These are the past nine Stanley Cup champions.
Notice anything peculiar?
We’ve seen no repeat champs in the National Hockey League since 1998.
No dynasties. No two-of-three. No three-of-five. Just good old-fashioned parity.
The Stanley Cup playoffs are, without question, the most grueling stretch of postseason games across all four major sports. With a possible 28 games to be played—approximately 34% of a full regular season—the league’s playoff format calls for nearly two months of some of the most grueling, draining competition.
But that’s nothing new, as the current format has been in place since the 1992-93 season and the Red Wings, Devils, and Colorado Avalanche accounted for seven of the ten titles between then and the 2001-02 season.
On that same note, the NBA adopted a nearly identical playoff format in 2006 and has seen five different champions since then.
Still, there has to be a reason.
There must be an explanation for why the playing field has leveled across the board. A reason why we just saw the Western Conference's No. 8 seed Los Angeles Kings handily defeat the Eastern Conference's No. 6 New Jersey Devils to take the title after first knocking out the 2011 runner-up Vancouver Canucks—in five games.
The most logical answer?
The NHL has finally grown up.
It started to sprout its facial hair in the early 2000s and is in full playoff-beard-mode after a string of postseasons following the lockout that are starting to make even the casual NHL fan salivate.
This is due mainly to how the league has developed after the addition of nine expansion teams in a 10-year-span from 1991 to 2001. Throw in three teams relocating in that time and another last year, and there’s been plenty of shuffling around the NHL.
The inclusion of these teams drastically drained the talent pool, slowly leveling out the amount of star-power each team could retain.
Sure, some pseudo-dynasties remained initially, such as the ‘90s Red Wings, but gone are the days in which teams like the Montreal Canadiens would win six titles in a decade like they did in the ‘60s.
Now that things have settled down and the dust has cleared, we’re starting to see what an evenly-distributed league looks like.
And it’s outstanding.
Not only does the notion that any team can take home the Cup heading into postseason play make literally every series interesting, but when a different team is winning the title every year, it creates more of a buzz around the nation.
It’s good for the game and the NHL brand. Did anyone in Los Angeles even realize that hockey was a nationally-recognized sport before June came around?
This whole phenomenon is not a fluke.
Assuming it isn’t, and that it exists because of how the league has developed and spread out its talent, we’re in for a great ride over the next decade.
Perhaps we’ll even see another nine or ten teams win the big one.
Unless, of course, an agreement with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is not reached.
Keep your fingers crossed.
It’s worth it.
This article originally appeared on the PlayUp US Blog.