Watching the playoffs as an outsider looking in can be rough, unless you use it to your advantage. By watching the other teams and how they play as well as how their team is built can gives you a good perspective on where your team may be at in their rebuilding stage (Florida Panthers) or what type of change is needed (my personal favorite, Pittsburgh Penguins).
All the Chicago Blackhawks are the standard by all teams should be weighted, I tried to expand my view beyond them and look at the other three teams in the playoffs as well as the last five winners of the Stanley Cup.
I came up these four things they have in common,
- Young(ish) Goaltending.
This doesn’t necessarily have anything to with this year’s playoffs but more so in previous years. All though, three of the four goaltenders left are in what you would call their ‘prime’ years.
The average age of the last five Stanley Cup winning goaltending was 26-years old, with the youngest being Marc Andre Fleury (24, 2009) and the oldest being Tim Thomas (37, 2011). Who is the only goaltender at that current age? Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens, but whether or not we will get to see him is based on if they can actually win without him.
Looking at the Panthers, Roberto Luongo is 35-years old putting him nine years older than the average goaltender to win the Cup the last five years. It is nothing new that hockey is a ‘young mans’ game, Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr never won the Stanley Cup after the age of 27.
I know comparing goalies and forwards is like apples and oranges, but to list these four players really say something.
I am not saying the Panthers can’t win with Luongo, his ability will keep him in games for at least the next couple of seasons – but after that? And is there anyone in the system that gives you even that ‘starter material’ feeling?
- Two-Way ‘Stud’ Lead Center
Maybe the New York Rangers don’t quite apply, yet as Derek Stepan still has some way before he hits ‘stud’ status – but there is little doubting his potential. The Los Angeles Kings have Anze Kopitar, who broke out this year to not just be an offensive force but become a Selke Trophy finalist.
The Panthers have this one right in Aleksander Barkov, who in his brief NHL stint showed his vast upside not only offensively but in all ends of the ice.
- Slick Skating Defender
As the Kings, Blackhawks, and Bruins (last three winners of the Stanley Cup) have shown, defense still wins championships. All three had rock solid defensive groups the year they won the Stanley Cup, being one of the key contributors in their success.
But as I have talked about before, this year’s playoffs brought me a new angle in thinking about how a defense should be built. I looked at Ryan McDonagh and how his style of defense could possible change the Panthers strategy in the upcoming draft.
The Rangers (by ways of the Canadiens) have one of the best young defenseman in the game, which also embodies the ‘new era’ of defenseman. They have been around ever since Orr revolutionized the position in his day, but now a days we are seeing more and more emerge.
The smooth skating, two-way defenseman that can make plays in both ends of the ice. Each of the final four teams has their own of this kind of defender. Combined they have two Norris Trophies and two other finalist bids.
Brian Campbell and Dmitry Kulikov both fit the mold as smooth skating defenders and while Campbell may be just a notch under that ‘elite’ status, the bill is still out on Kulikov. Loaded with potential, we are still waiting to see if he will put it all together.
Florida’s best chance may come from a pair of Boston College defenseman – Ian McCoshen and Mike Matheson, two of their top prospects in a deep talent pool.
- The ‘Sidekick’
It may be a little unfair for to call Patrick Kane a ‘sidekick’ but is there really any doubting whose team it is in Chicago? Dustin Brown is the captain of the Kings, but Kopitar is the best all-around player and Jeff Carter fits the ‘sidekick’ mold better.
Maybe the better term for this is the ‘talent’, as you need that pure offensive talent that can take some of the eyes off of your stud center.
The player himself might not be as good unless he has that star with him but in a way he still finds a way to elevate your franchise player. Carter scored the game tying goal and assisted on the go-ahead goal as well and has been the Kings’ most consistent scorer in the playoffs.
Looking at this it seems that the Panthers are stuck somewhere in ‘middle land’. They have the pieces in place, but too many questions still exist. This offseason can either advance the Panthers a few seasons, or knock them back further down the hole.