Monday, June 9, 2008

NHL draft guide: How stars lead to titles

By Rick Morris

As announced previously in this space, Sportsology and are joining up to produce HOCKEY DRAFTOLOGY, a comprehensive guide to the 2008 NHL Entry Draft and offseason as a whole. The issue will be released online, for free, at these two websites and this week (IMPORTANT NOTE: we had substantial bonus content come in at the last minute -- as such, the June 10 release date is null and void -- we apologize for that, but we assure you that the product will be more than worth the wait). Until then, the features to be contained in the guide will be released here individually in serialized form.

Today, we examine the role that the players at the top of the NHL Entry Draft will be expected to play for their teams.

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 championships? 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:

A) Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Nicklas Lidstrom, Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur

B) Steve Yzerman, Mark Messier, Ray Bourque, Dominik Hasek, Jaromir Jagr

C) Joe Sakic, Ed Belfour, Brett Hull, Paul Coffey, Al MacInnis

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

1984: Edmonton A (Gretzky), B (Messier)*

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)*****

* 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 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 and Brad Richards probably at least meriting “Honorable Mention.” Eric Staal would have a very good chance to make the list at that time also, so this “megastar principle” may yet prove to be the case for the 2004 and 2006 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 seven times since 1984 has a team won a title without an “A” caliber player on this list and also in a minority of cases (11), 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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