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NHL leads the four major sports in championship parity during the last 12 seasons

Aug 28, 2011, 11:39 AM EDT

Boston Bruins v Vancouver Canucks - Game Seven Getty Images

One of the most common debates in sports goes something like this: Should a league strive for widespread parity or for dynasties to establish long periods of dominance?

There’s some easy arguments for both sides. Parity is probably the superior money-maker because it naturally gives fans of just about every team (even the Florida Panthers) a reason to believe that “this might be the year.” On the other hand, that might lead some to believe that a given sports league is settling for mediocrity rather than the majestic dominance that comes with a truly great team running roughshod over its competition.

Perhaps the ideal scenario is a reasonable compromise between those opposing ideas: a nice variety of different champions that manages to include familiar faces along the way. That’s a tough balancing act to achieve, so it’s interesting to see how the four major sports (NHL, NFL, MLB and NBA) end up looking when it comes to parity. Kevin Oklobzija compared the championship matchups and winners over the past 12 seasons for each sport and found that the NHL has a slight advantage over its peers when it comes to parity. The NHL’s 12-season period goes from 1999-2011 because of the lockout, while the other sports factor in championship matches from 2000-2011.

NHL

17 different teams in the NHL finals; 10 different champions

MLB

16 different teams in the World Series; nine different champions

NFL

16 different teams in the Super Bowl; nine different champions

NBA

11 different teams in the NBA finals; six different champions.

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It’s not surprising that professional basketball lends itself to dominance because that’s how the sport tends to work. There are less players involved (and a limited amount of room to work with), which allows superstars to establish eras of superiority – even in a salary cap era.

The most surprising thing might be that the NFL and MLB have an identical number of finalists and champions. It’s not surprising that the NFL has a lot of parity, with the New England Patriots being the football equivalent to the Detroit Red Wings. I wouldn’t have guessed that baseball had so much variety, though; in my minds eye, it’s a league where the rich (especially the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox) get richer while fans of the poorest teams have little hope. In a grand scheme of the playoffs, that might still be somewhat true, but the playoffs prove to be unpredictable. Baseball teams play 162 regular season games only to see a first round series that can end in three losses, which means that its playoffs can be even less representative of true dominance than other sports (which is saying something).

The interesting thing about the NHL’s end of the discussion is that the it represents the end of the Dead Puck (and salary-cap free) Era and then the first six post-lockout years. Naturally, I couldn’t help but wonder how much parity existed in the 12 previous seasons. Let’s take a look (keeping in mind that we’re looking at champions from those 12 years alone, not factoring in crossover wins by the Red Wings, Devils and Avs.)

Year   Winner Loser
1998   Detroit Red Wings Washington Capitals
1997   Detroit Red Wings Philadelphia Flyers
1996   Colorado Avalanche Florida Panthers
1995   New Jersey Devils Detroit Red Wings
1994   New York Rangers Vancouver Canucks
1993   Montreal Canadiens Los Angeles Kings
1992   Pittsburgh Penguins Chicago Blackhawks
1991   Pittsburgh Penguins Minnesota North Stars
1990   Edmonton Oilers Boston Bruins
1989   Calgary Flames Montreal Canadiens
1988   Edmonton Oilers Boston Bruins
1987   Edmonton Oilers Philadelphia Flyers
total   8 different champs 16 different teams

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So if you look at parity as championship finalists and winners alone, then the NHL’s parity did increase a bit (two more champions, one extra finalist) in the most recent 12 seasons compared to its previous dozen. The last remnants of the true dynasty era are seen in 1987-1998, especially when you compare those years to 1975-1986; in those years just four teams (Montreal, Edmonton, the Islanders and Flyers) won all the titles while 10 different teams made the Stanley Cup finals.

It’s obviously not all about championships, though. The important thing is to have a solid mix of teams who are consistently in the hunt while also providing a little room for Cinderella stories. It seems like teams are figuring the salary cap era out to some extent now, with several teams who are consistent contenders (even ones whose pursuits have fallen short of the final round, particularly the San Jose Sharks) while other teams tend to come and go. We’ll have to see if these trends continue over the next 12 seasons, especially with a new CBA needed after the 2011-12 season.

Feel free to weigh in on the parity vs. dynasties debate in the comments.

  1. icelovinbrotha215 - Aug 28, 2011 at 1:22 PM

    This isn’t surprising. The fact that you need 16 wins to be declared Champs in the NHL is a factor in this. Not to mention the grueling affect it has on the body, both physically and mentally. I think the NHL playoffs is the best to watch. Of course that’s with complete bias haha.

    • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Aug 28, 2011 at 5:22 PM

      The fact that you need a complete team effort for those 16 wins is a big factor too. With the exception of the proverbial hot playoff goalie you can’t rely a couple players to carry your team like you can in baseball or basketball. Even with a hot goalie you still need solid team play to have real success. The NHL playoffs is the best, specifically the first round. Nothing beats 3 or 4 games of playoff hockey a night

  2. sknut - Aug 28, 2011 at 1:39 PM

    The cap has really helped usher in parity and when you see teams like the Blackhawks have to trade off several people after winning the Cup, it demonstrates how hard it is to achieve dynasty status in this new era. Although the Red Wings seem to be the exception to the rule.

  3. b1unt3d - Aug 28, 2011 at 3:09 PM

    The Stanley Cup coming to Alberta for 6 out of 7 years is so crazy.

    Calgary sucks.

  4. trbowman - Aug 28, 2011 at 3:30 PM

    Love parity.

  5. hystoracle - Aug 29, 2011 at 12:05 PM

    That’s because the NHL is the Best League playing the most exciting game in the world!

  6. guypatsfan - Aug 30, 2011 at 9:23 AM

    Dynasties are great for the team and fans that make up the dynasty, not so great for the rest of the league’s teams.

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