One piece of the puzzle is complete. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are returning to the finals, with an additional year of experience under their belts. The hockey world may have its first heavyweight rematch since the Oilers’ and Islanders’ dynasties met for the 1983-4 title.
Bravo to captain Sidney Crosby (14 Goals, 14 Assists, 28 Points, +12 plus/minus, 22.2 S%) for his measured performance and thoughtful leadership:
- A perfectly threaded and weighted pass to veteran finisher Bill Guerin (7 Goals, 7 Assists, 14 Points, +11 plus/minus, 14.0 S%), for the Penguins third goal:
- Contributing with assists and continued faceoff excellence (54% for playoffs), despite zero SOG;
- Passing up an easy empty net goal, allowing hard working Craig Adams to score his third of the playoffs;
- Demonstrating to his team that they are taking destiny into their own hands – Handling the Prince of Wales trophy tonight against common superstition.
Defensemen Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi and center Jordan Staal got deserved credit for containing the Eric Staal show for much of the short four game series. The 30 year old Scuderi in particular is a little known and underrated player. His +23 plus/minus rating led the Penguins (did you know that Sidney Crosby was a mere +3?) and his +6.4 defensive GVT was tops on the team by a large margin.
How does the Syosset, New York native rank amongst the NHL’s defensive specialists? One quick way to look is to take the best defensemen in defensive GVT, but to only include defensemen whose defensive GVT was at least twice their offensive GVT. This excludes two-way defensemen such as Nicklas Lidstrom, Mark Streit, Mike Green, Rob Blake, Dennis Wideman, Filip Kuba, Shea Weber and even Carolina’s Anton Babchuk (+7.4 offensive, +6.3 defensive GVT, +13.7 total GVT) – remember him? Scuderi makes it on the list of the ten best stay-at-home defensemen in the NHL:
O GVT: Offensive GVT
D GVT: Defensive GVT
T GVT: Total GVT
Best stay-at-home defensemen, regular season
Name Team G A Pts +/- O GVT D GVT T GVT
Jan Hejda CLB 3 18 21 +23 +0.7 +8.4 +9.1
Stephane Robidas DAL 3 23 26 +10 -0.2 +7.9 +7.7
Marc-Edouard Vlasic SJS 6 30 36 +15 +3.1 +7.8 +10.9
Willie Mitchell VAN 3 20 23 +29 +1.1 +7.7 +8.8
Joni Pitkanen CAR 7 26 33 +11 +2.7 +7.0 +9.7
Sean O'Donnell LAK 0 12 12 +2 -1.4 +7.0 +5.6
Greg Zanon NSH 4 7 11 +8 -1.6 +6.9 +5.3
Mike Mottau NJD 1 14 15 +24 -0.7 +6.7 +6.0
Matt Greene LAK 2 12 14 +1 -0.6 +6.6 +6.0
Rob Scuderi* PIT 1 15 16 +23 +0.0 +6.4 +6.4
Further boosting his value for Pittsburgh, the Boston College product also had a miniscule 18 PIM for the season, a very low total for a defenseman logging almost twenty minutes of ice time per game.
Defenseman Hal Gill and third line center Jordan Staal were also cited for helping contain Eric Staal. They are also valued as among the better Penguins defenders by the defensive GVT metric:
Name Team G A Pts +/- O GVT D GVT T GVT
Hal Gill PIT 2 8 10 +11 -0.3 +3.2 +2.9
Jordan Staal PIT 22 27 49 +5 +5.2 +2.4 +7.6
During the regular season, it was Pittsburgh’s top lines that matched their opponents’ best lines, while Staal faced weaker competition than the top forwards and defensemen. The young centerman’s role changed for the postseason, though. In the playoffs, Staal has been one of five Penguins heading a list of players who have faced their oppositions’ best in a checking role:
Top quality of competition, 2008-9 playoffs
NAME POS TEAM TOI/60 Quality of competition
Tyler Kennedy C PIT 13.83 +0.40
Matt Cullen C CAR 13.37 +0.40
Marc Staal D NYR 15.72 +0.40
Kimmo Timonen D PHI 16.36 +0.39
Matt Cooke C PIT 13.65 +0.37
Jordan Staal C PIT 15.18 +0.36
Dan Girardi D NYR 15.87 +0.34
Ryan Parent D PHI 16.21 +0.32
Rob Scuderi D PIT 17.79 +0.32
Simon Gagne LW PHI 14.06 +0.31
Hal Gill D PIT 17.31 +0.31
Metrics courtesy of www.behindthenet.ca
Interestingly, only players from four teams make this list –Pittsburgh, Carolina, New York and Phiadelphia– both because of coaching decisions to employ checking lines and also because those teams were faced with combating the offensive firepower of Crosby, Malkin and Alex Ovechkin in the playoffs.
