By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist

You’re Alexander Ovechkin. You have finally won a Stanley Cup, and partied like it was your last chance at glory.

But it wasn’t your last chance. There’s a next year to think about.

How have teams done the year after winning a Cup? The short answer, naturally, is that it depends on the team. Some squads are more confident a year later, and enjoy an even better regular season than the one in their Cup-winning season. Some get tired from playing so many games and having a short offseason to recover, and lose a step.

We have plenty of evidence to examine on the subject of the play of defending Stanley Cup champions. Let’s take a look at the last 20 Cup winners, and how they did a year later. The chart below refers to year-to-year winning percentages, the change over that period of time, and what happened to them in the playoffs of the second year.

(Yes, I know some of the rules were changed in that span regarding points in overtime and shootouts, but we’ll just roll with it for simplicity’s sake.)

Year – Team – Cup Year – Next Year – Diff. – Playoff Outcome
2017 – Pittsburgh – .676 – .610 – -.066 – Lost in Second Round
2016 – Pittsburgh – .634 – .676 – +.042 – Won Stanley Cup
2015 – Chicago – .621 – .628 – +.007 – Lost in First Round
2014 – Los Angeles – .610 – .579 – -.031 – Missed Playoffs
2013 – Chicago – .802 – .652 – -.150 – Lost Conference Final

2012 – Los Angeles – .579 – .615 – +.036 – Lost Conference Final
2011 – Boston – .628 – .622 – -.006 – Lost in First Round
2010 – Chicago – .683 – .591 – -.092 – Lost in First Round
2009 – Pittsburgh – .604 – .616 – +.012 – Lost in Second Round
2008 – Detroit – .701 – .683 – -.018 – Lost Stanley Cup Final

2007 – Anaheim – .670 – .622 – -.048 – Lost in First Round
2006 – Carolina – .683 – .537 – -.146 – Missed Playoffs
2004 – Tampa Bay – .646 – .561 – -.095 – Lost in First Round
2003 – New Jersey – .659 – .610 – -.049 – Lost in First Round
2002 – Detroit – .707 – .670 – -.037 – Lost in First Round

2001 – Colorado – .720 – .604 – -.116 – Lost Conference Final
2000 – New Jersey – .628 – .677 – +.049 – Lost Stanley Cup Final
1999 – Dallas – .695 – .622 – -.073 – Lost Stanley Cup Final
1998 – Detroit – .628 – .567 – -.065 – Lost in Second Round
1997 – Detroit – .573 – .628 – +.055 – Won Stanley Cup

First off, it’s obviously tough to repeat. Only two teams did so – Detroit and Pittsburgh. But only three other teams made it back to the final the next year. In other words, five of the last 20 Cup champions have made it back to the final a year later. And three more made it to the conference final, so that statistically the Caps would seem to have a less than even chance of getting through the first two rounds in 2019.

Meanwhile, three of the teams lost in the second round, seven dropped out in the first round, and two missed the playoffs completely. That’s probably less success that most would have predicted.

Only six teams improved on their regular season records the season after winning a championship. It’s interesting that two of them – were the only ones to repeat, and a third lost in the final. If the Caps have designs on winning a second Cup, a good regular season starting this fall would be a good way of getting there.

The average Stanley Cup champion has seen a drop in winning percentage the next season of about .040, or four percent. Carolina fell from .683 to .537, the second-largest decline in winning percentage. Only Chicago in 2013 to 2014 was bigger, and the Blackhawks piled up an .802 number in a lockout-shortened season in 2013. Chicago wasn’t going to keep that up for a full 82 games.

One last point – only four teams of the 20 had winning percentages above .700 in their Cup-capturing season. Only Detroit (2008-09) even made it back to the Final a year later.

(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB.)

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has been involved in almost every aspect of the local sports scene for the last 40 years. He worked for WEBR Radio, the Buffalo Sabres' public relations department and The Buffalo News during that time. In that time he covered virtually every aspect of the area's sports world, from high schools to the Bills and Sabres and everything in between. Along the way, Budd served as a play-by-play announcer for the Bisons, an analyst for the Stallions, and a talk-show host. He won the National Lacrosse League's Tom Borrelli Award as the media personality of the year in 2011, and was a finalist for that same award in 2017. Budd's seventh and eighth books, one on the Transcontinental Railroad and the other about Ichiro Suzuki, are scheduled to be released in the fall.

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