If you polled 100 hockey fans on the seven most likely teams to win the Stanley Cup, I think you’d probably come up with Chicago, Boston, LA, St. Louis, Anaheim, San Jose and Pittsburgh. I don’t entirely agree with that list – I’d probably have Tampa ahead of Anaheim – but those would seem to me to be the seven teams that hockey fans would pick as most likely to win. For what it’s worth, the bookmakers agree – those teams seem to be the favourites, with Colorado inexplicably edging in on some books.
One of the long running themes of this blog is trying to pull teams apart and see what makes good teams good and bad teams bad. I thought it would be kind of cool to look at the 5v5 Corsi% and GF% that the first/second lines are putting up on contending teams versus what their third/fourth lines are putting up. I went through each of these teams and tried to identify two players who play first/second line minutes who rarely play together to use as a proxy for this. Here’s what I came up with.
I think it should be pretty obvious why I’m skeptical of Anaheim. Their first/second lines aren’t really doing that much possession wise relative to the other contenders but they’re killing it in terms of their share of the goals scored when they’re on the ice. It’s a dangerous way to live. I’m actually surprised that Pittsburgh are so low – Malkin/Crosby have posted much better numbers in the past two seasons. I kind of wonder whether their defence is very good this year, particularly with Letang out. I’m skeptical that St. Louis really the offensive powerhouse that they appear to be.
Boston’s a little bit special because I’m about 60% that they actually impact shot quality against. I’m not sure how yet but that’s an area of understanding hockey that I think someone’s going to make their name in. I was interested yesterday, watching the Sloan Sports Conference tweets roll through my Twitter timeline, to see that Boston’s assistant GM talked about it a bit. That said, I’m sure that there’s some good fortune in that number too – Krejci has a .952 save percentage at 5v5 at the moment. Other than taht, about what you’d think.
Soooo…at some point someone in Pittsburgh is going to say “Given that Crosby and Malkin were there when he got here, what HAS Ray Shero done to make the team better?” right? Pittsburgh’s third and fourth lines were a disaster last year, their first without Jordan Staal (another player Pittsburgh just got by being terrible) and they’re a mess again this year. They’re markedly different than all of the other contenders. If the Pens lose in the playoffs, as they probably will, it will probably involve Crosby/Malkin having a few cold games (or Marc-Andre Fleury blowing up). When that happens, people will say “Gee, Malkin/Crosby/Fleury were terrible.” Perhaps they should point out that Pittsburgh is trying to win with an abysmal bottom half of their team, which piles an awful lot of pressure on the other guys.
As for the rest of it…there’s Anaheim’s bottom six, outperforming their numbers again. Not a real contender. I’m skeptical about St. Louis’ goal numbers, as I said above. I’m very, very impressed by what Chicago and Los Angeles accomplish with their bottom sixes. Chicago looks like an elite 5v5 team even if we cut out every minute that Kane and Toews are on the ice. By definition, that’s going to include a lot of the time that their other star forwards are on the ice as well. What we’re seeing there is just the Hawks third and fourth lines, killing other teams.
That’s a pretty amazing thing to me. I’ve kind of shifted in how I think about things a little bit over the years. There has to be an element of coaching in that. If there isn’t, you sort of wonder a bunch of Chicago’s depth players aren’t stars somewhere else.
All told, I’m kind of inclined to think that there are five real contenders for the Cup this year: LA, CHI, SJ, BOS and STL. That’s the standard that the Oilers should be aspiring too. Long, long way to go, I think.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org