Cornwall Ontario – As we wait to see who gets to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup this season (Go PK!) there’s a bit of a lull in the hockey world. The Las Vegas expansion only has so much heat story wise, free agency is looking to be a bore this year and it seems that it’s harder to make entertaining hockey trades any longer.
So I thought I’d crunch a few things this morning. I’ve had a blue print for what makes a successful NHL franchise now for over twenty years. I don’t share or write about it, and I know I’m bias, but it’s pretty awesome.
This story isn’t about that. As someone that was the Habs first videostatographer all the way back in the 90’s before some of this amateur analytics woo hoo came out I got to do some research and have sporadically tinkered as I’ve left the hockey world.
Today we’re going to talk about what makes a strong team. The prevailing theory a lot of scribblers write about is having two strong Centre’s as your core.
So let’s let look at this past season. The top regular season teams and the final four in the play offs.
It seems to be the case for Pittsburgh who have Crosby and Malkin up the middle. Of course it’s a lottery win to be able to land two talents like this. It was more luck than being a smart GM; although keeping them together did take some wisdom. Nashville has Johansen and Fisher. (They had Ribeiro, but he allegedly fell off the wagon and has been banished) Anaheim was over the top with Getzlaf and Kesler up the middle. Vermette was Phoenix’s #1 only a year ago and is an awesome #3 for D and faceoffs. Ottawa had a 1-2 punch of Turris and Brassard which allowed JG Pageau to look better than he probably is.
So far so good.
Washington had Backstrom and Johansson which isn’t too shabby. Lars Eller at #3 works too.
Chicago have Toes and Ansimov.
Columbus had Wennberg and Dubinsky with kudos to Sam Gagner
Minnesota have Staal & Koivu
The Rangers had a troika due to injury of Stepan, Zibanejad, and Kevin Hayes.
The Oilers are rich enough to play Draisaitl on wing part time with McDavid and the Nuge.
The Habs had um…Tomas Plekanec and Philip Daneault
St. Louis have Stasny and Berglund.
and finally SJ had a multitude featuring Couture, Thorton, and Pavelski.
Clearly for Montreal the issue has been, for a long time, not being able to have a solid one two punch up the middle.
Looking at this section of the NHL the would finish at the bottom by any reasonable means of appraisal.
The Habs wouldn’t even be in the next section of ten teams or even the bottom ten.
There isn’t one team in the NHL that has a worse 1-2 punch than the Habs. It’s a wonder that they made the playoffs if having two solid centre’s is the prevailing proven wisdom.
Even an off the wagon Mike Ribeiro’s numbers prorated for a full season would come close to Phil Daneault or Tomas Plekanec.
What about the theory of having a great goalie? Well, goaltending has a lot to do with the team in front of you and the system your coach runs. Marty Brodeur, hockey’s greatest goalie ever even if he doesn’t say hi enough to yours truly, would not have the numbers he did if not playing for a strong defensive team that branded “the trap”.
For years Carey Price has benefitted from the frugally run concept of D first. IE Player’s who excel at defense don’t earn like those that do on offense.
Of course Carey is no Jaro Halak or Craig Anderson who have stolen series in the playoffs for their team. He does rock it during the regular season.
Looking at the top ten goals against average for a quick snapshot highlights his former backup Peter Budaj. Anders Nillson, Craig Anders, Scott Darling, and Jimmy Howard are all ahead of Price in shooting percentage. And it was MA Fleury, who had one of his worst seasons stat wise in the NHL, leading the Penguins threw a couple of rounds.
So it does look like your 1-2 punch up the middle is more important than having an ace in net.
So the question for Hab fans is after five years why does GM Marc Bergevin still have a putrid punch up the middle?
Only Geoff Molson can answer that question. Of course the bigger question is will Mr. Molson answer it now, after the playoffs or next season?
And Mr. Molson, while you’re at it please hire Larry Robinson to coach our D. I promise to drink some Molson products if you do.
What do you think hockey fans? You can post your comments below.
Photo: Wiki Commons