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, 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 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.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Its desire,execution and work ethic that wins championships, not Coke machines on skates. Thinking like this helped me realize that Sprite works well to remove Cheetos gunk from my fingertips.

  • northof51

    Great post JW. I couldn’t agree more… A few years of growth, a trade for a top tier d-man and the addition of a (legitimate) power forward would definitely give us a recipe for a championship team.

    However, most of these teams also had a hot goalie and a good run of health to make it to the big dance.

    PS Does Gagner wear ankle weights before he steps on the scale? Can’t believe he’s that heavy.

  • T__Bone88

    That list of finalists is interesting in that you don’t need huge centers to win. Gagner for all the negativity that is put towards his size is right in the middle there for size amongst those centers listed. If the oilers were to get bigger on the top six I can see Hemsky being dealt for a bigger RW.

  • Phixieus666

    Its easy to say this trend and that trend but to me its more individual based. Is Gagner a a Zetterberg or Datsyuk? Ya right. What about RNH? Maybe TBD.

    To me everyone of the smaller centers on that list are better than Gagner because they are more skilled and/or bring more elements to the game than Gagner does.

    We we have the potential to be alright on the wings but that is still a bit of a ? as well. However adding a Hartnell to that mix would make a big difference.

    If I’m being honest I’m still more worried about the defense. The Fact is right now I only see Petry and J.Schultz as Top 4 defenseman. If Smid could pass the puck better I’d have him in there to but he can’t. Klefbom maybe be a top 4 but not likely for another year or two. So I still think the defense is the biggest problem.

  • A-Mc

    THANK YOU! This is exactly what has been on my mind. Grabbing 1 bigger winger that comfortably fits into the top 6, is all the Oilers will need up front.

    You’re likely looking at a Hemsky –> Big Winger trade. Straight up (Or add a pick/prospect to ensure the winger is a solid 2nd liner).

  • A-Mc

    If it was just size, anyone could win the cup.

    The way you phrase the question obviously the answer is no.

    Straw man argument

    Oilers are a soft team. Size and grit would help this team .

  • T__Bone88

    Great post, but I think the pure size and weight of a player is a bit overstated. The oilers need to get meaner, and nastier. The Hall suspension is actually a bright spot in my eyes, I wouldn’t mind seeing Nuge and Eberle get a little nasty too. I know its not in their game, but those other teams were successful because they had Sh*t disturbers like Burrows, Versteeg, Richards, even Carter had a bit of grease to give. Its not the size of the lion in the fight, its size of the fight in the lion. I guess most would call it grit or whatever you want to say.

  • A-Mc

    Looking mostly at Salary comparison:

    What about a Hemsky to Boston for N. Horton?

    They are comparable money exchanges. Hemsky will get you more points, but Horton is bigger. Both have some Injury concerns (Horton was double concussed a short while ago, and Hemsky’s shoulders were both beaten).

    The downside is that Hemsky has another year on his contract and N.Horton is a UFA this year. I suppose Tamby could try to pick him up as a UFA but i doubt he’d even make it that far.

    • Phixieus666

      Might not be as far fetched as people may think. If Boston is looking to add some dynamic offense before the playoffs it could be possible as they have a fairly large and physical team already. Having said that I would think it would take more than Hemsky, even as rental, to get Horton. But if I was the Oiler’s I would make the deal conditional on him signing with the Oiler’s. I’m sure Boston would want to add a draft pick, young ELC’s are always needed on competitive teams in the salary cap world.

      My biggest concern is the injury history but both have had problems so I would assume that evens out. Also of note, Horton is in Hemsky territory points wise when hes healthy and plays a full season. Would Hemsky and a 2nd get it done? If Boston runs into Defense problems towards the deadline would Hemsky, Whitney, and a 4th rounder or 3 rd make it happen?

      Interesting to think about but I would rather target hartnell and Philly needs defenseman, might be a perfect fit for Whitney.

      • A-Mc

        Ya You’re right, i didnt realize his PPG totals were so close to Hemskys.

        I was thinking we were trading a 0.75PPG player for a bigger 0.5 or Less PPG player. but as it is, over the last 4 seasons including this one, Hemsky is at .743 and Horton is .715

        So it would definitely require Hemsky + Pick or prospect. Looking loosely at the Money situation, Boston needs to offload some Salary in order to make it down to the lowered cap next year. CapGeek says they are already committed to 57Mill of a 64M Cap. They have 4 UFA’s and 2 RFA’s that currently account for 11.875M in salary but will only have 7M to sign them next year.

        If they can’t afford to sign some UFAs, maybe they look at trading Horton as a rental for a pick or prospect only because they may lose him to the UFA market for nothing.

