As much as Los Angeles Kings players and their fans enjoy seeing their team parade the Stanley Cup around the globe, there’s assuredly one record they don’t want. Longest reigning Stanley Cup Champions to not repeat as such. That record currently belongs to the 2003-04 Tampa Bay Lightning, who defended that title beyond the lockout laden 2004-05 campaign and through the 2005-06 season. If nothing else, the Cup got a lengthy vacation in the Sunshine State.
So with what can amount to one heck of a championship hangover, coupled with a league with potential new rule changes, what can one expect as a post-lockout defending champ? If the past is an indicator, it could be a bumpy ride for L.A., which additionally missed the playoffs in each of the past two post-lockout seasons. Let’s take a look at those of most recent vintage, the Bolts and New York Rangers.
Tampa Bay Lightning:
After winning their first Cup in franchise history, the “‘ning dynasty” upped their scoring in the “new rules” NHL. However, with that also came more goals against, especially with the departure of Nikolai Khabibulin. Tampa went from 106 point Southeast Champs, to a squad with a respectable 92 points and an eighth place finish in the Eastern Conference, just edging out the Atlanta Thrashers and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Facing the top seeded Ottawa Senators, in the first round of the playoffs, Tampa won the second game but was summarily ousted in five games. Following that, the Lighting again made a first round exit and missed the playoffs for three of the next four seasons, save for the 2010-11 campaign, when the dropped a 1-0 contest in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final, against the Boston Bruins.
New York Rangers:
Somewhere around my house is an old VHS tape of the 1994-95 (well okay 1995) Rangers raising their Stanley Cup banner, while hosting the Buffalo Sabres. As I recall, there was a looming black cloud of Mark Messier’s contract situation. Oh and out was coach Mike Keenan and in was Colin Campbell. My first year of watching hockey regularly was the 1993-94 season, so of course following the Rangers, I was young and naive in thinking this was going to happen every year. Or not.
New York lost that first game and really seemed to spin their wheels all year. Out were Esa Tikkanen, Greg Gilbert, Ed Olczyk, Glenn Anderson, Craig MacTavish and Doug Lidster, most of those guys following Keenan to St. Louis. In their place were guys like Petr Nedved and Pat Verbeek.
While that edition failed to finish at the .500 mark, they did manage to squeak past the Florida Panthers and much like the Lightning, were able to slide into the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. From there, New York was able to stun the top seeded Quebec Nordiques in six, in the first round. Of course the next season, most of those players would win the Cup for the Colorado Avalanche. However, in the second round, the Rangers would get swept in four by the Philadelphia Flyers and their vaunted “Legion of Doom,” line.
New York would again reach the second round the next season, made the Eastern Conference Final the year after that, before missing the playoffs for seven straight years. Although the Rangers have rebounded more from the most recent lockout, making the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons, including reaching the Eastern Conference Final in 2011-12.
So how will the Kings fare? How long will they have to wait? Only time will tell.
Michael Gwizdala covers the New York Islanders for The Hockey Writers. Michael is also an Associate Producer at WNYT NewsChannel 13. Additionally, Michael was once a Media Relations intern for the AHL Albany River Rats. Michael is a graduate of The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY.