The Hangover

Hangover Luongo

One of the most common narratives that get bandied about in hockey is that of the “Stanley Cup Hangover”. Whether it’s the effect on the winning team or the losing team of the the Finals, whatever negatives happen to a team during the next five to six seasons will sometimes be tentatively presented as an effect of the ominous “Stanley Cup Finals Hangover”.

“Gee Bill, the home team isn’t looking so hot this month.”

“Yeah, I can’t figure it out either.”

“Me neither. Damn.”

“Well, they did play in the Finals a couple of years ago?”

“My god Jim…..I think you’re right….”

“My name is Bill, but who cares, STANLEY CUP HANGOVER EXPLAINS ALL!”

*Now imagine two men running at each other from across the room for the ultimate high five, ending with a wicked guitar riff*

high five

The idea being, of course, that the physical and mental toll it took a team to grind its way to get to the Finals can stay with a team and effect them for years to come. Or maybe management lost to a team due to what they felt was because of the opposition’s style of play, and so maybe they make philosophical team changes as a result of that… hypothetically speaking, I mean. 

Regardless, the Canucks have a variety of options to choose from as to why they are playing poorly, and the “hangover” excuse can be fitted on to the spinning wheel of excuses quite easily. 

spin

Does that mean it’s a valid excuse? No, of course not, there is no one singular reason the Canucks are playing awful right now; it’s more of a case of a huge sum of parts, in which luck plays a disturbingly high amount in.

If the Canucks win in 2011, people in Vancouver don’t care what happens for the next five years. If the Canucks lose game seven to Chicago in 2011, well, then I don’t want to say riots, but yeah, mass city destroying riots far worse than the Finals. No, seriously, imagine having to watch Patrick Kane celebrate coming back and winning after being down 0-3, on Rogers Arena ice. It’s not pretty.

Therefore the idea today isn’t to disprove or prove the hangover narrative (it’s a broad narrative that can be fitted in anywhere if we wanted to try hard enough), the idea today is to simply compare how Vancouver is handling their “hangover” compared to other teams (starting with teams from the 1998 season going to the 2011 season). If anything maybe there will be results from other teams that will make Vancouver fans feel a bit better about the current direction of the team. 

Quick notes, these stats look at a team that lost in the Stanley Cup Finals, and the next six seasons performance after the loss. Winning percentage was used as the measure of seasonal success due to the lockout shortened season ruining using a purely point based system.

First off, if you like a mass explosion of info in and around your face, here is the chart that shows 13 teams and their “hangovers”:

linechart

Yes, it looks like clown vomit. Let’s break this down into individual team charts, shall we?

Capitals

Breakdown: The Capitals hangover led them to binge drinking for an entire season, in which they blacked out and forgot everything. Sure, they hung on to their job for a couple of years after that, but they led a life that rock bottomed out very badly. That is, until the angel known as Ovechkin lifted them out of the trash heap and put some pants back on them. 

They also had really crappy jerseys during this time, which is my personal theory as to why they struggled.

buffalo

Breakdown: The Sabres, a team with a petulant Hasek instead of a petulant Ryan Miller, valiantly attempted to get past their hangover and put up a good fight, avoiding the headaches for several years. They attempted to continue to try and cash in on an almost past his prime Hasek (the kind that didn’t cross check other men in a roller hockey league) but eventually traded him and started the re-build with Miller, back when Miller wasn’t emo. It’s hard to judge Buffalo for their hangover, mostly because they eventually became dirt poor and couldn’t afford a hangover cure even if they wanted one.

Though when they did get rich again, they overpaid for Leino and Ehrhoff, so maybe their is no cure for a hangover…

dallas

Breakdown: The Dallas Stars had of course just won the Cup the year before by cheating (foot was in the crease!), and so they had a double hangover to deal with. They were like a high functioning alcoholic at this point, though, as they had reached the top of their profession and continued to perform well during the following six seasons. 

Except in the playoffs. It was like when you confront the functioning alcoholic at an important deadline and demand they show you the finished project they promised they had completed and all they pull out are coupons for Burger King. Expired coupons.

New Jersey

Breakdown: The Lou Mafia runs a tight ship, as the Stanley Cup loss barely slowed down the Devils. They just pounded back another six pack and kept on drinking through that hangover, winning it all a couple of seasons later. They then continued to play well and have moderate playoff success after that win. I would write more, but the seething jealousy is making it hard to type.

Hurricanes

Breakdown: Basically Carolina was like that super, super unreliable friend who shows up to your parties and most of the time they get really drunk, do something stupid (like try to light garden gnomes on fire because they wouldn’t give them a ride on their tiny bicycle, and end up getting arrested). It looks like their life is about to fall apart, and you feel really bad about them.

Then the next year you see them and they have a Rolls Royce, two ladies on their side, and money to spare, and you realize you kind of hate them. Then the next year they’re in jail again. 

