Friday, June 15, 2012

The Cup-winning model... It's not all black and silver

Another year, another Cup winner.  Another off-season for fairweather fans and professional analysts alike to lose perspective on any success their teams may have recently enjoyed.  (Look under: back-to-back Presidents' Trophies and a Campbell Bowl in two years.)  Unless you're basking in the aftermath of a Stanley Cup parade right now, it's time for the annual "If you can't beat 'em, copy 'em" game.  Fortified by Boston's previous success, enter the era of the L.A. model: Size and goaltending.  An ability to score is a given – this isn't 1999 anymore – but it seems now that your top players require the ability to deposit both pucks and bodies wherever they please if you want to win 16 games between April and June. 

In other words, if your captain can't play like Dustin Brown, who led the playoffs in points and hits, practice your golf swing.  Imagine Vancouver's horror.  Suddenly the finesse and puck possession formula championed by Detroit and emulated most by the Canucks is obsolete, right?  (You mean we can't Sedin our way to the Cup?)

To respond to this growing stream of thought, here's a brief history of NHL analysis in the past five years alone:

The Ducks win in 2007 and the mantra is established to "Get bigger."  A high-profile goalie is also obviously a must.  Then Detroit and Pittsburgh stickhandle their way to the Finals in back-to-back years and size is effectively de-emphasized for skill and puck possession.  The obligatory "high-profile goalie" in net was Chris Osgood.  Chicago continues along the same vein, relying more on skill than size, while being backstopped by no less than Antii Niemi.  Fast forward to the past two years as Boston and Los Angeles re-flip the script for the goaltending-and-size combination to take prominence once more.

These trends are clearly short-lived, but when the nightly analysis on Sportsnet and TSN get going again in September, I'll bet that more than a few of the former players and coaches out of NHL jobs the esteemed experts of the league are gonna start counting teams out based on how dissimilar their rosters are to Los Angeles's.

For all their in-depth knowledge, it will always be easier to deal in straightforward and simple maxims:  Size wins championships.  Defence wins championships.  Build around your goalie.  Don't build around your goalie.

The reality is, if a team with a completely different style and roster composition than the Kings doesn't win the Stanley Cup next year, one probably will the year after.  Where the Broad Street Bullies succeded in the 70's, so did the free-wheeling Oilers the following decade. 

This isn't gonna cut it for most Canucks fans – succeeded league-wide in jadedness by perhaps only Toronto – but the lesson is to stay the course.  I fully understand that said course is approaching a half-decade, but at no point in this Cupless streak has the team been this close, this often.

For those calling to blow up the roster to look more like Boston or L.A., I'd hate to be you when another puck possession team inevitably wins the Cup.  The only thing that Anaheim, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles all have in common is that none of those fool-proof rosters won twice in a row.

But if you must insist on reducing it to a simple formula, best to follow the find-team-chemistry-and-get-hot-at-the-right-time-while-getting-above-average-performance-from-all-your-players model.  Although the analysts might be on to something, cause that's significantly less catchy.


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