Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hockey draft guide: Importance of top-level players

By Rick Morris

The 21st Century Media Alliance has struck again! The combined efforts of The FDH Lounge,, Sportsology and Card Corner Club have produced your ultimate guide to the NHL Entry Draft (and beyond), HOCKEY DRAFTOLOGY 2010. We encourage you to check out these comprehensive yet compact guides in their entirety, and as an inducement to do so, we are serializing them here.

Here is a column on the importance of superstars and megastars to Stanley Cup champions:

As a team sport by and large incapable of devolving into the often-selfish “Me Ball” of the NBA, the NHL is rightfully held up as exemplary of true team play. However, does this tendency devalue the effect that true mega-stars have on the ability to win titles? decided to find out, in an attempt to ascertain exactly how important it is for teams to hit on their picks in the NHL Entry Draft. First, we ranked the top players in our opinion in the last quarter century into three tiers, the top five, the second five and the third five. Then, we took a look at which teams had captured the Stanley Cup during that period of time and looked for any correlations. The results were very revealing. Here’s the designation of the best players on each tier, in no particular order on each tier:

Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Nicklas Lidstrom, Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur
Steve Yzerman, Mark Messier, Ray Bourque, Dominik Hasek, Jaromir Jagr
Joe Sakic, Ed Belfour, Brett Hull, Paul Coffey, Al MacInnis

And here’s who’s won the Stanley Cup over the past 25 years:

1985: Edmonton A (Gretzky), B (Messier)*
1986: Montreal A (Roy)
1987: Edmonton A (Gretzky), B (Messier)
1988: Edmonton A (Gretzky), B (Messier)
1989: Calgary C (MacInnis)
1990: Edmonton B (Messier)
1991: Pittsburgh A (Lemieux) B (Jagr)
1992: Pittsburgh A (Lemieux) B (Jagr)
1993: Montreal A (Roy)
1994: New York Rangers B (Messier)
1995: New Jersey A (Brodeur)**
1996: Colorado A (Roy) B (Sakic)
1997: Detroit A (Lidstrom) B (Yzerman)
1998: Detroit A (Lidstrom) B (Yzerman)
1999: Dallas C (Belfour) C (Hull)
2000: New Jersey A (Brodeur)
2001: Colorado A (Roy) B (Sakic) B (Bourque)
2002: Detroit A (Lidstrom) B (Yzerman) B (Hasek) C (Hull)***
2003: New Jersey A (Brodeur)
2004: Tampa Bay****
2006: Carolina****
2007: Anaheim**
2008: Detroit A (Lidstrom) B (Hasek)*****
2009: Pittsburgh****
2010: Chicago****

* The ‘80s Edmonton teams had several other players who would have rated as “Honorable Mention.”
** Scott Niedermayer, who won Cups with New Jersey and Anaheim, would have rated as “Honorable Mention,” as would Chris Pronger with Anaheim and Scott Stevens (as well as potentially Brian Rafalski) with New Jersey.
*** To properly appreciate the greatness of the 2002 Red Wings, consider that Luc Robitaille and Chris Chelios would have rated as “Honorable Mention.”
**** If this feature was revisited in another decade, Vincent Lecavalier would probably make the cut, with Martin St. Louis probably at least meriting “Honorable Mention.” Eric Staal would have a very good chance to make the list at that time also and the Crosby/Malkin/Fleury troika will almost certainly be represented by two if not three players, so this “megastar principle” may yet prove to be the case for the 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2010 champions as well.
***** Neither Hasek nor Chelios skated for Detroit in the Finals.

So essentially, it’s every bit as important to have high-end impact players in the NHL as it is in the NBA. Only eight times since 1985 has a team won a title without an “A” caliber player (again, not counting the 2009 Penguins who will have anywhere between one and three “A” players once this feature is revisited down the road and the 2010 Blackhawks, who could have the same number) and also in a minority of cases (12), a team has captured the title without at least two players on this list. So after reading this feature, whether one quibbles a bit or not with the rating of certain players, this much is certain: teamwork matters, and so does coaching, but the high-octane engine of superstar power almost invariably is needed if a team is to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup in the end.

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