Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Detroit Red Wings Make The Stanley Cup Finals

With their 4-1 victory over the Dallas Stars last night, the Detroit Red Wings are going to the Stanley Cup finals. They won their semi-final series 4 games to 2. They will face the Pittsburgh Penguins. Detroit finished first in the regular season and has been the favorite much of the year. At all star break I wrote can the Detroit Red Wings win the Stanley Cup?. There I identified three key questions the team would need to answer to win the cup.

First, question was goaltending. Dominik Hasek was the supposed starter and had an up and down year due to injuries. Would he be ready to carry Detroit deep into the playoffs? The answer to that question is no. However, Detroit has some depth at goal. Chris Osgood has won a Stanley Cup before and appeared in the All Star Game. Detroit changed goalies early in the playoffs and Osgood has looked good ever since. Osgood likely cannot provide elite level goaltending in the NHL, but neither can Marc-Andre Fleury in Pittsburgh. This will be a Stanley Cup final without any of the top goalies in the NHL.

The second question was their key forwards. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg had never had successful playoff runs where they led their team deep into the playoffs. Clearly, they have shown they can do this. Zetterberg is tied for the playoff points lead and Datsyuk is tied for third.

The third and final question was coaching. Mike Babcock does not have the track record of the best coaches in the game (though he was nominated for the coach of the year). Would he be outcoached in the playoffs? So far, Barry Trotz, Joel Quenneville and Dave Tippett have not been able to outcoach him.

How good is this Detroit team anyway? How do they stand up against the historically elite teams? According to my set of necessary but not sufficient conditions to be an elite team Detroit comes close, but fails.

To be an elite team, a team must have several players who are future Hall of Famers or on Hall of Fame tracks and they must have a top level goalie.

Detroit has three players who I consider future Hall of Famers regardless of what happens to them for the rest of their careers. They are Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios and Dominik Hasek.

Lidstrom is an elite defenceman. I argue that he is the NHL MVP this season despite the fact he was not nominated. He is the likely Norris Trophy winner this season. It would be his sixth of his career. Lidstrom is a great player.

Chris Chelios is still a solid defenceman, but his days of NHL dominance are likely over. He is 46 years old and is still a solid defenceman, but he is no longer the star player that made him a future Hall of Famer.

Dominik Hasek will likely make less of an impact in this series than Chelios. If things go well for Detroit, Hasek won't play at all. His days of being a star player are also gone.

Detroit only has one future Hall of Fame player who is likely to make an impact in this series in Lidstrom, despite having two others on their roster, however they have a few more players on Hall of Fame tracks or with the potential to be on them.

Henrik Zetterberg is 27 years old and has scored at well above point per game rate for the last three years. He is the top scorer in the playoffs so far and a Selke Trophy nominee. He appears to be entering the prime of his career and this prime might be good enough to earn him some significant individual awards. If it does, that would likely make him a Hall of Famer. If it doesn't he might manage career totals that would get him there. He has over 300 points in five NHL seasons. It would take a long injury free career to get enough career points, but it is a distinct possibility.

Pavel Datsyuk is in his sixth NHL season. He has over 400 career points. He has already won some individual awards. He is a two time Lady Byng winner and is nominated for both the Selke and Lady Byng this year. Wins of those awards would certainly put Datsyuk well along a Hall of Fame track. Like Zetterberg, he also has possibility of significant career numbers if he can have a long injury-free career.

Brian Rafalski is likely a step below Hall of Fame calibre, but it would not be an impossible achievement for him if he can still win a Norris Trophy. His main problem is that he is already 34 years old, so time is working against him. However, he continues to have very good seasons (even showing statistical improvement from one year to the next). He is an outside possibility to make the second team all star this year.

Chris Osgood is an interesting Hall of Fame case. He might win a second career Stanley Cup as a starting goalie this year. He would be a key member of his team along the way, if it happens. That alone makes him worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. However, he was never one of the best goalies in the NHL in his career. He was always outside the elite five or so goalies in the league. He was never a serious Vezina candidate (though he did make the 1996 second team all star). His career totals, despite having played most of his career for a top level Detroit team do not measure up to other non-Hall of Fame calibre goalies in Andy Moog, Curtis Joseph and Mike Vernon. Vernon is a very interesting comparable to Osgood. He and Osgood were teammates in Detroit. Vernon was the starter who won the Stanley Cup, while Osgood was on the bench. Vernon has two career Stanley Cup, one Conn Smythe trophy and more career wins than Osgood and Vernon is not in the Hall of Fame. For Osgood to make the Hall of Fame he would have to do something to show he is a better player than Vernon. It would take at least one Vezina Trophy type season or more than one Conn Smythe type playoff or his career numbers would have to eclipse Vernon. Given that Osgood is 35 years old, the days where that seemed possible are likely gone. Nevertheless, this playoff is possibly a sign that there still is hope.