The Hurricanes either made the Finals or the third round during this stretch, or just didn’t give a crap and had a terrible season.

Again, seething jealousy takes over, as they also have a Cup.

Anaheim

Breakdown: Back before truculence was all the rage, the Anaheim Ducks trapped their way to a Stanley Cup Final (seriously, the Ducks vs Wild Western Finals is the most unwatchable hockey series of all time. If I could shoot it in the face, I would, for the betterment of humanity). 

The most famous visual of that Finals series was Paul Karyia waking up on the ice after a Scott Stevens hit put him to sleep, and then going on to score a goal (this was a time when concussions were viewed as “brain hugs”). The Ducks fell apart the next year, but then morphed into the truculent sons of guns Brian Burke loves so dearly, and they trounced their way to a Stanley Cup. Hangover, schmangover.

Calgary

Breakdown: The fear in Vancouver of course is that they might follow the Calgary Flame model and watch as their aging core gets older and older and before they know it, they can’t get anything of value in return for them to rebuild off of.

The fear is also that the fans will watch as their style of play becomes out-dated compared to the rest of the league. Remember, the lockout kicked in after the 2004 season and the hooking and holding and plodding style Calgary used to get to the Finals was useless once the refs decided to actually call obstruction penalties in 2006. There isn’t a true parallel to that kind of global change in regards to Vancouver, at least, unless “teams win by scoring goals” was a league shift the Canucks simply didn’t see coming.

In other words, to go back to drinking metaphors, the fear is that Vancouver will continue to drink until their franchise hits rock bottom and wakes up behind a dumpster with no pants on.

Quick, let’s look at another team, this is depressing. 

edmonton

Breakdown: Holy ****.

Ottawa

Breakdown: Where is Toronto on this list? Oh, that’s right…

Ottawa made the Finals before the Ducks ended their dreams, and Ottawa went on to middling success for many years. Gone were the days of blaming Patrick Lalime for their failures, as they warmly welcomed Eugene Melnyk into the organization, who was the only man who truly realized who was at fault for everything that goes wrong in Ottawa: Matt Cooke.

One of the trends that happens on this list is a team that gets hot at the right time, and it looks like Ottawa certainly did here.

Penguins

Breakdown: Sidney Crosby gets what Sidney Crosby wants. Despite losing in the Finals the year before (in what many fondly remember as the two year start of the “Hossa is a god damn jinx, burn him, burn him now” era), the Penguins were, and continue to be, simply too good. 

Their hangover consisted of two first round losses, ones which could have been avoided had it not been for Fleury, and then they got right back in the thick of things in their hunt for another Cup.

So to use the drinking metaphor, the Penguins foolishly relied on Fleury to pick them up after practice, but he was so drunk that he passed out and forgot to get them.  That’s when they decided to get a designated driver for Fleury.  

Detroit

Breakdown: Their hangover wasn’t so much a hangover as it was a “Lidstrom is getting really old” type of deal. They are one of the best teams in the last several decades, and they stretched out their winning ways for many many years. Basically they are the person that can drink 20 beers and yet still somehow seem completely sober. Luckily they are now getting older and their liver is failing…

OK, this drinking metaphor is getting kind of dark.

Flyers

Breakdown: Michael Leighton was their goalie in the Finals. Jesus. Despite having more goaltender issues then Jay Z has problems (YES! Music reference, nailed it) for the last.. well ever since Hextall was there the first time, the Flyers actually built off of their Stanley Cup run. Except for that one blip last year. Let’s blame that on gremlins. Or the Irish.

Still, we must never forget they traded Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, because that was awful (unless they win the Cup this year, then I am coming back and editing the crap out of this paragraph).

Vancouver

Breakdown: So where is this franchise headed? 

The Calgary model is the scariest scenario you could present to Vancouver, as the Flames have been in a tailspin ever since that season. There are a lot of “the team got hot at the right time” moments on this list, and then that team wound up fading into obscurity afterwards. 

It’s odd that Vancouver looks like one of those teams because 2011 truly was the best team in the NHL during the regular season. Injuries and Tim Thomas being insanely hot aside, Vancouver seemingly crashed and burned after that, and to this day, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why. They seemed like a team that should have continued to have major success.

So what’s the problem? Is it Gillis? Was he slow to react to a changing league? Did he build a team that was made to win now at the expense of any future whatsoever? Did he handcuff the team with bad contracts? Is the Canucks scouting staff awful? Did David Booth get kidnapped by aliens? Does Roger Takahashi even lift, bro? Or did the Canucks window simply occur from 2006-2011 and they just peaked at the very end of it? Or is it, at the end of the day, simply the luck based nature of sports that makes winning the Cup very hard to do, despite a well run team?

