The last couple weeks of the regular season are often a drag on the players. Not that anybody cares, but it’s often a drag on the reporters, too. We’re all just waiting for the playoffs to begin.
Naturally, these dog days bring back old stories, old questions. I mean, we have to write about something.
Recently, the question, “Is it important to play well going into the playoffs?” has found its annual revival.
For example, Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic and Ross McKeon of The San Francisco Chronicle both took on the question last month. I wrote about it last year when the Vegas Golden Knights stumbled after the trade deadline.
This topic is especially relevant for the San Jose Sharks, who have finally surfaced with a two-game winning streak after dropping nine of 10.
One of the challenges when tackling this topic is discovering common ground between something that happened last season and something that happened 50 years ago. After all, ties have gone the way of the two-line pass. Coming up with zero points because you lost in overtime has gone the way of the helmetless player. Heck, there were no OTs in the regular season from the middle of World War II to the premiere of “Return of the Jedi.”
One thing, however, that has remained constant, from the league’s first Stanley Cup in 1918 to Alex Ovechkin’s less-than-sober summer of 2018, is the regulation win, insofar as NHL hockey has always been a 60-minute game.
So in a quest to finally put to rest the question, “Is it important to play well going into the playoffs?” — I looked up regulation wins in the last 10 games for every Stanley Cup champion:
There have been 99 Stanley Cups in league history. On 48 occasions, the champion won six or more times in regulation in their last 10 regular season games. On 30 occasions, the champion won four or fewer times in regulation in their last 10.
As I concluded last year, it’s nice to enter the postseason on a roll, but it’s not necessary.
That said, San Jose will be challenged to hoist the Stanley Cup, at least from a historical perspective. The Sharks have earned just two regulation victories in their last 10 games. Only two teams have taken the title with that number of regulation wins in their last 10: the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes and 1953 Montreal Canadiens. Only three teams have won the Stanley Cup with one regulation win in their last 10: the 2002 Detroit Red Wings, 1997 Red Wings and 1993 Montreal Canadiens.
No team has run the table either way with ten consecutive regulation victories or losses to close their championship campaign.
Overall, San Jose ended the regular season with a 3-6-1 record. That’s the worst finish of any playoff team this season:
For what it’s worth, here are last 10 records for every Stanley Cup winner:
14 times, the champ closed the year by earning less than half of the possible points in their final 10 games.
Peter DeBoer joked recently, “If we go on a roll, you’re going to say it doesn’t matter. If we lose, you’re going to say it does matter.”
So see you in this space next year?
Earlier this year, if you dropped by Sharks Ice for a weekend optional practice, you might see Joe Pavelski’s eight-year-old son Nathan on the ice with his dad and other Sharks.
“Oh yeah, he likes Timo,” Pavelski laughed. “He really enjoys coming, he asks all the time.”
Canvassing a half-dozen beat writers from around the league, this isn’t necessarily the norm. Predictably, some organizations prefer a sharper delineation between family and work.
But Pavelski hasn’t really known anything else: “It’s always kind of been that way since I’ve been here.”
“That’s something I’m a big believer in, that we’ve promoted since even before I got here,” DeBoer said. “Todd [McLellan] was a big proponent of that. I know Doug [Wilson] is.”
DeBoer speaks from experience, having also coached in a “work is work” environment in New Jersey.
“Lou Lamoriello was a lot like you’re talking about. It was business is business, that wasn’t a place for kids and families. When I worked for him, I respected that,” DeBoer recalled. “But I like this environment better. I think it’s a better work environment for everybody. I don’t think it takes anything away from the work the guys are doing.”
Pavelski stressed the same. If anything, it speaks to the “big picture” thinking that the Sharks subscribe to, in terms of managing a veteran team’s road to the Stanley Cup. It’s not necessarily about regular season results, but being in the right place, physically and mentally, by the spring.
“These guys, we ask them to sacrifice a lot during the year family-wise. They’re not at their kids’ hockey games, their daughters’ recitals. You miss a lot of that stuff,” observed DeBoer. “So if we have an opportunity for them to bring their kids in here, spend some time with them on a workday, we promote that as much as we can because we know the sacrifices they make.”
“We appreciate it,” Pavelski acknowledged. “They have a good understanding of the game and the roots, how we all started.”