Image via USA Today
In 2012, the Los Angeles Kings squirmed their way into the playoffs with 95 points, clinching a spot in their final two games against the San Jose Sharks with back-to-back losses. The Pacific Division was weak. The Coyotes won the crown with only two more points, and the Kings, loaded with talent yet unproductive for months, finished as the 8th seed. They awaited the President’s Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks who were as close as it gets to the Stanley Cup the season before and looked poised for another trip. Two months later, however, it was Los Angeles hoisting the Cup, shocking the hockey world.
The 2016-17 Nashville Predators are the most talented and dangerous 8th seed since those Kings.
The 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings were a wonky team and proved with their playoff run they were the most talented 8th seed in NHL history. A franchise center aged 24, Anze Kopitar, two former Flyers as the crux of a Stanley Cup participant two seasons prior, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, a franchise defenseman, Drew Doughty, and a hot goaltender, Jonathan Quick, who already posted a sub-2.00 GAA in the regular season en route to a Conn Smythe trophy.
Many outlets picked the team to finish in the top four of the Western Conference during their regular season previews and although they weren’t necessarily bad for most of the season, the Kings just couldn’t score. They fired Terry Murray for Darryl Sutter and traded for Jeff Carter. The moves reinvigorated the team. A March record of 10-4-1 proved the Kings could push the right buttons when needed. Besides offensive prowess, the roster didn’t have any other glaring weaknesses.
The Predators looked like a sexy choice in the beginning of the season to go to the Stanley Cup Final. Their explosive upset of the perennial contender Anaheim Ducks last season coupled with a lightning rod trade for some guy named Pernell-Karl Sylvester and the hipsters licked their lips at this Preds team.
From a personnel perspective, this Preds team is bloody good. Their top four defensemen, Subban-Josi-Ekholm-Ellis are mobile and scary. They draft well. They trade well. *cough Erat for Forsberg cough* They skate well. They are well-coached. Peter Laviolette is a Stanley Cup champion who also won his 500th NHL game this year. They get solid goaltending from Pekka Rinne, a two-time Vezina runner-up. Rinne, despite his ridiculously high save percentage these playoffs, is their only spot of uncertainty.
Nashville’s average age is fourth youngest in the playoffs and their skill lies under that 27.4 age threshold. Including the previously mentioned defense corps, Johansen, Arvidsson, Forsberg, are all younger than the rearguards. The youth drives the offensive as only their ancient captain Mike Fisher, 36 years old, finished in the Preds top-ten scoring this season.
You don’t see 8th seeded teams this talented with the ability to match up this well with a three-time Stanley Cup winning core. And you definitely don’t see 8th seed teams slap the Blackhawks around the ice in a 4-0 sweep. Nobody had that. But few also had the Kings in five against the Canucks in 2012.
Since the 04-05 Lockout, there have been six 1 vs 8 upsets:
05-06 Edmonton Oilers (Detroit)
08-09 Anaheim Ducks (San Jose)
09-10 Montreal Canadiens (Washington)
11-12 Los Angeles Kings (Vancouver)
13-14 Minnesota Wild (Colorado)
16-17 Nashville Predators (Chicago)
Of those upsets, only two series are a “Cinderella” scenario. The 06′ Oilers and the 10′ Canadiens both were overmatched by better teams in the first round but found a way to win through tight defense and timely goaltending. The other teams either matched up well to their opponent or in Minnesota’s case, capitalized on a young team not ready to take a step forward in the Colorado Avalanche.
Looking back, the 2008-09 Anaheim Ducks are also strangely talented for a bottom seed. They upset the San Jose Sharks who had 26 more regular season points and were stacked to the teeth with talent. Similarly to the Preds, the Ducks had an extremely young top line Getzlaf-Perry-Ryan (23, 23, and 21 years-old) with the diabolical combination of veteran defenceman in Niedermeyer and Pronger, not to mention the Finnish Flash. It was the same core of a team who won the drink a mere two seasons before. This was the worst matchup for the Sharks to get that season.
taken from www.hockey-reference.com
Two of the most talented post-lockout 8-seeds didn’t even win a round. The 2010-11 Chicago Blackhawks, fresh after Stan Bowman’s salary cap blowout sale, boasted a top-heavy roster, not even a season removed from championship glory. In the thick of the Hawks-Canucks rivalry, the Blackhawks came back from down 0-3 to force a Game 7 before eventually losing.
The 2014-15 Pittsburgh Penguins were a weird team too. Injuries and an apparent disconnect between new coach Mike Johnston and the team were major reasons why the Pens slipped to 8th despite their star-laden roster. Still led by Crosby and Malkin, the Penguins backed their way into the playoffs losing five of their last six and never looked good in their series against the rival Rangers, who ousted them the year before coming back from down 3-1.
So if the Predators are this talented – why did they finish 8th? Inconsistency from Forsberg in the early going and depth players like Craig Smith, a 2-5-1 stumble out of the gates, and weak December seems to be the reason. Similar to the Kings, they didn’t quite have their team figured out until the thick of the winter grind.
In this Blues-Preds series, both teams are evenly matched. I think the toughest matchup in the west past the Central Division for Nashville is Anaheim, who also have mobile young defencemen and heavy forwards who can skate.
When fans look back at that Kings team they are seen as just the first of two Stanley Cup championships in three seasons and not an 8th seed. Don’t book the parade yet, but Nashville has the opportunity to do significant damage if their success continues.
Like the 2012 Kings, Nashville isn’t Cinderella: they are talented and dangerous.