I’ve long believed great players don’t need a Stanley Cup to be considered among the elite. Of course it helps, but you need to be on a great team to win the Cup. I’ll be very surprised if we see a team match the Blackhawks’ three Cups in six seasons during the next few decades. In today’s salary cap era, it is extremely difficult to keep a team together for six seasons, and if you do, you will need some luck and, most importantly, you’ll need to avoid serious injuries.
During their three Cup wins, the Hawks’ core group of seven players — Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Niklas Hjalmarsson — missed a total of two games. Hossa and Keith each missed one game during their 2013 run.
Kane did get injured late in 2015, and missed the final 21 league games, but he returned for the playoffs. He missed only one regular season game during their other two Cup runs.
The Blackhawks were not only good, their best players were always available to play. When they lost to the Kings in the conference final in 2014, Brent Seabrook was the only one of the seven to not dress for all 19 playoff games. He missed three due to a suspension.
The Hawks also always had excellent secondary production.
In 2010, Dave Bolland and Dustin Byfuglien tied for fifth in Hawks playoff scoring combining for 19 goals. Hossa had three that year. Keith had two.
In 2013, Bryan Bickell was second behind Kane in playoff points. He finished with 17 and was second on the team in goals with nine behind Sharp’s ten. Thirty-five year old Michal Handzus was acquired at the deadline for a fourth round pick, and he became their second line centre for two months. Toews had one goal in the first three rounds, yet the Hawks still won.
In 2015, Brad Richards and Antoine Vermette gave them centre depth, and Richards, who was very average in the regular season, chipped in 14 points in the playoffs.
The Hawks had an unreal core of seven players, who played pretty much every game, and GM Stan Bowman found the right pieces to fit the puzzle every year.
The Hawks success had some people actually believing Toews was a better player than Sidney Crosby. At one point in 2014, Toews laughed at the suggestion, but some believed because he had won two Cups he was the better player.
Between 2009 and 2016, Crosby scored 644 points in 494 games, while Toews tallied 510 in 581 games. Crosby had 1.30 points per game, while Toews produced 0.88 PPG. Crosby won one Cup, while Toews won three. Toews was on a better team, but in my eyes it is obvious who is the better player.
The Blackhawks didn’t have the same depth on the blueline this year as previous Cup years, due to a lack of cap space with Kane and Toews’ contracts eating up $21 million. Trevor Van Riemsdyk wasn’t as good as Johnny Oduya. The Hawks lost in seven to a deeper Blues team.
The Penguins got by the Capitals, because their defensive depth was more consistent. Mike Weber and Nate Schmidt each had a terrible giveaway that led to the game winning goal in two of the Penguins four victories. When Derrick Pouliot and Justin Schultz had to play due to an injury to Olli Maatta and a suspension to Kris Letang, they didn’t make any glaring mistakes.
Some have suggested Alex Ovechkin isn’t a great leader, and that’s why the Capitals lost. However, no numbers back that up.
Ovechkin had 2-5-7 in six games. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combined for 1-3-4.
During the playoffs when Ovechkin was on the ice the Capitals outscored the opposition 19-5. When he was on the bench they were outscored 17-10. The Caps GF/GA ratio was +14 with Ovie on the ice and -7 without him. He scores, he is physical, he competes. I’d say he led by example, but some still believe he isn’t a winner.
With Crosby on the ice the Penguins have outscored teams 15-9, but when he’s been on the bench his supporting cast outscored the opposition 22-16. The Penguins goal differential is +6 with Crosby and without him. The Nick Bonino, Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin line has been fantastic for the Penguins.
The Capitals had a great season, but the Penguins have been excellent since December 21st. They were 33-12-5 in their final 50 games, and are 8-3 in the playoffs.
The Penguins outscored the Capitals 16-15 in the series. They won four games by one goal. The shots were 209-202 for the Penguins. The shot attempts were 407-399 for the Capitals.
Both teams are very good, but the Penguins’ depth, even as far down at their #7 and #8 D-men, were a bit better. Hockey is the ultimate team game. You need all your players playing well to win, not just your superstar forwards who play 20 minutes/game.
HOW IT RELATES TO THE OILERS
The Oilers haven’t been close to a playoff spot since they drafted Taylor Hall, and some believe Hall and the rest of the core are the main reasons why. I can’t get on board with that rationale.
Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have areas of their games they could improve. They are not perfect players, but I don’t buy the theory they are bad leaders. They might not be great leaders, but that doesn’t mean they are bad. Not all players are natural leaders, but I disagree with those who believe their play is the main reason this team has been the laughing stock of the NHL since the start of 2009.
You need a good team to compete, not just a few good individuals. Hall, Eberle and RNH need to be better moving forward, no doubt, but suggesting they are the root of the problem is pointing the blame in the wrong direction. The Oilers have not had enough quality NHL players to compete. I’m also not saying you can’t trade one to improve the team, I believe that needs to happen, but not because they are bad players or people, but instead because the blueline needs to be upgraded.
Connor McDavid is such a special player the Oilers will undoubtedly improve during his tenure, but in order for him to get in the playoffs he’ll need a better supporting cast than Hall had during his first six seasons.
And when the Oilers finally make the playoffs again, I’m sure McDavid will hear catcalls if the Oilers aren’t successful in his first few appearances. McDavid could dominate for the 20 or so minutes he’s on the ice, but if his supporting cast isn’t competitive he won’t win.
The Washington Capitals have some great players, and a really good team, but they faced a team with great players and a supporting cast who were better at key moments in the game.
The line between success and failure in the NHL playoffs is arguably thinner than it’s ever been before. Not only do you need a great core, you need some luck, some timely scoring from unexpected sources, and you need to stay healthy.
The Oilers haven’t had much luck staying healthy for many years. That, along with some improved depth, is desperately needed if you expect to see them compete for the Cup in the coming seasons.
Getting to the playoffs will be an accomplishment after the Decade of Darkness, but once they are there Oilers fans will be reminded how hard it is to win. You’ve learned the hard way that 2006 was luckier than anyone could have imagined.
GOING TO VEGAS
year’s tourney will be held at the Yellowhead Casino this year. It
includes a complimentary lunch. We over 50% sold out. You can sign up here. Good luck.
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