Robertson’s Rant: The Haves vs. The Have Nots

I had such grand plans.

 

Thanks to a pretty murderous eight-week stretch of school/work, highlighted by three different conference presentations, I didn’t really have much time for writing. I had planned to write a piece about the pros and cons of sending junior-eligible players to the AHL, but then stats changed, arguments had to be rewritten, and it needed too much work to be timely, so I dropped it for now. Then, I figured I’d write something about some of the misconceptions people in hockey have about the brain and brain injuries, inspired by comments made on the show; that turned into a tossed-together last-minute email with a rather regrettable tone that made me cringe when it was read on the show. Oops. Fortunately, because only a small bit was read out, I can reformat it into something more professional to be posted here; that’s next on the docket.

 

In the meantime, I was inspired by an email to the show with the suggestion of an All-Star format pitting stars with Stanley Cup rings against those without. While Eddie and Doug dismissed the notion on the basis of there not being enough All-Star talent without Stanley Cup rings, I strongly disagree. I’ve written in the past that I think the win stat is overrated, and that the idea of a person “being a winner” or “not being a winner” is similarly irrelevant. I figure that a team of Cup-less All-Stars should stand a pretty decent chance against an All-Star team full of previous champions. To that end, I decided to do a bit of research, using the latest fan polling numbers as a guideline, then substituting as need be to make up the two All-Star teams. It’s far from perfect, as I haven’t tried to force equal representation by conference, or make sure every team has at least one representative, but I think it makes the overall point. So here are my preliminary rosters for Team Champs and Team No Rings, with a few comments thereafter.

 

Team Champions

Team No Rings

Forwards:

1.     Sidney Crosby

2.     Jonathan Toews

3.     Patrick Kane

4.     Evgeni Malkin

5.     Pavel Datsyuk

6.     Marian Hossa

7.     Henrik Zetterberg

8.     Eric Staal

9.     Patrick Sharp

10.  Martin St. Louis

11.  Teemu Selanne

12.  Corey Perry

13.  Brad Richards

 

Defencemen:

1.     Duncan Keith

2.     Chris Pronger

3.     Nicklas Lidstrom

4.     Kris Letang

5.     Brian Rafalski

6.     Dustin Byfuglien

7.     Dan Boyle

 

Goalies:

1.     Marc-Andre Fleury

2.     Cam Ward

3.     Ilya Bryzgalov

Forwards:

1.     Steven Stamkos

2.     Alex Ovechkin

3.     Michael Cammalleri

4.     Mike Richards

5.     Claude Giroux

6.     Tomas Plekanec

7.     Nicklas Backstrom

8.     Henrik Sedin

9.     Daniel Sedin

10.  Alexander Semin

11.  Joe Thornton

12.  Patrick Marleau

13.  Dany Heatley

 

Defencemen:

1.     Kimmo Timonen

2.     Drew Doughty

3.     Mike Green

4.     Zdeno Chara

5.     Shea Weber

6.     Lubomir Visnovsky

7.     Ryan Whitney

 

Goalies:

1.     Carey Price

2.     Jaroslav Halak1

3.     Tim Thomas

 

Breaking things down by position:

 

Forwards: I think this is actually a well-matched group: these names are all over the top 50 in NHL scoring, and nearly all of them have at least 0.9 points per game this season. There’s a couple of Art Ross, Rocket Richard, and Hart Trophies on each side of the ledger, with the Champs having a slight hardware edge from Lady Byngs and Conn Smythes. There are also several players on each team who are good at both ends of the rink, which means that no one’s going to get hemmed in and beaten upon forever. There is a bit of a dearth in diversity here, with nearly everyone having at least one teammate or recent ex-teammate to work with, but then it’s hardly a surprise that there are a lot of dynamic duos and whole lines clustered together at the top of the scoring charts, since there are going to be plenty of assists to go around in these groups. If there’s an edge, I might give it slightly to the Champs, but either of these line-ups could torch even an All-Star goalie at will, so I’m calling it a wash.

 

Defence: This is the one area where the No Rings club really struggles. If Andrei Markov (knee), Mark Streit (shoulder), and Sheldon Souray (team pettiness) were available, I think the gap would be considerably smaller, but as far as what we have to work with, it’s hard not to favour the Champs here. Then again, maybe I’m overthinking this, putting too much stock into defensive reputation: we are talking about an All-Star Game, here. Six of the seven guys on Team No Rings played at the last Olympics – only Mike Green, who scored 31 goals last year, missed the cut on a stacked Canadian roster – and everyone’s getting the job done at both ends, when considering the ice time given to each player (Weber plays a lot of shorthanded minutes, as does Marc Staal, whom I pulled to give a little more scoring zip). As much as Doug’s ridden Lubo in the past, he was Ladislav Smid’s partner during his only good year to date, which can’t be a coincidence. He’s currently one of only two pluses on a sorry-looking Ducks blueline, as well as one of the top defensive scorers this season. Meanwhile, Ryan Whitney is the Oilers’ best overall blueliner and leading scorer this year, and the only one I could justify shoehorning in there as a homer pick. Still, I look at the Champs’ defence, and think that if your weak spots are Kris Letang and Dustin Byfuglien, with the seasons they’re having, you don’t really have a weak spot. Advantage Champs.

 

Goaltending: Here’s where the Champs have some real trouble. I had a hard time actually finding enough goalies to fill the roster who weren’t having terrible years, and realized that that’s in part because there just aren’t that many Stanley Cup champion goaltenders to begin with. I count ten in all, with two injured (Brodeur, Giguere), two who have aged and aren’t very good anymore (Khabibulin, Osgood), Niemi struggling, Gerber in the minors, and Mathieu Garon rounding out the list. Meanwhile, not appearing on the depth chart for Team No Rings are, among others, Ryan Miller, Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundvist, Sergei Bobrovsky, Jonathan Quick, Nicklas Backstrom, Jonas Hiller, and Tomas Vokoun. While each of the champion goalies have shone at times this year, each of them has struggled mightily either this year or in the recent past; by contrast, there are so many good goalies who haven’t won a Cup yet it’s almost impossible to go wrong. That’s why I could leave last year’s Vezina winner in the press box, and also why I felt that I could get away with losing a defensive stud like Marc Staal for more offence. Advantage No Rings.

 

So, how would this theoretical All-Star Game turn out? I think it would wind up being pretty close: while their D could be a bit of a liability, the No Rings would ultimately be able to compensate with superior goaltending, making it a reasonably close game. I think the reason for this is that ultimately, in a thirty-team league, there are going to be twenty-nine “losers” every year, most of which will have a star or two on the roster, and some of which will have several. Whether or not a player has won a championship has no real bearing on how talented they are or their ability to get the job done in any given situation, especially in that situation is the All-Star Game, which carries all the pressure of a Friday night beer-league game.

 

*     *     *

 

1 Looking at Halak’s stats at first, I almost pulled him, but then I remembered that he started like a house on fire, so I decided to take a closer look. Turns out he had three games out of four in mid-November where everything went in: half of the 8-1 game in Columbus, the 6-3 game in Colorado, and the 7-3 game in Detroit. Take those out, and his stats go from okay (2.37 GAA, .911 SV%) to all-time great (1.63 GAA, .939 SV%). Sure, you can call that cherry-picking stats, and it’s not really a great bit of analysis for many reasons, but I’m mostly bringing it up to show how one brief, bad slump can really sink your stats this early in the season. I bet things will mostly average out for Halak over the course of the year.

About Doug Stolhand 26905 Articles
Doug Stolhand is one of the co-founders and co-hosts of the Puck Podcast and has been a member of the NHL media since the show's inception in 2006.