NHL Playoffs 2012: Are We Witnessing a Changing of the Guard?

MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IIApril 25, 2012

The Detroit Red Wings have not missed the second round of the playoffs since 2006
The Detroit Red Wings have not missed the second round of the playoffs since 2006Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

By the time Thursday night is over, there will be only eight teams left in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Anywhere between four and six of them will have never won the Holy Grail of Hockey.

In fact, all of them could be teams that have not won the Stanley Cup in the lifetime of the vast majority of active players in the NHL. The Philadelphia Flyers could be the only team in the mix who has even been to a conference final in the last decade.

In the Western Conference, all four remaining teams have a combined one series win over that period. Since that came last year and was Nashville's first ever series win, their presence hardly disputes the view that a changing of the guard is taking place.

Phoenix just got its first ever series win this year.

Preseason favourites out west were the Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks. All three were eliminated in the first round.

The Eastern Conference favourite Pittsburgh Penguins got their captain back and had the championship pedigree, but they are hitting the links instead of opponents, no doubt with their sticks either way.

Last season's champion Boston Bruins were eliminated by the Washington Capitals last night in a Game 7 on home ice. The New Jersey Devils will try to avoid elimination for the second-straight game to a Florida Panthers team generally perceived to be among the weakest division winners in NHL history.

Then again, the top-seeded New York Rangers face the same thing despite their cheap shot at Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson to take him out, leaving the Sens with talent projected in the bottom third of the league, yet they are right there with a chance to eliminate the second top seed of this year's playoffs.

Ironically, underdog Ottawa's advance would diminish the new blood as they were conference champion in 2007. But the amount of change is already certain to be substantial.

What does it mean?

For one, Gary Bettman deserves credit for the parity. Three of the teams that will advance to the second round were not playoff teams last year, and three of the eight teams in the Eastern Conference playoffs were new.

Teams are closer to one another, and minor changes or circumstances can alter the fortunes of a team.

Change is not just taking place in the NHL. They are merely jumping on that bandwagon.

The NFL has had worst-to-first scenarios in at least one division almost every season since 1998. Even the NBA got into the act last year, with the two teams having over half of the league's titles out after the second round.

But heck, if this country can elect an African-American president with a funny name, how significant is a new NHL champion? Hopefully this change will not be so polarizing.