Monday, April 17, 2023

The Parity Prize


    Now that the NHL season is over, huge congratulations are due to the Boston Bruins. The Habs' nemesis set a league record with a total of 135 points, including 65 wins, 12 losses and 5 shootout loser points. It's an impressive showing, without a doubt. 
    The team to previously hold the record, at 132 points, with 60 wins, eight losses and 12 ties, was the 1976-77 edition of the Montreal Canadiens.
    Because of the Bruins' feat this year, there's a lot of chatter about whether that points total makes them the greatest NHL team of all time. Some will say it does. Others will believe the Bruins are the greatest parity team of all time. Bettman's Beauties, if you will.
    If you look at the Canadiens' '76-'77 roster, you'll find nine players and the coach were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. They lost only eight games all year, and played no overtime. In the playoffs, they lost only two games (one in OT) on their way to winning the second of their four straight Stanley Cups.
    We don't know yet which Bruins, aside from Patrice Bergeron, could be Hall of Famers, but we can probably guess there won't be nine of them. We don't know if Boston will breeze to the Cup they way they breezed through the regular season.
    What we do know, however, is the regular season points totals can't be compared fairly.
    For one thing, the Bruins had the advantages of two extra games played. For another, they played 16 overtime games and seven more went to shootouts. The Canadiens didn't have that chance to accumulate points because OT wasn't introduced in the regular season until 1983. This year the Bruins went 11-5 in OT and 4-3 in the shootout. That means they claimed 8 points in games they lost. If they played with the same rules as the '76 Habs, you'd have to subtract those eight points. You'd also have to remove half of the 22 points they gained for winning in OT, where the Habs would have had to settle for one point in a tie. With those considerations taken, Boston would have had a respectable, but hardly world-breaking, 116 points. If you add the five loser points from the shootout and count them as points they'd have gotten in a tie, they get up to 121. A very good season, but not the greatest team ever.
    The Bruins not only had four extra points available on the schedule...they had the advantage of 3-on-3 overtime as well. One has to wonder how many of the twelve ties the '76 Habs recorded would have been wins after Scotty Bowman sent out Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson and Steve Shutt in OT. Or how many more points they'd have recorded if they could have sent Lafleur and Jacques Lemaire out for the shootout.
    No, the days of dynasty, hall-of-fame lineups are largely behind us now. In a salary-cap league that rewards abysmal play with high draft picks, Gary Bettman's NHL is all about keeping the league as even as possible. In the '70s, there were two or three teams you could expect to compete for the Cup, with Montreal at the top of the heap. These days, any playoff team could legitimately make a Cup run, and any team (aside from the absolute bottom-feeder rebuilders and the Coyotes) can make the playoffs.
    The Bruins are a solid, cohesive team with very few holes. They're also not exciting or unique. The Bettman NHL doesn't want guys racing down the wing with their hair flying in the breeze, being original. It wants steady, respectable teams like the Bruins. All year, Boston played the same game on a Tuesday in February that they played on a Saturday night in April. Their consistency served them well in a tight league.
    But accumulating points in a 3-on-3 OT, shootout league with 82 game seasons and a draft lottery doesn't make a team the best ever. It doesn't even make them particularly special. They're simply very good at being predictably consistent.
    The Bruins are calling this year "a season to remember." They'll likely look back on it fondly, but will anyone else remember? Or care? That's what legends are all about, and this year's Bruins team has yet to stand the test of history.


Woodvid said...

Incisive as always. My fearless prediction is that the Bruins don't win the cup. Maybe not even the first round.

Anonymous said...

Great to see your always thoughtful articles again!

Woodvid said...

Well well! :-)