  • A-Mc

    I doubt that RNH can turn into a J. Toews. Toews was always a 2way player , RNH is learning in the NHL. I believe he has potential to be a decent 2 way player but not in the class of a Selke winner.

  • A-Mc

    I have said this before and it applies here as well, This team doesn’t need a wholesale change for a bunch of coke machines. However a little more size would be nice. Alot of the type of players everyone finds tough to play against are not overly large. Dustin Brown comes to mind, not a overly huge guy but holy cow does he play hard.

  • Phixieus666

    Thanks for work that went into this John.

    Your chart reephasizes the point, not undercuts it. Most teams have 3 players in the top six over 200 lbs. many significantly over 200 ils, the Oilers have none. To suggest our players will put on weight while using using stats that are based on a players NHLentry seems misleading. In enlooking at the SC champion teams, many of the smaller players exude tenacity and grit Marchand, Datysuk, Parise, Zetterberg. Brouwer played more minutes on Chicago’s SCC team which adds another big body.

    Have no difficulty with the Oilers keeping 4 of Hall, Yak, RNH, Eberle & Gagner in our top 6 n/w/s only Hall plays physical . So pik which 4

  • Phixieus666

    The weak players going forward will be RNH & Eberle and I think they should be split up in the future .I also don’t understand why 3 lines with 2 each of top 6 isn’t being tried . Right now I would send VV back to Okc . Put Hall at center with Jones & Yak ;RNH , Ebbs & Smyth ; Hemmer , Gags & Magnus leaving Belanger with Pettrel & Eager . There not scoring at evens anyway and potentially 3 lines who may score may give us more oportunity . Once Horc is back Hall goes back on wing .

  • Rob...

    Out of that list, only the Blackhawks had a line where all 3 forwards were below 200lbs in size. I’d say that the Oilers have a lot of room for improvement there.

    • Phixieus666

      For a team as lean at center as the Oilers I’d be jumping all over that. That could be a good pickup only 25 6′ 200lbs. Has been around 10-15 points every year. Hes a Swede, put him on a line with MPS and Lander when hes healthy. Always good to have more Centers and he is young enough that he could still improve. Edmonton needs to claim this guy and send CVV back down.

  • Copperblueandwhite

    The one thing that comes to mind when looking at this chart is the teams that are deemed “smaller Top 6’s” (Bruins, Blackhawks, Flyers) is that they have bottom 6 players that are big/strong and can play the game. You dont win playoff series on just skill alone, you need to be able to push back and wear down the other teams better players and defence. You need to have a solid functioning bottom 6 that can play every shift productively and not have guys sitting on the bench for 56 minutes a game.

    The best example is the Kings. Yeah they have a big top 6 but their not out their to blast guys through the end boards and create choas. They are there cause they are very skillful big players that create space and score. Their bottom 6 wore down every other teams players and started taking over after 10 minutes into the game. They wern’t there to score goals but were there to create choas,shift momentum and ocasionally pitch in with a garbage goal. They may have caught lightning in a bottle with King and Nolan but those guys stepped up their games and played exactly how a championship teams bottom 6 play to win series.

  • Phixieus666

    Tom Wandell is younger and bigger than Belanger and puts up the same points. Anyone know if he PKs? He’s also an improvement points wise over CVV. Would love to hear Stauffer’s take on the guy. Also hes an RFA at the end of the season so if they don’t like what he brings they can just let him go. This is a perfect gamble for the Oil.

  • PlayDirty

    There needs to be one bull on each line that would rather eat than be eaten – someone who wants to own the areas below the offensive goal line and at the top of the crease and be willing to fight tooth and nail to hold on to their turf.

  • DSF

    The NHL playoffs are a war of attrition.

    The team that wins usually has a corp of big third and fourth line bangers who take the body and wear down the opposition defense and small forwards.

    Take a look at LAK:

    Nolan 6’3″ 225

    Clifford 6’2″ 210

    King 6’4″ 235

    Stoll 6’1″ 215

    Penner – 6’5″ 2045

    Add a hard hitting Dustin Brown and a big, tough defense and you have a winning formula.

    Then take a look at the Devils.

    Zubrus 6’5″ 225

    Zajac 6’3″ 205

    Ponikarovsky 6’4″ 225

    Bernier 6’3″ 220

    Barch 6’1″ 220

    Carter 6’1″ 205

    Clarkson 6’1″ 200

    Matteau 6’1″ 215

    Janssen 6’0″ 215

    Either of those teams would pound the Oilers into submission in a 7 game series.

