Should Defending Stanley Cup Champions Change the Banner Ritual?
Upon hastily closing the book on their historic triumph from last spring, the Los Angeles Kings practically hit a new low on behalf of all past Stanley Cup champions in their home opener Saturday afternoon.
Early penalty trouble opened the door for the Chicago Blackhawks to draw first blood on a five-on-three less than four minutes into the action. From there on in, Chicago was vacuuming all of the favorable bounces en route to a 4-0 advantage at the halfway mark and an eventual 5-2 victory.
There was a time when NHL’s reigning playoff champs appeared to feed off of the emotions that come with rekindling the sense of having the world under their blades one last time.
In the seven seasons from 1995-96 to 2001-02, the New Jersey Devils, Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings each had two turns raising banners and winning the games that began moments later. The Dallas Stars did the same in 1999.
In the seven seasons from 1987-88 to 1993-94, teams were 3-1-3 on banner night.
Since then, though, the last 10 teams to begin their home schedules with celebrations of the previous season have gone 3-5-2 in the games that immediately followed the ceremonies. Most recently, these teams have now combined for a three-game regulation losing skid.
The league is more populous and more parity laden now than it was in any previous period. In turn, just as repeating as champions is more challenging than ever, so too is starting one’s defense on the right skate.
While one game is one game, two points are more than one or zero and are as precious as ever, which means whoever wins the 2013 title may want to consider altering its banner-raising protocol.
Just consider the first-night fate of each of the defending champions dating back to 2006. In this span, teams have gone 2-4-1 on banner night, with each game except the last settled by a single goal.
Although they were an acrid 1-3-1 in five games away from the Honda Center before their banner night, the 2007-08 Anaheim Ducks proved to be an exception to this trend. They vanquished Boston, 2-1, in their home opener on Oct. 10, 2007.
The Detroit Red Wings had a nine-game unbeaten streak (7-0-2) in the thick of October 2008. However, that was not before they commenced their title defense with a 3-2 regulation loss to the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto struck first in the final minute of the opening frame and never trailed, harboring 2-0 and 3-1 leads in the subsequent stanzas.
After winning a rematch with Detroit in the final round, the Pittsburgh Penguins were another exception, topping the New York Rangers, 3-2, to start their home slate in 2009-10.
Two nights removed from an overtime loss on the road, the 2010-11 Blackhawks raised their banner and then lowered their winning percentage, dropping a 3-2 decision to the Red Wings in regulation. Detroit followed the act of its 2008 party-crasher by never trailing.
The Boston Bruins converted the first power play of their title-defense campaign before the first period was half over on Oct. 6, 2011. But the visiting Philadelphia Flyers usurped the lead within the final minute before intermission and preserved the 2-1 advantage through the remaining 40 minutes.
And then there was Saturday’s letdown in Los Angeles. Following an elaborate exhibition that had the Stanley Cup circling around the rink in each player’s hands, the Kings became the first group of banner-day boys to lose by a multiple-goal differential since the 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers.
Granted, those Oilers went on to repeat as champions, and by no means is that prospect out of the question for these Kings, especially since their unruffled core had an extended break due to the lockout.
However, these Kings ought to know as well as any recent champion how precious points are. They were the first team to win the Cup after claiming the last available seed in the eight-team Western Conference bracket.
The margin for error is slimmer in this unusual 48-game season, but even in a full-length, 82-game campaign, a few missed points can deny a would-be Stanley Cup contender entry to the postseason.
Look no further than the last team to go directly from playoff victors to playoff no-shows, the aforementioned 2006-07 Hurricanes with their aforementioned 0-3-1 start to their championship defense.
Naturally, it would only be fair if the NHL leaves the decision up to whoever possesses the Stanley Cup in a given year. But considering recent trends on opening night and in the competitive races that follow, each reigning champ would likely serve its best interest by hosting its banner ceremony as part of an intrasquad scrimmages at the start or conclusion of training camp.
Just like the Blackhawks two seasons ago and the Bruins last season, Saturday's Kings were solid evidence that a reigning champion cannot afford to keep glancing back so close to the resumption of regular business.
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