Last night the Penguins, who were down two games to none to begin this series, won Lord Stanley’s Cup by a score of two to one, with Max Talbot contributing both goals scored by Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby, who was injured on a play with Henrik Zetterberg was the first to lift the Cup above his head and skate around Joe Louis Arena with the greatly prized trophy. Evgeni Malkin was announced as the MVP of the playoffs and was happy to have won the Conn Smythe Trophy. Stanley Cup experiences can be a once in a lifetime opportunity for many hockey players. What made this team special and how did the right pieces come into place for this team? The story of the 2008-2009 Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins is complex with a vast amount of players contributing to the success of this hockey team. However, five stories stick out the most in Pittsburgh’s journey to their third Stanley Cup victory. Here are the players, along with their Goals Versus Threshold and Relative Plus/Minus, and these are their stories:
Evgeni Malkin, C
GVT: + 23.5
RPM: + 18.1
Before Malkin ever won the Stanley Cup or the Conn Smythe Trophy, he was a highly regarded draft prospect out of the Russian Superleague. In the 2004 NHL Entry Draft held at the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, the southpaw Center was chosen in the first round, second overall, right behind the first overall selection, Alexander Ovechkin. The 2004 draft’s first round has churned out several regular skaters, such as Cam Barker, Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Drew Stafford, Travis Zajac and Mike Green. Over the next two season’s for Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Russian Superleague, Malkin went on to average .82 PPG, with .62 PPG in his first draft-eligible season at the age of 17 and 1 PPG at the age of 18.
Getting ready to come over to the United States to play for the team that drafted him two years prior, the Russian native encountered a nightmare. With an ongoing dispute between the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation, IIHF, the Russian Hockey Federation decided not to honor Malkin’s status with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pittsburgh star signed a one year contract with Metallurg after finding out that he couldn’t leave to sign with the Penguins, and rumors persisted that he was under significant pressure from his team and league to remain in the RSL. J.P. Barry, Malkin’s agent, had said that his client was placed under, “intense psychological pressure,” at 3 a.m. in the morning on August 7, 2006 to sign a new deal. “He was distraught when he called me the next day. He asked for help,” said Barry. During the team’s training camp in Finland, Malkin left and fled to the Helinski airport to meet up with his agent J.P. Barry, where he was taken out of a back door and whisked away in a van. Barry and Malkin decided not to head to the U.S. Embassy immediately as one of Malkin’s friends thought that the embassy was under watch. Time went by and Evgeni even switched apartments out of precaution. Malkin eventually did get to the U.S. Embassy and was on a flight to the United States the following day. The Alternate Captain won Rookie of the Month honors back to back in the first two months of play, and took home the Calder Memorial Trophy for NHL rookie of the year, along with the Michel Briere rookie of the year award for Pittsburgh Penguin rookie of the year. The 22-year-old has gone on to win an array of awards and has averaged 101 points in three seasons with the Penguins.
Sidney Crosby, C
GVT: + 18.7
RPM: + 4.4
The 21-year-old had a bit of an easier time getting to the NHL than his fellow standout teammate ever had. Nicknamed, “The Next One,” Crosby began to dominate the sport of hockey at a very young age. At the age of 12 in the Peewee AAA league for his Cole Harbour Red Wings, he scored over 200 points in 70 games played. In his one year of boarding school in the U.S. at Shattuck St. Mary’s in Minnesota, he scored 72 goals, 90 assists and 162 points in only 57 games played in the United States High School league, and led the Shattuck St. Mary’s Sabres to a U.S. National Championship. The elite Center then quickly ended his high school hockey career after being selected by the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, QMJHL, as the first overall selection. After his first season in the QMJHL, Crosby had received honors such as Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Top Scorer. He remains the only QMJHL player to this very day to have won all three honors within the same year. During his second season in the QMJHL, his team set a record for the longest winning streak, 28 consecutive wins, in route to a runner-up league finish, along 168 points in 62 games played for the Nova Scotia native.
