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|
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: