Stanley Cup Finals Musings

Built

As a player I always enjoyed analyzing the way both Stanley Cup Final teams were built. It was a good way to compare my own team to the elite squads in the league and to see how far (or close) we were to real success. There were springs where I felt my team wasn’t too many pieces away. There were other springs where I just stopped the process entirely.

It doesn’t take a genius to look at the strengths of both teams – Chicago and Tampa Bay. The top six, for both sides, are elite groups. Skate, score, create, lead — any team would be happy with either of those groups in their own squad. There is no doubt that you need a lot of talent on your first two lines to win at the NHL level.

IN NET…

In net, I happen to like Crawford more than most people. I really don’t understand all the negative press that he gets. He has won big games on the biggest stage. He is a Stanley Cup champion. How many goalies in the NHL can say that? Very few. I would be happy to have Crawford as my goalie. Sure, he lets in some bad goals but show me a goalie that doesn’t. It isn’t about the bad goals. It is about how a goalie responds and bounces back from those from game to game. Crawford has shown he can bounce back. That is a skill that not every goalie has.

Bishop is a monster in the net. How can a shooter even see the net when he is in position? He does not have the resume of a Crawford but he has put some good teams and goalies out to pasture this post season. Pretty impressive. He is building his resume. It will be interesting to see what happens in the near future with Vasilevskiy coming on strong behind him. Many people I respect who really know goalies think Vasilevskiy could be a great goalie. Nice problem for Yzerman to have going forward.

A good goalie is required to have a deep run in the NHL playoffs. I don’t think a great goalie is needed. At this point in their careers I would not consider either Crawford or Bishop a top five NHL goalie. I am sure their team mates would disagree but I would have them after the top five, probably closer to ten. Still pretty good but not Price or Renne.

These goalies are helped by a good group of D in front of them. Keith, Seabrook and Hjalmarsson are elite as are Hedman and Stralman. These guys move the puck, defend with their feet, log a lot of minutes and contribute offensively with their shots or by jumping into the play.

THE D…

View image | gettyimages.com

Watching Hedman at his size carry the puck up the ice last night, skate around Seabrook to set up the winning goal was a thing of beauty. How Seabrook gets open in the offensive zone to tee up a slap shot from the ladies tees pretty much every game is impressive. Keith — do I even have to waste the space to say how good he has been these playoffs? It is incredible how much he plays at such a high pace and level. Hjalmarsson and Stralman are very steady. They make very few mistakes.

Elite Dmen are needed for a deep playoff run. That is clear. They help the goalie so much. I would take a very strong top four on D over an elite goalie. I think that a strong group of D make the chances against more predictable for a goalie. His chances of stopping those shots are much higher. A weaker group of D make life crazy for a goalie. He never knows where or when chances against are coming from.

In a perfect world I would take both but given the choice I would go with the D.

THE REST…

View image | gettyimages.com

That leaves the bottom six forwards. Going into this series I felt that the Hawks had a clear advantage in this area. They have more skill in that group. I felt this area of weakness for Tampa.  It doesn’t take Don Cherry to figure out that players with skill sets like Sharp,Teravainen, Shaw and Kruger should outscore the likes of Morrow, Boyle, Brown and Callahan.

It was no secret the bottom six of Tampa have not scored much in these playoffs. After last night Paquette is the leading score of his group with three goals in over 20 games. That isn’t much production and it puts pressure on the top six to score.

It seems to go against conventional wisdom that a team built like Tampa without much depth of scoring can have success in the playoffs. Most people think that three scoring lines are required and than an energy line. So how are they up 2-1 in the Stanley cup finals?

As I watch Tampa play I keep coming back to their third line. It changes a little but from game to game but Callahan, Paquette and Brown are having an impact on the games even though, other than last night, they aren’t scoring often. These three have limited the time and space of the Hawks’ forwards. Every time the Hawks get the puck they are being pressured but one of these three when they are on the ice. If the D do get it on the blue line they are taking away shooting lanes with their bodies and not their sticks. They finish their checks.

For players like Toews and Kane they want space and the ability to create in that space. These are elite players but their lives are much easier when get the puck with room to move. Neither player has created much for the Hawks offensively so far in this series. Tampa is doing a nice job of stepping up on them. If you need to get a clear picture of what I am talking about watch the last three minutes of game three.

When the game was in the critical moments last night it was the third line who were out there for Tampa. They were not flashy but they got the job done. For head coach Cooper they are comfort food. He trusts them to make the right decisions. They block shots like crazy, chip pucks out and are in solid position to defend or fore check.

Clear roles are a huge part of success for a team. There is no better feeling for a player than being put into a role on a team that you know you are able to fulfill. There must not be a better feeling for a coach to see your player accept his role and perform it. This is a pretty basic way to create success.

I like a third line like this on a team. A line that a coach trusts against any opponent. A line that is pretty consistent in its effort and delivery. Many of you will say I am wrong. That a third line needs to score and contribute more offensively.  That the bottom six need to score more goals as a whole. That this chemistry will not work. 