Nobody else on Detroit is likely worthy of serious Hall of Fame consideration, though I worry that a Kris Draper type player, who was a solid shut down forward and Selke Trophy winner might get consideration someday the way Dick Duff did.

Detroit has other talented players led by Johan Franzen, Jiri Hudler and Niklas Kronvall, who provide talented depth, but they are not serious Hall of Fame candidates.

Detroit has a lot of what it takes to be an elite team. Their major weakness is the lack of a truly top goalie. Other teams have won the Stanley Cup with roughly equal talent levels (though possibly different types of teams). Recent examples include the 1995 New Jersey Devils and the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning. I think Detroit likely will win the Stanley Cup, but in a short series the unexpected is always possible. However, they are not on the elite level that goes down as an all time great team. I don't think they would be as good as last year's Anaheim Ducks.

Well, I for one am glad that elite goaltending isn't the end-all, be-all formula for postseason success in the NHL.

It seemed like for a while in the late 90s and early 00s that you needed stifling defensemen and checkers and an outstanding (or at least overachieving) goalie.

But it's obvious now that there's more than one way to do it. That's a very good thing.
1) We did a post on Ozzy a week or so ago and asked the question is he a hall of famer? Some of his numbers are impressive, specifically his win total, and likely 3 Cups BUT he has NEVER (yet) been considered among the best goalies
2) No Vezina's, and correct us if we are wrong, he has never even been nominated for this award. Have any goalies Other than Georges Vezina been inducted without ever been nominated?
3) No first team All Star selections. (One second team) No playoff MVP awards. His non-Detroit win numbers are only mediocre.
4) In our estimation Chris is an above average goalie who has thrived in the right environment for him. He likely would not have won nearly as many games with another organization. He is NOT Hall of Fame Material!
The two Hall of Fame goalies who played in the NHL (ie not Tretiak) and after the Vezina Trophy was introduced (ie not Vezina and other early goalies) are Gerry Cheevers and Chuck Rayner.

It should be noted that both of them played in the days when the Vezina Trophy went to the goalie(s) on the team with the least goals against (like today's Jennings Trophy).

Rayner won the Hart Trophy in 1950 (and yet was only on the second team all star). Rayner was never a first all star team goalie - if we use that as an approximation of the Vezina Trophy.

Cheevers never made a first or second team all star in the NHL. He was named the best goalie in the WHA in 1972/73.

Gump Worsely and Roy Worters both won Vezinas but never made first team all star.

Vezina winners (with no fineprint surrounding their win) are: Chuck Gardiner, Tiny Thomspon, Geroge Hainsworth, Bill Durnan, Frank Brimsek, Turk Broda, Roy Worters, Terry Sawchuk, Glenn Hall, Johnny Bower, Jacques Plante, Harry Lumley, Ken Dryden, Bernie Parent, Tony Esposito, Billy Smith, Grant Fuhr and Patrick Roy

I am eliminating Vladislav Tretiak, Hap Holmes, Clint Benedict, Hugh Lehman, Alex Connell and Georges Vezina from this discussion because their best years of their careers were not eligible for the Vezina (either it did not exist or in Tretiak's case it was in the NHL and he wasn't)
1) As to the MVP discussion, many would agree that writers don't always see what players see, so it would seem the pearson/players voted MVP, and not the Hart is the true measure of who is the real MVP.
2) AS such a preview was published recently by the Sporting news. Based on a vote of NHL players, The Sporting News has named Alex Ovechkin its NHL player of the year. Ovechkin was named at the top of 250 of 287 ballots. Expect a similar margin next month when the Hart and Pearson balloting is revealed.

3) For the record we believe Lidstrom deserved to be among the top 3 for Hart. The writers got that wrong!
Ed Belfour will probably be joining your list before too long. Always a prickly fellow, but his play was always top-notch, even at the end in Florida. That wasn't exactly the Roenick/Goulet Blackhawks but he still played credibly for long stretches at an advanced age.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?