    • Bank Shot

      Finding big 3rd and 4th liners is about the easiest thing one can do in the NHL. Lets not worry about that.

      Lets worry about getting Tallon hired. He’s building something special over in Florida!

    • Bank Shot

      This is exactly right…

      In the old days they called them “heavy” players…..they lean on you all game long….they wear you down….they knock you on your ass…..occasionally they knock you out of the game…..and they almost always knock you out of a series.

  • CaptainLander

    For all Gag’s heart, willingness to engage and PP points, his inability to win a puck battle is all I see. Offense or D-fence. Nuge just looks engaged in the d-zone. He pinches people off, makes no panic plays. I like Gags and would like to see him stay an Oiler. Maybe putting him with a power forward works

  • Copperblueandwhite

    We need one(or 2 preferably) Defenseman who play(s) 25-30 min/nite…our front end won’t look competitive until we get some D that can move the puck out of our end….what’s the matter with this management team (rhetorical)?

  • Phixieus666

    What do teams need to win a cup?

    1. #1 or #2 centre that is a gritty 2way centre Selke type

    2. Dominant puck moving D- man

    3. 4-5 puck moving D-men

    4. Hot Goalie

    5. Power forward on either #1 or # 2 line.

    6. 3rd line Checking line

    7. Luck

    Oilers continue to draft the same player , they are not building a team that can win the cup. Small fast team with potential .

    If Oilers got the #1 pick this year in the draft they would choose a small winger.

    • Bank Shot

      So your against drafting BPA “Best Player Available” in rounds one and two?

      In the upcoming draft, depending on how strongly Curtis Lazar finishes the season with the Oil Kings, there will be a couple of bruisers Fredrick Gauthier and Ryan Hartman ( even Kirby Rychel ) that will be drafted in and around the same time as Lazar …. so would you take one of these other guys over Lazar?

  • Phixieus666

    I was really hoping for Volpatti. I like the way he plays. I think a player simulair (can skate, hit hard, drop em if need be) would do wonders for the 4th line with Eager.

    I just want some mean SOB, big time pricks the Oilers can play regularly and wear down the other teams.

    The thing I see with the Oilers this year is they are staying competitive all through the game but dont know how to finish it. The others teams best players are left free to roam where they please cause they dont get punished for it. You know what was great about Torres when he played for us. He hammered the other teams good players and wore them down throughout the game. Who can play a regular shift and do that for the Oilers? Eager is turning a corner for us but thats not a safe bet.

    And Im not calling for the ever popular Burke model of tenastity or whatever he says. I dont want any goons. Im talking about tough in your face every shift but can actually play the damn game. The Chris Neils, Brandon Prusts, Dj Kings, Tanner Glass, Aron Ashams etc…

    Reading more and more today aboout the Oilers current state has put me into a depressed mood.

    The Oil get manhandled night in night out and its gross.

    • Bank Shot

      Lets not forget that at this stage it’s Men against Boys…..But they won’t be boys for long…Look at the progression in just one year for guys like Taylor Hall and Sam Gagner…the jump from age 18 to 20 is signifcant….even more so from 21 to 23…..same goes for some of these young defensemen…..they’ll be bigger and meaner when they’re 26, 27, 28.

  • I think that it’s about balance throughout the lineup. We don’t have enough edge in our bottom 6 to balance out the skill in the top 6. Hall can handle himself, Yak plays big and both RNH and Eberle would be top 6 forwards on any team in the league for years to come. If Gagner was a better 2-way centre, then I would buy him as a #2 on this team going forward. The best players on the best teams play well in every end of the ice.

  • Is the game won and lost from your top six? If they can’t play, yes. But, you need them just to get an invite to the dance. The bottom six, imo, are the ones that make you a SCF team.

    A few examples: Byfuglien. If Big-B wasn’t smashing Pronger around the Flyers may have won. JMO and goaltending aside. Their best D was getting violated on a regular basis. That helped Chi-town immensely!

    The kings had Nolan and King. Hard on the forecheck. Every shift wearing down the D and creating room for their skilled lines.

    I think the equation is two parts. Size plus energy. The Detroit “grind line” of Maltby, Draper and McCarty wasn’t overly big, but they were hard on the puck. They threw their bodies around without impunity and scored some big goals.

    Where I do agree with you, sir, is that this team, and any team wanting to go to the dance, does need a mixture of size and skill in the top six. A Ryan Clowe type, in this respect, IS the answer for the Oilers. I would like a bigger center to replace Gagner on the 2nd line, but maybe Clowe on his wing helps.

    If the Oil can get Clowe as a FA I would consider it a coup. I would rejoice in the streets!