This will be debated as the season continues, and will become clearer once the next several season play out, and with a new coach in town, it will be interesting to see if any of the heat finally reaches Mike Gillis. You get the feeling next year will be the big year in seeing what Gillis does once the cap goes back up, however.

It is also interesting to note that two teams that didn’t have an Ovechkin or Crosby save them (Edmonton and Calgary) never recovered, which further solidifies my ground breaking theory “Generational NHL Talents Help Your Team Win.” 

  • mattpisko

    My take (since you asked so nicely)?

    1. Our management team built a team that relied on the PP and free-flowing hockey in 2011. You know, the kind where someone wasn’t allowed to:

    a. set a pick on a player in the offensive zone, thereby preventing him from receiving the puck – *seriously – screw yourself anyone who plays against the Sedins!

    b. bear-hug, or otherwise impede a player not in possession of the puck in the offensive zone, thereby preventing him from using his greatest asset (telepathy with a team-mate) to pass the puck and score. ** see point *

    c. repeatedly cross-check said player in the offensive zone, with the official playing the role of Count von Count in the background (one! two! three! … sixteen! seventeen! seventeen cross checks Ah ah ah ah!) – seriously … screw yourself, Dennis Seidenberg!

    2. Our management team did not expect playoff hockey (and then regular season hockey) to devolve into pre-2004 lockout levels of dead puck era.

    3. Our management team (and players) did not anticipate that by speaking publicly about the (ahem) differing standards of officiating they would be singled out as “whiners” and “crybabies” and “Euros” who “lacked heart” and “grit”.

    4. Our management team and coaching staff misjudged the ability of older (and slower) players to consistently play a gritty game with a heavy 2-man forecheck for anything longer than a 30+ game subset of a season, considering the travel rigours and injury troubles this team has historically had.

    4.1 Not having a contributing 4th line (or at least not playing them to a level around 10m per game to spell off your best players)

    5. A change in scouting philosophy during this current management regime. moving from “draft schmaft!” to “college FAs FTW!” to “OHL or bust!”

    6. Not owning the minor league affiliate so not being able to dictate system and/or player personnel for development purposes.

    7. Overstating the size of the “core” at the expense of allowing younger players to come in, develop and contribute at the NHL level.

    8. Not having the foresight that the NHL would retroactively penalise legitimate contracts from the previous CBA.

    • Hahaha, I might still this and use it as my “article” next week…. 😉

      Some great points brought up. I liked the size of the core comment, as it does appear management seems to be super reluctant to deal anyone from “the core”, which as you said, appears to be sizeable to say the least.

  • Marsh

    OOh, that first chart shows Vancouver tracking Edmonton with two brutal worsening years to come. The cup-half-full scenario would be that the Canucks had two exceptionally good years in the Cup year and the year after, %bested only by Pittsburgh the last two years. This makes the falloff appear worse than it is.

    This has to fall on Gillis now. No AV, spending to the cap, his scouts mainly, his coach(es). Even without judging his GM capability, only he has the authority to make necessary changes, whatever they are.

  • BrudnySeaby

    @ The Stanchion

    What changes can Gillis really make? Some factors at play and general thoughts:
    – the UFA talent pool is not that deep this year,
    – the cap goes up for all teams equally and lots of teams spending to the cap will inflate the prices of contracts,
    – the Canucks might not be the most desirable team to sign & play for from an UFA standpoint with Torts being the coach and the Canucks not being one of the (perceived) elite teams/contenders
    – Gillis has repeatedly stated he will respect NTC’s so needs to rely on players wanting out
    – Gillis has not been able to land a blockbuster true “hockey trade” during his reign yet, so what makes us think he can now?

    Besides, the only trade benefiting the Canucks right now would be dealing for a young offensive (sniper) talent (a la E. Kane who could play at a high level for years to come). That would mean that we could still compete by making it to the play-offs, while also infusing more younger talent next season (but mostly the year after as they need some AHL seasoning – Horvat, Shinkaruk). But to make such a trade we will have to deal from our position of strength, which is Defense. But which player do we give up? Tanev if you want an outside chance at winning now. But if you look towards the future, Tanev is the one you want to hang onto.

    So all in all, not easy. Interesting? Yes. Let’s see how they compete after the Olympics when they are hopefully more healthy!

    • I agree, it’s not an easy fix! Gillis refusing to talk to players about waiving NTC is maddening (and I hope just posturing) because if they won’t consider dealing those players, that seems like it needlessly handcuffs them.

      Besides, I view NTC as simply letting players have some control of where they end up, I don’t believe players are naive enough to think an NTC means they are staying in one city for the rest of their contract. Team situations change, players might WANT to get out. Maybe that’s how Gilly will spin it if he does trade an NTC. “They approached me about moving on….”

