The Chicago Blackhawks win the 2013 Stanley Cup

The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup on Monday night. In so doing, they exposed many of the commonly accepted truths about what it takes to win in the playoffs as the lies they are.

The game has changed. Teams have to be big and tough to compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s great to have skill, but big teams, like Boston and Los Angeles, grind down opponents and are too hard to score on without big bodies. Physically punishing teams have an insurmountable advantage in anything-goes, prison-rules playoff hockey. These things, and things like them, have been written repeatedly in recent years.

The truth is that teams can win in different ways, and the game hasn’t undergone a fundamental shift with wins by the Bruins and Kings. The Blackhawks proved it, winning three series where they were the smaller team, often by a significant margin (numbers that follow are weighted for ice-time):

Team F Height F Weight D Height D Weight Tot. Height Tot. Weight
Chicago 6’1" 200.5 6’1" 204.0 6’1" 201.9
Minnesota 6’1" 201.0 6’1" 195.9 6’1" 199.0
Detroit 6′ 201.3 6’2" 205.2 6’1" 202.8
Los Angeles 6’2" 210.5 6’2" 211.8 6’2" 211.0
Boston 6’1" 203.5 6’3" 215.2 6’2" 208.2

Worse than that, Chicago also did it without hitting very much; the Blackhawks barely hit by NHL standards. In the regular season, they were dead last in hits. In the post-season, they were 15th of 16 playoff teams in hits per game (just a sliver ahead of Detroit). They’re built on puck possession, which means they ended up getting hit a lot and don’t end up hitting the other team very much – it’s hard to hit the opposition when they don’t have the puck. It’s a style that served them well.

Their third and fourth lines, rather than being a collection of enforcers (only two teams in the league recorded fewer major penalties than Chicago this season) or dump-and-chase grinders, the Blackhawks mostly employed puck possession types – Viktor Stalberg, Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger all got ice-time over players like Brandon Bollig and Dan Carcillo. Kruger – a 6’ centre who can’t win faceoffs and doesn’t hit – isn’t a guy most teams picture as the ideal fourth-liner, but he was trusted on the ice in the dying minutes of game five to protect a one-goal lead. How many fourth-liners can say they have the coach’s confidence in that role?

The Blackhawks, the league’s best team in both the regular and post-season, won in much the same way the Red Wings managed the same feat in 2008: with puck possession, with speed and skill, with offensive talent and defensive commitment, and with four lines that could win the chances battle. They did it without amassing a roster of lumbering forwards to clog up the ice, without hammering their opponent into submission with a physical game, and without icing a fourth line composed of Cro-Magnon men.

Obviously, for everyone on the team or involved with it – and certainly for the fans – this is a wonderful victory, but it’s also good news for anyone who likes to see speed and skill triumph over size and strength.

Recently around the Nation Network

A fascinating story out of Vancouver: did the Vancouver Canucks inadvertently reveal their 2010 Draft list?

I also find it pretty fascinating that that the Canucks had two goaltenders ranked in the top-15 of their draft list. That’s an illuminating nugget with respect to how the club views prospect goaltenders… Notable "wtf" features of this draft list include Charlie Coyle being ranked in the mid-70s on the list. Already in Coyle’s young career he’s proved that assessment to be way off the mark. The other massively questionable scouting decision? Jack Campbell at fifth overall. Yikes.

Click the link to read more, or alternately, feel free check out some of my other pieces here:

  • The Last Big Bear

    I don’t mind seeing size and strength triumph over speed and skill.

    I suppose that’s a narrative you might find comforting if you cheer for a team that is comparatively small and weak, but it’s not one that strikes any kind of special emotional chord with me.

    And yeah, there’s a bit of a gap between the not-in-the-playoffs Oilers, compared to the undefeated-in-regulation-in-like-30-games-or-whatever Blackhawks.

    • LinkfromHyrule

      I can appreciate a winning team, whether it is done with size or speed (or any combination of the two along that spectrum). That said, I loved seeing Chicago play a greasy game at a level that matched the Bruins’ antics, in addition to maximizing their speed, and ultimately making Chara a bit of a pylon.

      Great series. A couple of (un)likable teams that I am happy to watch for another 5 years…as long as the Oilers get to play a round or two in there somewhere!

    • BArmstrong

      So you’re BIG and STRONG then?

      David vs Goliath.
      Rocky vs Drago.
      Skywalker vs Darth Vader.
      Toews vs Chara.

      Classic storyline.

      Nothing better then seeing a LITTLE guy take everything the lumbering beast has to dish out, then shrug it off and succeed. I’ll bet there’s little more disheartening for the beast too.

  • Against maybe popular thoughts , I do not believe Hall is ready for captaincy until he shows more of a commitment to defence . Maybe Eberle who might also take some pressure off Hall . Toews and Crosby are two very skilled players and captains who also are committed to defenesive skill as well . Halls not there yet .

  • Encouraging , but we do not have their skill level or line combo deterrent makeup . Defensively we are still subpar physically and skill wise . We are struggling mightily to play a team game at all ends of the ice , very inconsistent .

    Puck possession game demands a strong commitment to a superior team game , not an individual game which we all to often play .We also do not play a superior game without the puck either . Kreuger had them playing better but still not at a level required to be a playoff team . Eakins may help further that along . Long way to go yet and a short time to get there as the song says . Will our so called fab five be skilled enough to get there is the question ? So far it slanting to maybe .

    • LinkfromHyrule

      ‘scuse me? The team took a big visible step backward under Krueger. If dubnyk hadn’t played the way he did we likely would have regressed in the standings.

      while our team may not be near the level Chicago is this is GOOD NEWS FOR OUR PLAYING STYLE. I think that is what JW was getting at…. If we were at chicagos level we would have just won the Stanley cup so don’t be daft and split hairs

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      ***Idries logs on just to tell Willis his article is lame, scolding him for the entire NHL not having any noteworthy news today, then hashtags it like he probably does with birthday cards and emails***

      Unless you have a link to your own blog with the breaking news of Hemsky + for Clutterbuck, what do you want here?

      Willis has always been the stats-based guy. You gotta have those guys among writers here. And I guess there will always be the Simpsons comic book guy slurping his Big Gulp claiming “worst article ever.”

  • John Chambers

    The logic here is that if one is playing this possession game, you must have cream skill……lets use the Detroit and Chicago example. Both team had elite dmen and fwds, the oil may have such fwds. Period. Unless they find a lids/Coffey/sea brook/Keith, this template does not work. The only tried and tested method to win is bullet proof d and a systematic checking game, there too the oil need help. lastly, perhaps the most important point and determining factor is the ace center. Toews, yzerman, fedorov, etc. I needn’t say more. My point simply is that we need to be cautious to assume ourselves to be able to easily replicate the Chicago model. We have LOADS of work to do

      • Under the influence of scientific assumptions, not only the psyche but the individual man, and indeed, all individual events whatsoever suffer a leveling down and a process of blurring that distorts the picture of reality into a conceptual average.

        We ought not to underestimate the psychological effect of the statistical world picture: it displaces the individual in favour of anonymous units that pile up into mass formations.