Size and the Stanley Cup Finals

We’ve all heard the story: that collection of skilled midgets the Edmonton Oilers run in their top-six might be fine in the regular season, but in the Stanley Cup playoffs they’re going to be run over by teams that are bigger, stronger and meaner than they are.

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Does the myth of size succeeding in the postseason match the reality of recent playoffs?

The Stanley Cup Finalists

The chart above shows the players who played top-four even-strength minutes on the wing or top-two even-strength minutes at centre on Stanley Cup finalists over the last five seasons. Players weighing less than 200 pounds are bolded and highlighted.

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(Note: Weights come from NHL.com, and naturally should be seen as approximations. This is particularly true for players going back a few years – as one example, contemporary publications commonly listed Patrick Kane at 165 or 170 pounds.)

Is there a trend? I think so. While the Kings and Devils last year were hulking teams on their top two lines, they were the exception rather than the rule.

Boston, typically portrayed as the “big bad Bruins” had two monsters in Lucic and Horton, but half of their top-six wingers weren’t particularly big and neither of their centres were. Chicago didn’t win with size – Kane, Versteeg and Bolland were all lightweights. Malkin’s tall, but plays lean, and Crosby isn’t big. Still, three of the Penguins top-four wingers (including Kunitz) were fair-sized players. Fully half of the Detroit Red Wings miss our threshold – the Datsyuk/Zetterberg centre combination isn’t all that big, and Valtteri Filppula doesn’t meet that description either. Detroit’s one of those teams that ‘you must have size down the middle’ types prefer to ignore.

The Edmonton Oilers

Again: all sizes come from NHL.com and are best seen as approximations.

This is a small group, but they’re also awfully young. Hall and (somewhat surprisingly) Gagner are within a whisker of 200 pounds, and there’s very little doubt in my mind that both Yakupov will play heavier than the mid-180’s (possibly Nugent-Hopkins as well, though that’s more arguable).

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I do think it’s a group that could stand more size, but I think that comes. It seems unlikely to me that the trio of Eberle, Yakupov and Hemsky all play together on this team for the long haul; the most likely scenario being the departure of Hemsky – a little older and a lot more injury-prone than the others – though of course a blockbuster trade for, say, a high-end defenceman might feature Eberle or Yakupov as a centerpiece.

Imagine this hypothetical scenario: the Oilers keep Eberle and Yakupov on the right, with Eberle sticking around 185 and Yakupov playing at 190. The keep Nugent-Hopkins (playing at roughly 190) and Gagner (playing at 200) at centre. Hall (playing at 200) and a free agent – say Nathan Horton (listed at 229 pounds) or Ryane Clowe (225 pounds) or even Dustin Penner (245 pounds) gets added in the other winger slot. How does that team match, size-wise, with the other teams on this list?

Realistically, one big winger and a little internal growth and the Oilers wouldn’t stand out much at all from the list above.

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