      Also agreed on UFA pool,I am never a proponent of using it as a sole point of turning a team around, but I do think they can use it to get an actual 3rd and 4th line put together. That top 6 talent you speak of, yeah, that will have to be drafted or traded for with their defense, as you said.

      • I suspect that the talk about not touching the NTC’s is just posturing. If I’m Mike Gillis I’m not admitting to TEAM 1040 and all that I will move my core. Better to avoid that potential media frenzy and deal with it more discretely in the off-season.

        If Gillis really is serious about the NTC comments, then we might as well get to work on that 50 years Cup-less commemorative banner right now. : P

        • It’s just that he could still avoid giving up info without being so hardcore about his stance on NTC’s. It could very well be posturing, because as you say, he has no real reason to lay out his gameplan to Team 1040, but what happens if a player with an NTC does get traded? Now he looks like a liar.

          Which yeah, at the end of the day doesn’t really matter I guess, it just will look weird for an organization that likes to trumpet how “classy and well run” they are. It just doesn’t seem to mesh with the vibe they like to publicly portray.

          But yeah, as we can both agree on, not even thinking of moving an NTC seems like a weird way to handicap yourself.

  • It’s probably not fair to say the flames never recovered after their trip to the finals. The Flames had a couple good years (where they were much better than in ’04) after the first lockout. They might well have knocked off Chicago 2009 if their entire D wasn’t injured.

    • I never meant to imply they never recovered, just that they never adjusted their team and slowly got worse and worse without planning out a recovery plan for the future.

      It makes sense to give your core another shot at the Cup when you go to a game 7 in the Finals, it just went downhill when they didn’t plan for after those couple of seasons, IMO.

      Iginla should have been traded two seasons earlier for a higher return and to do an actual re-build, and that’s not just a “hindsight is easy” comment, I think many people at the time could see Calgary needed a rebuild, but the organization kept seeming to say “No we don’t need to re-build yet”.

  • BrudnySeaby

    @ The Stanchion

    “Which yeah, at the end of the day doesn’t really matter I guess, it just will look weird for an organization that likes to trumpet how “classy and well run” they are. It just doesn’t seem to mesh with the vibe they like to publicly portray.”

    I think the damage is already done on that front when he traded Schneider and kept Luongo. One can say Gillis had to so (and that might be true to some extent) but he had literally promised Schneids that he was the new Canucks goalie moving forward.

    BTW, do you think Luongo still wants out of Vancouver? I think he will want to. And playing an excellent Olympics will help him in that regard. So maybe we can get a good return for Luongo this year, seeing that all the new goalie contracts are becoming steep!

  • BrudnySeaby

    @ The Stanchion

    I actually think they have a 3rd line. Or the 2 wingers for a 3rd line with Higgins and Hansen. Schroeder could be okay but ideally the Canucks land an upgrade for him. It’s the 2nd line that really needs an injection of talent and a sniper for the Sedins would also be a great thing.

    Thing is, it’s probably wisest to acquire as high a skill level as you can get as it will push other players down the lineup who now are better than that position would usually hold. That’s better in my opinion than acquiring talent that hopefully can play up the line-up as they most likely will be out of their comfort zone. All that is easier said than done, of course!

    But if you could get a 2C playmaker and have Kesler play 3C with Higgins and Hansen, this team would all of a sudden be deep again. Wishful thinking perhaps! 😉

  • Mantastic

    Good stuff Stanch, like your work on Canucks Army!

    Lack of regeneration. That’s been their biggest issue for the last few years. Not a single Gillis drafted player has played an entire season under Gillis. That’s in 7 yrs as a GM. In fact, the Canucks prospect pool has been consistently ranked in the bottom 10 of the league ever yr under Gillis. No team can withstand that lack of regeneration. And the free agent markets every summer get weaker. It equals = an aging team with no hope of help.

    Luckily, this current Canucks team isn’t in dire straits. They aren’t in Calgary territory just yet. But the league is more competitive now that it ever has been – the Pacific division especially. Coupled with massive amounts of injuries, poor goaltending and bad luck – this current team looks worse than it actually is. They are, after all, still a top 10 puck possession team.

    There’s a reason why the Chi Blackhawks won the cup 4 years ago, then immediately dismantled that team, then won the Cup last season. They drafted extremely well. They could afford to lose a Bufuglien, a Ladd, a Campbell. they made a few good free agent signings, and didn’t kill their team with bad trades.

    Gillis took a different path. He made some key free agent signings – but made some really poor trades and drafted crap. This team is depleted as a result. This day was inevitable. There’s not way a NHL team in the ‘current NHL’ can withstand poor drafting. It’s not possible. Canucks are paying for it now.

    • Mantastic

      you forgot the blackhawks, essentially lost an entire 3rd line (Ladd(previously mentioned), Brouwer and Eager) and both of their goaltenders (Niemi and Heut). I can’t imagine any team losing that much of a team and recovering as well as the blackhawks did.