The 2005 NHL Draft Lottery to determine the order to the NHL Entry Draft was dubbed the “Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes” by many, with everyone vying for the number one overall selection later that year. With the league coming off of a lockout season, each teams’ playoff appearances and draft lottery victories were taken into account over the previous four years in determining the order of the draft. The Penguins won the 2005 NHL Draft Lottery and took Sidney Crosby as the first overall selection in July of 2005, right in front of the second overall selection, Bobby Ryan, who landed in Anaheim. Crosby has gone on to win numerous accolades and is arguably the best player in the game, though in terms of GVT, he slipped this year because his defense took a significant step back, as evidenced by his pedestrian + 2.0 Defensive GVT. Still, in Gretzky’s eyes, he could be the greatest ever to play the game of hockey.
Marc-Andre Fleury, G
GVT: + 11.1
RPM: + 0.0 (Does Not Apply to Goaltenders)
“The Flower,” as many of his teammates call him, was the first overall selection in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins, via a draft day trade with the Florida Panthers. This was only the third time in NHL history that the first overall pick was used on a goalie, with Michel Plasse and Rick DiPietro being the other two goalies selected at such a high draft position. Fleury stood out with his spectacular play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, QMJHL, and was the recipient of the Mike Bossy Trophy for most talented prospect in the league. Many scouts believed he was destined for stardom and more success than anyone else being selected in the 2003 draft. The 2003 draft was pegged by many analysts as one of the most talented and deepest drafts in some time, with names such as Eric Staal, Thomas Vanek, Nikolai Zherdev, Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Zach Parise, Mike Richards and Milan Michalek amongst the first year, draft-eligible class. The Panthers traded the 1st overall selection, that ended up being this year's Stanley Cup-winning goaltender, along with the 73rd overall pick, Danny Carcillo, to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for the third overall pick, Nathan Horton, the 55th overall pick, Stefan Meyer, and Mikael Samuelsson. This was not the only big draft day deal, as the Edmonton Oilers shipped their 17th pick, Zach Parise, to the New Jersey Devils for the 22nd overall pick, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, and the 68th overall pick, Jean-Francois Jacques. Fleury, while not a great goaltender by any means, has managed to hold his own in front of the net for Pittsburgh. With his recent success in the NHL, the netminder’s QMJHL team, the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, have decided to retire his number 29 jersey.
Jordan Staal, C
GVT: + 7.6
RPM: - 1.1
Jordan is among the four Staal brothers who are scattered throughout the NHL and AHL. The Thunder Bay, Ontario native has recently finished his third full season in the National Hockey League after being selected second overall in the first round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Coincidentally, Jordan’s older brother Eric was also drafted second overall in the first round of an NHL Entry Draft. Before being drafted, “Gronk” spent two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, OHL, where he developed his game. In his second season in the OHL, and first draft-eligible year, he averaged exactly 1 PPG, with 68 points in 68 games played. The 6’4’’ Center, ranked second among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, was taken right where he was expected to go, with Staal being taken after the first overall selection Erik Johnson and right before Jonathan Toews. Since playing in the NHL for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Staal has been a Calder Trophy nominee for rookie of the year in 2007 and was elected to the 2007 NHL all-rookie team by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
Maxime Talbot, C
GVT: - 0.7
RPM: - 15.6
The Stanley Cup finals standout has had an up and down career so far, with promotions and demotions between the American Hockey League, AHL, and the National Hockey league from 2005 to 2007. The 234th overall selection in 2002 was one of twenty-three players taken from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, QMJHL, and the first selection in the 8th round. Interestingly enough, the eighth round, the second to last round of the draft, did produce a successful NHL starter in Boston Bruins defenseman Dennis Wideman, who at the time was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres. While the 5’11’ Center did manage 1.50 PPG at one point in the QMJHL, generally and correctly regarded as one of the less talented leagues, it took Talbot until his third draft-eligible year to break the 1 PPG average threshold for a season. For his first season, he was struggling to meet 0.50 PPG at the age of 17. Nonetheless, as an offensive weapon in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings, Talbot has made his mark on the 2008-2009 story of the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Andrew Rothstein is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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