- The defending Cup champion Blackhawks.
- The Western Conference regular season champion Ducks.
- The perennially contending Sharks.
- Oh, and the Rangers too, I guess.
I got to wondering, has any team faced such difficult competition on their journey to hoisting the big mug or was this the toughest row ever hoed?
I'm not into advanced math so I'm sure there are more sophisticated ways to go about this involving standard deviations or standardizing point totals across seasons, but for me, a quick and easy way to figure out who had the toughest path to the Cup is to add up the point totals of the 4 teams the champs beat in the playoffs.
Because of the addition of the shootout and the elimination of ties, I decided it makes the most sense to only go back to the end of the 2004-05 lockout, though I may go back farther at some point.
The results of this analysis show that the 3 of the 4 most rigorous Stanley Cup paths were all done by the teams from Southern California.
The accumulated point total of the 2012 Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings' opponents was 419 as they faced the defending Western Conference champion and back-to-back President's Trophy-winning Canucks in the first round (111 points in the regular season), the Central Division champion Blues (109 points) in the 2nd round, the Pacific champion Yotes (97 points), and the Eastern Conference champion Devils (102 points) in the Final. One could make the argument that this is even more impressive when you consider that the Kings started every series on the road because all of their opponents finished the regular season with more points than they did.
The 2011 Boston Bruins faced a slightly higher overall point total of 422 en route to the Cup, inflated by the Canucks' ungodly 117-point, President's Trophy-winning regular season in the ultra weak Northwest Division. But their 2nd round opponent, the Flyers, and 3rd round opponent Lightning, put up 106- and 103-point seasons, respectively. Only their first round opponent, the Habs with 96 points, finished under the century mark.
The 2nd most points a Cup champion has faced happened in the 2nd season after the lockout. The Ducks finished 3rd overall in the regular season with 110 points, but faced a difficult path including one of the 2 teams to finish ahead of them, Detroit (113). In fact, every team Anaheim faced in the playoffs that season had over 100 points in the regular season (Minnesota: 104, Vancouver: 105, Ottawa: 105), a total of 427.
Which brings us to this year's 2014 Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. All year, the West was referred to as a "Murderer's Row", with the Kings themselves considered one of the chief culprits. All 6 non-wild card playoff teams put up at least 100 points. Anaheim led the way with 116. Non-Kings opponents Colorado and St. Louis were next with 112 and 111. The Sharks also got 111 and Chicago posted 107. The Kings themselves notched exactly 100. No matter who came out of the West, it was never going to be easy, but the Kings persevered and came out victorious to face the best in the East, the Rangers, whose 96 points raise the final tally to 430 regular season points for the Kings' 2014 opponents, the most faced by any post-lockout champs.
If you're curious, here are the total points for the opponents of all 9 post-lockout Stanley Cup Champions:
1) 2014 Kings: 430
2) 2007 Ducks: 427
3) 2001 Bruins: 422
4) 2012 Kings: 219
5) 2009 Penguins: 416
6) 2013 Blackhawks: 408*
7) 2010 Blackhawks: 404
8) 2006 Hurricanes: 399
9) 2008 Red Wings: 385
*Because of the shortened season, I multiplied all their opponents' point totals by 1.75 to arrive at this figure. I rounded up, so this should probably be more like 405