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Discussing the potential downsides to winning the Stanley Cup

Jun 12, 2011, 6:19 PM EDT

byfuglientoews Getty Images

One of the key facets to being successful in competitive fields is to remain hungry. It’s an underrated attitude, too, when you consider the fact that many athletes already achieved the dream of making millions by playing the sports they loved (or at least succeeded at) as children.

PHT already took a more black-and-white look at how both the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks might look once the 2011 Stanley Cup finals conclude, but Kevin McGran wonders about the “downside” of winning a championship.

It probably seems like a ludicrous point to discuss on first impact. After all, the Canucks are desperate to win their first Stanley Cup in their 40-year franchise history while the Bruins haven’t sipped from Lord Stanley’s chalice since 1972. That being said, fans don’t want to see the party end after one great run, so each team would need to avoid some legitimate pitfalls to keep the momentum going.

The dangers of complacency

McGran’s point doesn’t focus on the exhilaration of winning it all, though. Instead, he wonders about the negative side of crossing the finish line in first place.

For the business of the team, well in the short term, it’s fantastic — new fans, inflated TV ratings, merchandise sales. If they’re smart, they’ll lock in sponsors at inflated rates to long-term deals.

But in the long term, there’s evidence to suggest winning the championship is bad for business. Ownership can lose interest, or sell. Management can get lazy.

“It’s like collecting,” said Detlev Zwick, associate professor of marketing professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University. “The collector is enthralled with collecting, as long as the collection is not complete. As soon as the collection is complete, the collection loses its magical power.

“A complete collection is the worst thing that can happen.”

The concept reminds me of how people explain the disappointing later careers of great comedians such as Eddie Murphy. Getting fat and happy might be the ultimate goal, but what happens when you cannot relate to your audience any longer? For some comedians, it means collecting paychecks while making lackadaisical family comedies until people aren’t even sad that you aren’t trying anymore.

McGran’s piece focuses on the downfalls that come once the thrill of that first chase is gone, but the article might miss the biggest problem that comes with winning a championship: keeping that team together.

If you can’t beat them, chip away at them …

Just look at the Chicago Blackhawks franchise, whose losses cannot be contributed to the salary cap alone. Obviously some of the biggest blows came from being forced to trade or release players such as Antti Niemi, Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd, but other teams scavenged their executives as well. Coaches like Craig Ramsay and decision makers such as Rick Dudley and Kevin Cheveldayoff received better jobs elsewhere when teams hoped to get their own piece of the Blackhawks magic.

Is it a breakthrough or a mirage?

Another difficult aspect is assessing players who put together unexpectedly strong runs in the playoffs. Are these runs a sign of things to come or do they rank as contract year mirages?

Both the Bruins and Canucks have their most crucial pieces wrapped up for next season, so they shouldn’t deal with too many huge losses. That doesn’t mean they won’t have some questions to answer, though. The Bruins were probably more comfortable with the idea of parting with Michael Ryder – and the same could probably be said of the Canucks with Kevin Bieksa – before the two made a difference in the postseason.

Conclusions

Then again, losing in a title round can be even more painful. While the Pittsburgh Penguins rebounded a year after losing a Cup finals series to win it in 2009, most of the teams who got oh-so-close recently haven’t been back since. Just look at how the Ottawa Senators, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers flopped after coming 1-4 wins short and you’ll see that it might be tougher for the second place teams.

Like we discussed before, both teams are built for solid stability (especially the Bruins, who face only a few tough free agent situations) on paper. That being said, complacency can be a real problem in a sport with such small margins of error. These thoughts won’t creep into the minds of the winning team as they spray each other with victory champagne, but maybe they should make it a point to bask in its sweet flavor as much as possible. After all, there’s no guarantee they’ll be anywhere close to this point again.

(H/T to Kukla’s Korner.)

  1. johninpa - Jun 12, 2011 at 9:26 PM

    So you shouldn’t strive to win the Cup, because you might have a bad following year. You’ve got to be kidding. With free agency and salary caps, you may or may not keep your team together anyway, and you may lose quality coaching staff or managers. Quality organizations find ways to win. If management becomes complacent you better get new management. Lose good players? Develop, draft or sign new ones. Whatever you have to do, but don’t tell me there is a down side to winning the Cup.

    • James O'Brien - Jun 12, 2011 at 9:36 PM

      The point wasn’t that it’s wrong to try to win the Cup, just that it comes at a cost.

      • johninpa - Jun 12, 2011 at 9:45 PM

        And my point is that you may lose players, coaches or management at the end of the season anyway. At least the Cup winner has the Cup.

    • James O'Brien - Jun 12, 2011 at 9:58 PM

      That’s true, but a Cup ring accelerates the process. You’re dead-on in saying that the better organizations are prepared for those challenges, but there have been some teams who weren’t. Just wanted to clarify that I wasn’t saying that winning the Cup was a bad thing more than anything else.

  2. tommytd - Jun 12, 2011 at 11:32 PM

    I’ll take a cup and worry about next year next year…thank you.

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