Monday, 13 May 2013

Cup Hangover or Cup-placence? Hockey Terms Part II

For my first foray into coining new hockey terms (the fire-ship trade), click here (see 8:43 AM post).

Today I want to propose revising a current term rather than inventing a new one altogether.

I wouldn't be surprised if the term "Stanley Cup hangover" developed naturally from anecdotes surrounding cup celebrations. For instance, in 1905, the victorious Ottawa Silver Seven got drunk, kicked the cup onto the frozen Rideau Canal on a dare, and left it there. Only when they sobered up the next day did the reality of their actions sink in. Then, like Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms in The Hangover movies, they began a desperate search to find the cup. They eventually located it exactly where they had left it on the canal.

It's my understanding that the Ottawa Silver Seven's flagrant disrespect for the highest honour in professional hockey originated the sport of curling. Based on anecdotal evidence from curling enthusiasts who rejoice during extended lockouts because their "superior" sport receives more exposure on national television, curling's origins as a way to denigrate hockey remain a key part of enjoying the sport.  

In 1954, the New York Rangers burned the deed to the old Madison Square Gardens in the cup and peed on the embers; and in 1991, the Pittsburgh Penguins damaged the cup by seeing if it would float in a swimming pool--a "theory" that can only be thought up and considered worthy to test by drunken minds. (To recap these and other anecdotes regarding the cup, see this article by Greg Wyshynski.)

Let's consider the current cup champs to see if the term "Stanley cup hangover" best applies to their situation. After a sluggish regular season last year in which they squeaked into the playoffs, the Kings became one of the most dominant postseason teams in NHL history. Their success led many to believe that they would be more dominant in the 2013 regular season. When they limped out of the starting gate, commentators quickly attributed their struggles to the cup hangover.

The hangover might explain their regular season woes, but the Kings have also struggled in the postseason. With nearly the exact same team as last year, the Kings were expected to be as dominant now as then. If you disagree with this assumption, you should no longer use the phrase "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." GM Dean Lombardi and head coach Darryl Sutter were apparently determined not to improve on some evident deficiencies in the Kings because they wanted repeat success.

Instead, the 2013 postseason Kings did something that last year's team never did: trail in a series. Now I don't know the physiology of a hangover, but, based on personal experience and anecdotal evidence, I don't think it's fair to say that a hangover can last nearly a calendar year.

The term I'm proposing--cup complacence or cup-placence--works better to describe victorious teams that proceed to underachieve habitually.

This new term applies both to the teams that won as well as those that came close. Consider how the Vancouver Canucks have fared since being runners up in 2011. Since losing in game 7 of that series, the Canucks have been given the "gentleman's sweep" (losing 4-1; I think Wychynski coined that term) in the first round by the Kings last year and a full-fledged sweep this year by the Sharks. They remain regular season wonders (winning the President's trophy last year and clinching a division title this year), but all that success seems to dissolve once the postseason begins.

Their fanbase dissolves along with that success in the postseason. This year there was a marked decline in ticket sales for the Canucks. Jason Brough opined that many fans were disinclined to pony up for playoff tickets because they wanted to wait and see their team contend for the conference title or the cup itself later in the postseason. You might say that some Canucks fans have become complacent with their team's ability to contend for the cup each year. (See what I did there?)

Now let me clarify one thing about this term: I'm not saying teams like the Canucks or their fans are simply being arrogant. Cup-placence is a syndrome that affects teams, their fans, casual onlookers, and the media. 

Take, for instance, last year's runners up. The New Jersey Devils lost captain Zach Parise to free agency and did very little to compensate for it this season. Instead, they kept their aging core together for another run at a championship. 

I consider Brodeur to be the best goalie in NHL history. But neither he nor the goalies waiting in the wings for him to retire (see one such antique "prospect" pictured above) are getting any younger.

Should they have sensed that last year's success was an aging team's swan song? Perhaps.

Would hockey fans in general and members of the media have accepted their decision to blow up a team that nearly won it all? Probably not, and I consider myself part of this syndrome because I'm sure that, along with everyone else, I would have puzzled over Lou Lamoriello's decision to rebuild a team that was already successful. Cup-placence can only be diagnosed in hindsight, but such is the case with most syndromes; that's why doctors typically diagnose rather than predict ailments. (When was the last time you went to the doctor in good health to find out what you might get sick with next?). 

Instead of starting a rebuild, the Devils believed that they could have repeat success and acted accordingly. Such beliefs, however, have hindered their acquisition of prospects in such a way that will likely lengthen the time it will take for them to rebuild and re-emerge as a contender. After judging that the Kovalchuk contract circumvented the salary cap, the league ordered the Devils to surrender a first-round pick in an upcoming draft. Rather than forfeiting their 29th overall pick in the 2012, the Devils decided to give up their first-round pick in 2014--in which they will undoubtedly have a higher selection as the team continues in a downward trend leading up to and following Brodeur's retirement.

Assuming that your team would draft high for years after it's swan song is most certainly a case of cup-pacence.     

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