To you, I say Tampa is two wins away from a Stanley Cup.

    • mithaman

      I think the thing I miss the most about struds radio show is Fred!!!! It would bring a huge smile to my face listening to Fred say Jason’s name 328 times in 4 minutes!! Hahaha every 5 words, it was glorious!!!

      Bring back Struddy to radio so Freddy can call his buddy again!!

  • Spoils

    Callahan has reemerged after a 3 round slumber.He is and has been for me the biggest disappointment for the Tampa Bay Lightening. Previous to his appendectomy he was playing below average too. I know that he has had 4 points in the SCF and perhaps that is a sign that he is recovered from his surgery. Previous to these past 4 games though he was a non factor. If he can continue the current trend the TBL have a real good chance to be more than just also ran’s in this SCF.

  • Spoils

    Scoring is important but not allowing the opposition to score is equally important. It is, after all, the goal differential that determines the winner. Everyone has Toews and Kane or Johnson and Kucheroff (well ahead of Stamkos in goals) in mind when they think of the best players but the reality is if you have a line that can stop the opposition’s best from scoring are they not just as impactful? Its just easier to evaluate a player or line on the goals they score rather than the ones they don’t allow.

    “It doesn’t take Don Cherry to figure out that players with skill sets like Sharp,Teravainen, Shaw and Kruger should outscore the likes of Morrow, Boyle, Brown and Callahan.”

    The question should also include the ability to shut down top scorers which now has TB up.

  • 916oiler

    Food for thought:

    Hedman is emerging as a top flight defenseman at age 24. He was drafted 2nd overall.

    Nurse is 4 years younger (approximately) and was drafted 7th overall.

    I love Nurse’s potential, and his style, but we won’t be seeing him at his best for a while. He might be a useful NHLer, but he won’t be the stud we need for at least 2-4 years.

    I’d argue the same for Klefbom, albeit he’s older and has more AHL/NHL experience. He’s not going to peak, however, for a few more years.

    Can you imagine Nurse/Klefbom in 3 years though!? Whoa.

  • oilerjed

    What I am getting out of these finals is that Chicago is a REALLY good team! Obvious statement I know but I keep saying it to myself over and over this the last month.
    I love the style that they play, aggressive and offensively minded. Even their defensive play is offensively minded. Get the puck in the other teams end and keep it there until you score. Yes they have excellent defensive coverage, but as soon as they get a sniff at the puck it is right back up the ice with crisp passes and in the other teams end before you can sneeze.

    If this is the model that the Oilers are going to follow I am very excited for the next decade of Oilers hockey!

  • Spoils

    I believe Chicago will dig deep and win this thing, but Tampa does feel like the team of destiny. Also, with Chicago potentially losing Johnny O after running only 4D…

    great series.

    • Spoils

      I’m looking forward to watching the bishop situation! If I’m a Tampa fan I’m not enjoying watching my goalie struggle just to stand up… Is it groin? Knee?? What’s wrong and how long will be hold out??

      When I’m looking at Vasilevsky as my other option, I wouldn’t be hesitant at all to put in a healthy goaltender.

  • Mike Modano's Dog

    Struddy I love your stuff, but disagree with what you said about Tampa’s 3rd line being checkers. Callahan is QUALITY, and was a top-2 centre in NY if I’m not mistaken and has put up some nice points.

    He’s also in his prime and scored 24 goals this year…so the case could be made that with him at centre they are employing a scoring line.

    I think the truth is somewhere in the middle though – he’s a monster and plays a complete 2-way game and although his line mates are better than advertised (Paquette’s only 22 and is going to get better) to this point they would be called roll players, so you’re right on there.

    At the end of the day it seems to be a nice mix of checking and scoring ability to my eye, even if the line had up to this point in the playoffs been a bit snake-bitten. My guess is that with the success they’ve enjoyed so far in this series, especially last game – their confidence will lead them to becoming impactful on the scoreboard as well now.

    As always though, I love your articles…and I miss you on the radio too. When and where can I find you on television now? The last I heard you was on your radio show – but you couldn’t comment on where you would be exactly. Just know that you are missed – I think you were the funniest guy on radio, and very insightful!

    Just had this thought – you ever think of one day becoming Don Cherry’s replacement as a host on HNIC? Honestly, I have been worried for years about who would/could take over that job, bringing honest to goodness personal in-game knowledge and honesty with the kind of personality that makes everybody want to watch him. I think that is honestly – You… Of course you would do the job differently and make it your own. Instead of playing the tough guy you would just use your natural funny, quirky personality – but with so many laughs with the kind of sincerity that people couldn’t help but want to tune in to every time!

    Just my two cents…but someday, when Don Cherry decides to ‘hang ’em up’ – I hope you will! =D

    • Jason Strudwick

      Hi. THanks for the kinds words. I am now the host of Dinner TV. You can see it every night from 5-7 pm. I do my same sports chats in the 2nd hour.

      As for Don Cherry I don’t think I can dress the same!