New Tenants Sit Atop the East, But They're Hardly Unfamiliar Faces

In the NFL, the motto is 'any given Sunday,' and it holds true. As the Miami Dolphins proved this year, you can go worst-to-first in one offseason.

In the NHL, it takes a bit longer than that to change your social standing, but how long it takes varies for every team. The Detroit Red Wings and the New York Islanders are two such instances, as they have been on opposite ends of the spectrum for the better part of two decades now. To be fair, there is some parity; the league does have 24 of its 30 teams within five points of a playoff spot at the current moment. Not to mention the free-for-all that was last season's playoff push.

Still, franchises in the NHL rise and fall over longer periods of time, while, in the NFL, fortunes seem to change from year to year.

Yet over the course of time all franchises rise and fall. For some, the cycle takes longer than others. And once in a while, you get many of them cycling in the same direction all at once. That's precisely what we're seeing at the top of the Eastern Conference right now -- a changing of the guard, if you will -- for three old-time Eastern conference penthouse tenants: Montreal, Washington and Boston. The last time these teams were staying in the penthouse, flannel was still in style.

Recently, we have seen all three of these teams make the playoffs in the same year only twice -- 1997 and 2008, and that's if we're calling 1997 recent. For over a decade, these three franchises have mostly been, at best, first-round playoff exiters. For our older viewers, the East is simply shifting back towards what it was back in the day. Kickin' it old school, for the kids out there. From the 1983 playoffs through and including the 1996 postseason, all three of the aforementioned teams qualified for spring hockey every year, with the exception of 1995 (when the Canadiens missed out). That's 23 of 24 years where these three clubs all qualified for the playoffs. Talk about consistency.

But in the mid-1990s, it went wrong for all three. All of them had stretches of mediocre and, at times, terrible hockey.

The Bruins

The Boston Bruins have had the longest drought of any of the three teams mentioned. Their fall from Original Six grace, where they had qualified for the playoffs for 30 straight seasons from 1966-1996, was hard. The B's, a Boston institution along the lines of "wicked,", fell hard. They have won only one playoff series since 1996 and have not finished higher than third in their division since before the lockout.

But like every other sports team in Boston, they have found their stride and the fans have come rushing back. They're averaging a shade under 2,000 more fans per game this season than they were two years ago. All because the Bruins are at the top of the conference and surprising everyone. Except themselves.

The Capitals

From 1983 through 1998, the Capitals missed the playoffs only once. Since then, they've only been to the dance four times, but haven't won a playoff series. However, the Caps are having a resurgence of their own. A lot has been made recently of this topic, as they're breaking their attendance records all over by playing at more than 96 percent capacity so far this season. It is in part due to a brilliant marketing and re-branding effort by the team, but in large part to their success on the ice.

The Caps haven't won a playoff series since they made the Stanley Cup Finasl in 1998, but, as of the halfway point of this season, were on pace to shatter the club record for points in a season, 107. The Capitals took their time in hockey purgatory and used it to draft young talent which is helping to pave their path back to the top. They won the Southeast division last year and are the odds-on favorites to make it two in a row. Wasn't it just a few years ago people were wondering if Washington was a viable hockey market?

The Canadiens

Our final stop on the tour is another Original Six city, Montreal. The Habs are the most successful franchise in North American professional sports, and they got there by winning the Stanley Cup 24 times between 1916 and 1993, missing the playoffs only twice between 1941 and 1994. Let that sink in. Twice. In 53 years. In comparison, the last 15 years have been horrible, at least by Canadiens' terms.

The team won the Northeast division last year, but prior to that hadn't finished in the top two since the division was created prior to the 1993-94 campaign. So, to our younger viewers, seeing an inept version of the Canadiens is the norm and not the exception. This year, they're fighting for the conference crown.

It's been a long time since we saw the Caps, Habs and B's atop the East, but the world moves in cycles and the hockey world is no different. With the abundance of young talent on each team, it might be a long time before these teams cycle downward again. Either way, the Eastern Conference is kickin' it old school.

New Tenants Sit Atop the East, But They're Hardly Unfamiliar Faces originally appeared on NHL Main on Thu, 15 Jan 2009 15:55:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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