Top seeds gain huge advantage in major junior

By: Tim Kolupanowich

@TimKolupan_

We’re now in the final week of the Canadian League season and the final playoff spots and matchups in all three major junior leagues are being determined. The Quebec Major Junior

The top-ranked teams have a major statistical advantage in this year's race for the Memorial Cup. (Scorpion/Wikimedia Commons)

The top-ranked teams have a major statistical advantage in this year’s race for the Memorial Cup. (Scorpion/Wikimedia Commons)

League’s Halifax Mooseheads and Ontario League’s London Knights have secured the top spot in their respective leagues while the Western League’s Portland Winterhawks need just one more point to do so. As recent history shows, having control of the top seed is a juge advantage in major junior heading into the playoffs.

Of the 30 teams to finish first overall in the past 10 seasons, 16 have gone on to win their respective league championships; only seven have failed to reach the final series. Unlike the NHL where the number of points separating the top and bottom seeds of each conference are relatively low, the top teams are separated from the mediocre teams by such a wide margin, the first two rounds aren’t much of a contest at all. Only once in the QMJHL has a team failed to reach the final when finishing first, it happened twice in the OHL and five times in the WHL.

Listed below are the past 10 regular season champions in each of the three major junior leagues along with their regular season record, total points and how they fared in the playoffs.

QMJHL

  • 2011-12: Saint John Sea Dogs, 50-15-0-3, 103, won final (16-4)
  • 2010-11: Saint John Sea Dogs, 58-7-1-2, 119, won final (16-3)
  • 2009-10: Saint John Sea Dogs, 53-12-1-2, 109, lost final (14-7)
  • 2008-09: Drummondville Voltigeurs, 54-10-0-4, won final (16-3)
  • 2007-08: Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, 47-20-2-1, 97, lost final (13-4)
  • 2006-07: Lewiston MAINEiacs, 50-12-2-4, 106, won final (16-1)
  • 2005-06: Moncton Wildcats, 52-15-0-3, 107, won final (16-5)
  • 2004-05: Rimouski Oceanic, 45-17-5-3, 98, won final (12-1)
  • 2003-04: Gatineau Olympiques, 50-13-7-0, won final (12-3)
  • 2002-03: Baie-Comeau Drakkar, 50-14-6-2, lost Round 3 (7-5)

OHL

  • 2011-12: London Knights, 49-18-0-1, 99, won final (16-3)
  • 2010-11: Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, 53-13-0-2, 108, lost final (15-5)
  • 2009-10: Barrie Colts, 57-9-0-2, 116, lost final (12-5)
  • 2008-09: Windsor Spitfires, 57-10-0-1, 115, won final (16-4)
  • 2007-08: Kitchener Rangers, 53-11-1-3, 110, won final (16-4)
  • 2006-07: London Knights, 50-14-1-3, 104, lost Round 3 (9-7)
  • 2005-06: London Knights, 49-15-1-3, 102, lost final (12-7)
  • 2004-05: London Knights, 59-7-2-0, 120, won final (16-2)
  • 2003-04: London Knights, 53-11-2-2, 110, lost Round 3 (11-4)
  • 2002-03: Kitchener Rangers, 46-14-5-3, 100, won final (16-5)

WHL

  • 2011-12: Edmonton Oil Kings, 50-15-3-4, 107, won final (16-4)
  • 2010-11: Saskatoon Blades, 56-13-1-2, 115, lost Round 2 (4-6)
  • 2009-10: Calgary Hitmen, 52-17-1-2, 107, won final (16-7)
  • 2008-09: Calgary Hitmen, 59-9-3-1, 122, lost final (14-4)
  • 2007-08: Tri-City Americans, 52-16-2-2, 108, lost Round 3 (11-5)
  • 2006-07: Everett Silvertips, 54-15-1-2, 111, lost Round 2 (6-6)
  • 2005-06: Medicine Hat Tigers, 47-16-1-8, 103, lost Round 3 (9-4)
  • 2004-05: Kelowna Rockets, 45-13-12-2, 104, won final (16-8)
  • 2003-04: Kelowna Rockets, 47-21-4-0, 98, lost Round 3 (11-6)
  • 2002-03: Kelowna Rockets, 51-14-6-1, 109, won final (16-3)

The chances of success are extremely high, especially when compared to the NHL. Of the past 10 Presidents’ Trophy winners, only two (the 2001-02 and 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings) have won the Stanley Cup. Four (2005-06 Red Wings, 2008-09 San Jose Sharks, 2009-20 Washington Capitals and 2011-12 Vancouver Canucks) were jettisoned from the first round. There’s a lot more parity in the NHL and now more than ever a team just has to make the playoffs the have a legitimate chance to make a big run. The same just does not hold true in major junior.

In those 10 seasons, the leading regular season teams have combined for just 11 losses in first round playoff action. Not even series losses either, just games as they have accumulated a 108-11 record against the much weaker teams they play in the first round. Last season the Canucks finished just 16 points ahead of their first round opponent, the Los Angeles Kings while the QMJHL’s Sea Dogs finished 54 points ahead of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, the OHL’s Knights finished 34 points ahead of the Windsor Spitfires and the WHL’s Oil Kings were 25 points ahead of the Kootenay Ice.

Only three teams lower than a third seed have won a league championship in 10 seasons: The 2002-03 Hull Olympiques (eighth, 39-27-4-2, 84 points), 2008-09 Kelowna Rockets (sixth, 47-21-1-3, 98 points) and 2010-11 Kootenay Ice (sixth, 46-21-1-4, 97 points). In the OHL, either the first or second seed won the championship every time, a five-apiece split, and the second seed is the only team in that span that defeated the regular season champs. Besides the eighth-seeded Hull Olympiques and seven number-one seeds that won the championship in the QMJHL were two third-place teams, the 2007-08 Gatineau Olympiques and 2009-10 Moncton Wildcats.

There is a bit more parity in the WHL than there is in its eastern counterparts. Six times the top seed failed to win the league title and five of the six times they were ousted, it was by a team that finished fifth or lower. The 2006-07 Everett Silvertips were upset the worst, falling in the second round to the 33-31-3-5 Prince George Cougars who finished 13th overall.

In the NHL, you can no longer count on the Presidents’ Trophy winner going on a long run, but the overall differences between the top and bottom teams is so much greater in major junior than it is in the world’s top league.

It’s true anything can happen in the playoffs, but you can feel comfortable penciling in the Mooseheads, Knights and Winterhawks for a date in their respective championship series. Heck, take a chance and use pen.

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