So the National Hockey League’s website, NHL.com, is doing a fan-ballot contest to determine the league’s best team ever. Good stuff. It will get zillions of clicks, no doubt.
Though, with things such as these, the relative youth of the average online voter is going to automatically result in teams from long ago having no shot at all to win.
This contest focuses on teams from particular seasons. So we’re not talking about the late ‘70s Montreal Canadiens, early ‘80s Islanders or mid-‘80s Edmonton Oilers. We’re talking very specifically about each of those teams in each of those years. We’re talking about the 1981 Islanders, the ’87 Oilers, etc.
I’m not sure how you can pick one year’s team from those dynastic groups – Wayne Gretzky and others say the ’87 Oilers, for example, was the best of the team that won four Cups in five years, then went on minus The Great One to win another in 1990.
How do you pick one of the late 1970s Canadiens teams, or the early 1980s Islanders teams – which not only won four straight Cups but reached five straight finals winning an incomprehensible 19 consecutive series?
But the vote – it’s a head-to-head bracket-type of vote – places one team from one year against one team from one year.
Thus, the ’94 Rangers can certainly be in the discussion with the teams that made up the dynasties. Otherwise, they most certainly are not.
Here’s what I’m getting at. That 1993-94 Rangers team – the first Rangers Cup winner since 1940, and the only one in the last 77 years – was the best team in the league that season. Yeah, those Rangers had some help – early playoff elimination of legit contenders Pittsburgh and Detroit (at the hands of last-seeded expansion San Jose). And they had some hair-raisers in the Eastern Final (seven crazy games vs. New Jersey) and in the Cup Final (a nearly blown 3-1 series lead in a seven-game win over Vancouver).
Bottom line: That team was the best in the league throughout the season and the best in the league when the dust cleared. The rare Presidents’ Trophy/Stanley Cup exacta.
It was also this: The only time in decades – certainly in the time since I’ve covered hockey, starting in 1978-79 – that the Rangers were the best team in the league. The best team doesn’t always win the Stanley Cup, but the point is, the Rangers in all that time, haven’t been the best team. I’m not sure when they were, but if they were, it was a long, long time ago.
The early 1970s Rangers teams with the GAG Line – the Goal-A-Game line of Vic Hadfield-Jean Ratelle-Rod Gilbert – surely was among the best teams in the league, but never got the trophy at the end. The Rangers teams of the early 1980s were very good, but kept butting heads with the Islanders in the playoffs. That didn’t end well.
The 1991-92 Rangers won the Presidents’ Trophy, but all sorts of things – a late-season players strike, Adam Graves, Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis and Mike Richter among them — prevented that team from winning it all.
The 2013-14 Rangers were very good and went to a Stanley Cup Final, but in that series, they sure weren’t the better team. I thought the ‘14 team could have won. Los Angeles clearly was the better team in that final series. But LA got a ton of breaks along the way, winning three Game 7s to come out of the eight-seed in the West, and every bounce (and call) in the Cup Final.
The Rangers’ best team of this current era was 2014-15, another Presidents’ Trophy winner. But the Rangers lost Mats Zuccarello in the first round, and by the ECF had four defensemen – Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and Keith Yandle – playing with significant injuries. If they’d been even a little bit healthier, I think they beat Tampa Bay and play Chicago in the SCF. But with those injuries, even if they won the winnable Game 7, they probably would have been run over by the Blackhawks.
We’ve talked about this current era a lot – 15 playoff series in six years, and a chance of varying degrees to compete for the Cup each of those seasons. But they really have never been the best team in the league.
So the 1994 team, as usual, with the four sweaters in the ceiling at The Garden, again stands alone.
Some other thoughts:
1. It’ll never happen, but I would love to see the NHL institute a rule where, at the end of playoff games, the referees have the power to declare a game over when one team decides it’s no longer trying to play hockey and determined to just cause mayhem.
2. So Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf is fined for a homophobic slur, but not suspended? While Andrew Shaw was suspended for a playoff game for the same thing. While Wayne Simmonds wasn’t fined or suspended for the same thing against the Rangers Sean Avery. I don’t even have a statement or a follow-up question about this.
3. The Pittsburgh Penguins, who can reach the Stanley Cup Final with a win Tuesday, are like the Rangers in 2015 in this regard: They are getting by with a decimated defense. The difference is that the Rangers’ four broken defensemen continued to play. Their opponents are similar, too. In 2015, Tampa Bay was the same kind of slightly-above-average team that Ottawa is. Tampa Bay came out of the mediocre Atlantic in 2016, but was beaten by Pittsburgh, then missed the playoffs the following season. Which Ottawa could most certainly do next year.
4. It’s been a long year for a lot of hockey players because of the World Cup last summer. And I think it’s begun to show on a lot of players still playing.
5. Congrats to Henrik Lundqvist and Oscar Lindberg on their victory with Team Sweden in the World Championships this week. Lundqvist played with a knee injury that required, he said, acupuncture before the final game. Then he was nearly wiped out by teammate William Nylander after making the title-winning save on Canada’s Mitch Marner in a shootout. Nylander came off the bench and leaped at Lundqvist, sending the celebrating 35-year-old to the ice. Lundqvist didn’t mind at all.
6. I always wondered how a tournament being played by players who were eliminated from the NHL playoffs, while the best teams in the world were playing for the Stanley Cup, could be called the “World” championship.
7. Not sure if you saw the story that made the rounds or the Instagram photo, but back home in Norway this week, Mats Zuccarello came across a young boy practicing hockey in his driveway and took time to stop and talked to him at length about his shot. Hockey players are the best.
#hverdagsmagi Når du står utenfor gården din og øver på skudd etter skudd for deg selv og kanskje dagdrømmer litt om hockey og helter og plutselig står @matszuccarello der rett ved siden av og slår av en hyggelig og lang prat. Da altså. @velle32 @vif_hockey_bredde_og_elite #vif #hockey #ishockey #newyorkrangers #zuccarello #hockeymamma @nyrangers
9. Proud to say I covered Peter Laviolette’s entire NHL playing career (12 games in 1988-89). And congrats to Nashville GM David Poile, a classy man. It took him a while to get here, but this Stanley Cup Final team is all his.