 4th in the Western Conference with 102 points.

The combined 15 points of Boston and Vancouver are by far the lowest total for Stanley Cup Finalists over the past 6 years; next closest are Carolina-Edmonton (2006-2007) and Chicago-Philly (2010-2011) with 22 points total.

When you look past the first 10 games at the entire regular season, the numbers tend to even themselves out.  The 5 Stanley Cup winners have averaged 100 points in their post-Cup regular seasons while the runner-ups average only 93.6 points for their next season.  So it seems that the champions are able to re-establish themselves a tad better than the runner-ups.

Since the lockout, only 2 Finalists have failed to return the playoffs the following year and they happen to be from the same year:  the Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers of 2006-2007.

So despite the poor starts, both the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins have history on their side of returning to the post-season.   Teams this year are naturally playing hard against the Bruins and Canucks as everyone tries to assert themselves.  Add to the fact that each team has annoying agitators (Marchand, Lapierre) and it’s easy to see why they are targets.

We all know that a lot can happen in a short period of time including injuries, roster moves and goaltending problems.  And while I can’t see the Canucks failing to make the post-season, the Bruins need to get moving now before they fall too far behind.

Missing the playoffs would be a sobering thought indeed.

CCC – Clay’s Canucks Commentary for November 3: The Art of Line Juggling

The Canucks are coming off impressive back-to-back wins over the Capitals and Flames as they look ahead to their next 5 games on the road. Hopefully this marks the end of their early-season funk.

In both of the wins, coach Alain Vigneault basically kept his lines in tact. But he has been known to be a master line juggler as he’s quick to pull the trigger when things are not going well: either to get certain players going or to limit the ice time of others. And in hockey, things are certainly apt to change. What happens with a player gets injured? Or when a player returns from injury?

For this CCC, I explore the art of line juggling with help from my friend Gene Monterstelli.

Child-Like Faith – Keep it Simple, Stupid

I was working all weekend as my office put on a youth rally for close to 2,000 grade 7 students and their adult leaders.  Thus, I got off to a very slow start in the “Replace the KB” blogging competition but I’m going with the theory that it’s a marathon and not a sprint.  Well…at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I proudly wore my Roberto Luongo jersey as part of my outfit for the weekend.  Those who know me know what I’m a big Luongo fan, so it was gratifying to read the tweets saying that he played a decent game especially in the third period in shutting down the powerhouse Washington Capitals.

(As an aside, Gary Bettman and the NHL schedule-makers need to stop scheduling marquee Canucks games on the same weekend as our youth rally:  in the last 5 years I’ve missed the Penguins, the Red Wings, the Maple Leafs, and now the Capitals).

During the breaks in the day I would mingle with the participants and almost every conversation understandably wound up on the topic of Roberto Luongo (once they finished asking me if they could touch my afro).  There was quite the consensus among the young people:  that Luongo would be fine and the Canucks as a whole would shake off their collective slow start.

And that was it.  End of story.

I marvelled at the simplicity of their answers and in the hope and optimism that they held for the home team.  None of them talked stats, line combinations, or defensive pairings.  No one rattled off plus-minus figures.  And there wasn’t a single mention of a goaltending controversy.

With today’s digital society everyone has the ability to write a blog, update their status on Facebook, or Tweet their opinion.  We fret about goals against average, powerplay percentages, and the number of blocked shots.  Anyone can purport to be an expert and things can get quite complicated.   If you show too much leniency towards the Canucks you’re labelled a homer and not objective.  Try to point out the Canucks’ deficiencies and you’re dismissed as not being a true fan.  It’s a tricky balance to be sure.

I’ve been a fan of the Vancouver Canucks since childhood.  I have fond memories of listening to Canucks games on CKNW 98 in the 1980s. Dad, my brother Jason, and I would lie on Dad’s bed and soak in the descriptive commentary of Jim Robson and Tom Larscheid. Jason and I would often fall asleep before the end of the game, but it didn’t matter: that time together was very special.

No matter how poorly the team was doing, we would have faith in them; a simple, beautiful, child-like faith that the good guys would win the next game.

This sounds simple to do but obviously it’s not easy nor realistic.  There’s a need and a hunger for analysis, commentary and editorial.  Case in point: this “Replace the KB” contest!

But let us never forget what it means to be a fan.  And let’s not be ashamed of it or apologize for it either.