Are you starting to look forward to a Red Wings-Penguins rematch in the finals? Barring a surprise comeback by the Blackhawks, that’s what it’s shaping up to be. Rematches have favored the previous winner by a tally of 7 to 3 since the inception of the NHL in 1926-7, though only three rematches have occurred since the end of the Original Six era in 1966-7:
Season Winning team Losing team Games Result
1931–32 Toronto Maple Leafs New York Rangers 3–0 New champion
1932–33 New York Rangers Toronto Maple Leafs 3–1
1947–48 Toronto Maple Leafs Detroit Red Wings 4–0 Repeat
1948–49 Toronto Maple Leafs Detroit Red Wings 4–0
1953–54 Detroit Red Wings Montreal Canadiens 4–3 Repeat
1954–55 Detroit Red Wings Montreal Canadiens 4–3
1954–55 Detroit Red Wings Montreal Canadiens 4–3 New champion
1955–56 Montreal Canadiens Detroit Red Wings 4–1
1956–57 Montreal Canadiens Boston Bruins 4–1 Repeat
1957–58 Montreal Canadiens Boston Bruins 4–2
1958–59 Montreal Canadiens Toronto Maple Leafs 4–1 Repeat
1959–60 Montreal Canadiens Toronto Maple Leafs 4–0
1962–63 Toronto Maple Leafs Detroit Red Wings 4–1 Repeat
1963–64 Toronto Maple Leafs Detroit Red Wings 4–3
1967–68 Montreal Canadiens St. Louis Blues 4–0 Repeat
1968–69 Montreal Canadiens St. Louis Blues 4–0
1976–77 Montreal Canadiens Boston Bruins 4–0 Repeat
1977–78 Montreal Canadiens Boston Bruins 4–2
1982–83 New York Islanders Edmonton Oilers 4–0 New champion
1983–84 Edmonton Oilers New York Islanders 4–1
2007–08 Detroit Red Wings Pittsburgh Penguins 4–2 ?
2008-09 Detroit Red Wings? Pittsburgh Penguins ?
Note that dominance in one year’s finals did not necessarily translate to success the following year. Out of the five teams above that swept their Finals series, two did not win their rematch, including the Islanders in 1983-4.
The table below shows the complete trends of teams repeating as winners and losers in the Stanley Cup finals:
W->W L->L Both W->L L->W Switch
Original six, # 12 9 5 5 8 2
Original six, % 30% 23% 13% 13% 20% 5%
Expansion era, # 10 3 2 1 4 1
Expansion era, % 25% 8% 5% 3% 10% 3%
Total, # 22 12 7 6 12 3
Total, % 28% 15% 9% 8% 15% 4%
Repeat winners have occurred frequently, a full 25% of the time since 1967-8, and 28% all time. The next most frequent occurrence has been the previous year’s loser becoming the next year’s winner, which happened 10% of the time in the modern era and 15% all time. One year’s runner-up repeated as runner-up 8% in the modern era and 15% all time. Interestingly, it has been more common to have a replay occurence of the previous year’s results for both teams, 5% in the modern era and 9% all time, than for the previous year’s winner to return to the finals, but lose, 3% in the modern era and 8% all time.
The sequel of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin meeting Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk –assuming the latter two are healthy enough to play– may look nearly as compelling in retrospect as that 1983-4 rematch of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Paul Coffey against Mike Bossy, Brian Trottier and Dennis Potvin. There’s a good chance this time around as well, that the up and coming young superstars will prevail.
Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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