Friday, June 01, 2012

The L.A. Kings -- Not a Cinderella team

Nobody following the playoffs this year needs to be reminded how the L.A. Kings are doing.  The team from Hollywood has written a script worthy of their locale: Top three teams in the West vanquished.  Second eighth-seeded team to ever qualify for the Finals.  Three wins away from the perfect underdog story.  Lookout Dodgeball.

Although I think Vince
Vaughn's character in this
movie is way too nice to
be Dustin Brown...
However, as unlikely as your standard Cinderella story initially seems, between 2002 and 2006, a poorly-seeded team had annually qualified for the Stanley Cup Finals – in order, the Carolina Hurricanes,¹ Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers all finished with bottom-three records in their conference.  When you include the current feel-good team of the year, the prevalence of a Cinderella team in the Finals is exactly 1-in-2 for the past 10 years.

With this in mind, are the 2012 Kings really that surprising?  Is their performance really that unlikely?  The answer is as emphatic as a Dustin Brown blindside to the head and/or knee: Yes!  Here’s why.

If teams like the 2006 Oilers and 2002 Ducks represent what Cinderella squads are supposed to look like, the Kings aren’t one of them.  Unlike the other four bottom-ranked teams to make the Finals in the past decade, L.A. has blitzed their way through the playoffs with a current 13-2 record.  Within recent memory, your standard issue surprise team has had to scrimp and scrape their way to a shot at the Cup with one-goal games they didn’t deserve to win and the supremely elevated play of little else than their goalie (See J.S. Giguere).  Ultimately, they were outplayed and overmatched for the better part of 20-25 games.

But this year’s Cinderella edition has consistently either matched or surpassed their higher-ranked opponents in all aspects of play.  No, the Kings probably wouldn’t have achieved this level of success without Jonathan Quick in net, but they are anything but a one-man show.  L.A. has more depth, talent and efficiency than any of their underdog predecessors ever had in their improbable runs.  Statistically, the Kings have outscored their opponents 43-23 and outshot them by an average four shots per game.

The Kings' current win-percentage, goals for/against and shots for/against, in comparison
to the four most recent "Cinderella" teams.

Sixth, seventh and eighth-placed teams can routinely make the Finals.  That’s not what makes the Kings special; it’s that they’ve done so with the level of play of a first seed.  Often times, L.A. has won convincingly.  All of the time, they’ve done so with their opponents’ bodies lying on the ice.  If not for their eighth-place ranking, nobody would ever name them after a Disney princess. 

The L.A. Kings have proved that they simply aren’t underdogs.  The hockey world expects this team to beat New Jersey.  And in that sense, that is surprising for an eighth seed.  That is a big deal.


¹The Hurricanes were seeded third by virtue of winning the annual Southwest Division lottery, but had actually finished with the eighth-worst record in the East.

*See the discussion regarding this article on the forums here.

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