As of writing this piece, I’m watching game 5 of the NBA Finals. Why in the freaking hell is the NBA making the Cavs wear these uni’s?! The players have gone on record as saying they hate them, yet in game 5 of the Finals, the Cavs are wearing these awful uniforms. This is more of a crime than the NBA suspending Draymond Green for this game BASICALLY to help get this series back to Cleveland for game 6.
But that’s the NBA, and this is a piece on the NHL, specifically the Oilers.
So all the rage in the hockey world yesterday was how speed is now king in the NHL. “Look at how fast the Penguins were. That’s why the Pens won was because of their speed. They’re so fast, this is the new way to build in the NHL” on and on and on. Ummmm, they don’t win without Crosby. They don’t win without Letang. They don’t win without Malkin. They probably don’t win without Kessel. If speed is all it’s about, then why didn’t Tampa take it all last year? They were as fast, maybe a faster team then the Pens. It was much more than speed.
Maybe the biggest reason they won was how Mike Sullivan managed this lineup. When the Pens won the Cup in 09, it was the big 3 down the middle that were all the rage. It was extremely tough for a team to matchup with Crosby, Malkin and Staal. Sullivan didn’t have that luxury, but he did have an elite winger who could drive a line named Phillip Kessel Jr. Jim Rutherford acquired Kessel to augment one of Crosby or Malkin. But while Kessel is one of the top snipers in the game, he is a driver and needs the puck on his stick. When you play with Crosby or Malkin, you don’t get to pack the puck. So good on Mike Sullivan to notice this and quit trying to fit that round peg into a square hole (cue the Kessel is the round peg jokes).
The reason the HBK line became anything of importance was because they got all the soft matchups 5 on 5. Toughest matchups are going to Sid, second toughest matchups are going to Malkin, teams can’t matchup with a 3rd line that also tilts the ice.
As fans, we have a tendency to worry far too much about what the lines are, and making sure your “top 6” is your top 6 players. I’ve thought for a while now, who cares? Play your top players on the PP, but 5 on 5 I want my lines balanced and the ability to roll all four lines which is what Sullivan did. To me, THIS is the lesson to be learned in how to build a team. Amazing speed? Well sure that’s nice. But had the Pens surrounded Crosby, Malkin and Kessel with more coke machines I’m sure they would have done just as good because those three are going to tip the ice for any line they play on.
So all this leads me to the Oilers, as the debate has become “should the Oilers now look to build more so with speed than size?” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not at all saying forget about speed and build with coke machines. But I’m not anymore more interested in a speedy team than I was two months ago when the playoffs began. Ideally you want to find that perfect balance of size and speed.
The good news for the Oilers is that they currently have four players who either tilt the ice, or are expected to become a player who tilts the ice. Lowetide for example has been adamant about keeping all three of McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins because of this. People say you can’t have a 3rd line centre with a 6 million dollar cap hit. Yet if that player got put on the 2nd line it would somehow be acceptable?
Of course as the Pens showed it doesn’t need to be three centres. The one thing that Hall would still need is a two way centre who could play with him, but that’s a piece that can be found.
So if you only need three guys to help tilt the ice, that means someone can be made available. Whether it be Nugent-Hopkins or Hall, Peter Chiarelli can dangle that piece for a defenceman. Add to all of this, it doesn’t mean you have to be terrified of a Milan Lucic signing. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have any worries about a possible 6×6 deal for a 28 year old forward with average speed, but as Darcy McLeod has pointed out he is actually a pretty safe bet to continue producing at a relatively high level.
Speed is a vital piece to this puzzle. A slow team has never won a Cup. Even in the dead puck era, perhaps the team closest to being “slow” were the 99 Dallas Stars, who had Mike Modano. So you can’t be slow. But all over the hockey world all of a sudden people are saying this will be the new way to build is simply with speed. The best way to build is to have all the pieces in place and then form an identity. That’s what happened with the Pens, that’s what happened with the Blackhawks, that’s what happened with the Kings, and that’s what needs to happen with the Oilers whether that means getting bigger or faster.
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