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.

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.

(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).

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

  • 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.

  • 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

    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 .

  • 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).

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.