The Recipe For Winning A Stanley Cup

Harry How

You have seen it happen so many times. A team wins a Stanley Cup and everyone talks about how to build your team accordingly to emulate the Cup-winning team's model, especially heading into the draft. The Los Angeles Kings are now that model, considering they are a modern-day dynasty, having won 2 Cups in 3 years. It's not so black and white though, but I will slowly get to that. Let's first look at the Stanley Cup Champions, discuss their strengths and go from there.

SIZE MATTERS?

Taking a look at the Kings' roster:

-Only one player is under 6 feet tall: Mike Richards at 5'11". Height is irrelevant.

-5 Kings skaters are under 200 pounds, including Mike Richards (196), Trevor Lewis (198), Tyler Toffoli (196), Justin Williams (189) and Slava Voynov (194). Here, I'm just throwing 200 pounds out there as the template. Most of those guys, especially Richards, play big. By "playing big" I mean that that they persevere and don't get knocked off the puck easily.  If your players are losing puck battles along the boards in your zone or the O-zone or even if front of your net you are in a heap of trouble, as the Rangers found out. Size doesn't always figure into this. Smarts and skill also play a roll. Size matters. But, it's not all that matters...

SPEED MATTERS

The Kings have plenty of it. It's not just their skating speed. It's how quickly they move the puck on the transition up the ice. They also have size. Size and speed? Sounds good to me. However, you can't always have both all of the time: See: Chicago, Rangers, Montreal as examples of smaller teams on average. Sure, the Kings are bigger on average than those guys, and they laid a few guys out along the way and used their size to their advantage. But that is not the only reason why they beat the Rangers. The Kings also had far more....

SKILL, TALENT, ABILITY

That really became apparent in the Finals and especially in the latter stages of Game 5, where they overwhelmed the Rangers on all fronts. The Kings were out-chancing the Rangers by a 2-1 margin (and greater at times) and NY was reminding me of deer staring into headlights. Overwhelmed is the key word here. The Kings were coming at the NYR on all fronts, with all four lines because of a beautiful little thing called:

TEAM DEPTH

Kings' coach Darryl Sutter could chuck any line out there and every line could be a scoring threat. Hell, the 4th line ended game 5 in double overtime. You have to have depth. When your top scorers are being checked to hell you need a supporting cast. See: Bruins in the 2011 Playoffs or, the 2009 Penguins, a big reason why the Canucks lost the 2011 Finals, etc etc. Depth can also ease the suffering of injuries that occur, which also ties into LUCK. The Kings only lost Robyn Regehr to injury in these playoffs. But luck cannot be attributed to most of a successful team's fortunes in this sport.

A huge factor in depth in today's beautiful salary capped NHL is drafting. You can't buy a boatload of depth anymore like the Rangers and Red Wings in days of yore. The Kings have a lot of talent that they traded for (Richards, Carter, Gaborik, Stoll, Greene, Williams, Regehr) and free agents signed (Mitchell, Muzzin) but they also drafted well, not only to trade those prospects for the aforementioned players but also to draft Quick (3rd round) Brown (1st round), Clifford (2nd round), King (4th round), Kopitar (1st round), Lewis (1st round), Nolan (7th round), Pearson (1st round), Toffoli (2nd round), Doughty (1st round), Martinez (4th round), Voynov (2nd round). The veteran players are surrounded by skilled youth.

This is why it's so crucial and exhilarating to have new GM Jim Benning on board in Vancouver, because those are the 2 things he stresses the most (drafting and depth). However, depth is not the bottom line either. You can have a buttload of depth but you need:

GOOD COACHING AND EVERY PLAYER BUYING INTO THE SYSTEM

How many times do you hear players talk about this after they win the Stanley Cup? Every year. So many people undermine coaches but the proof is in the pudding. The 2009 Penguins under Dan Bylsma. The LA Kings under Darryl Sutter. It's up to the coach to get every player on board with a system that works. What works is results and wins. You cannot lump every NHL player into one singular personality profile as an NHL profile. Some guys need no or minimal coaching, some need some, and others need more. That's the complexity of human nature. Also: Chemistry. Sometimes these complexities and a lack of execution can be masked by:

GOALTENDING

This is pretty self-explanatory. Teams with far-less skill, size and ability have reached the Finals on the heels of superb goaltending. Goaltenders are separate from the rest. They are their own breed. It's just them and their net, robbing players of goals. It's beautiful, actually. The only things that get a less-than stellar goaltending performance off the hook are goals-for scored and a superb defence that wins games 2-1 or less. Martin Brodeur comes to mind on the latter example. Marc-Andre Fleury and Patrick Roy in 1996 could be named with the primary example. Solid goaltending can do wonders for the confidence and ability of the skaters to perform as a team.

IN CONCLUSION

I need to make something very clear here. The Kings went through THREE game 7's before the Cup final. The Sharks were a bigger team in general. The Ducks and Blackhawks less-so. When it comes down to a series going 7 games...once again it's not so black and white. A goal or penalty call or take your pick can change the outcome of that series. I think that in this respect you cannot paint the Kings as the "model" on how to build your team in a lot of aspects. But they really do possess all of the qualities that I stated above (as do the Final 3 losers).

It really is all about balance of all of the above. All are intertwined. Sure, this is a "DUH!!!!" post but how many times do you read about or hear your friends say something like: "the Canucks will never win with the Sedins" yadda yada yadda. It's narrow-minded bullshit! The Sedins are great players. No, they are not the biggest and toughest players, but they don't have to be. Their age is irrelevant at this point.  That is where the GM of the team has to build around them and the rest of the veteran core. Mike Gillis did a fine job of that leading up to 2011. I thought he created a solid group for that run. Then salary cap hell sunk in. The salary cap can be hell unless you draft well. Very well. LA is proof of that and Detroit and Chicago are proof of that. The Canucks are not proof of that.

Regardless, when somebody blurts out a one liner on why the Canucks "suck" or "sucked" just remember: it's NOT JUST ONE FUCKING THING.

FINALLY...NO SERIOUSLY...

Linden and Benning are talking "retool" not "rebuild". I think they are telling the truth. They recognize the abilities of the current core group and know that they need to surround this core with able and willing younger players. Well, we have some players like that. The new coach has to be solid at mentoring younger players? Piece of cake! We already know guys like Willie Desjardins excel in that area. Personally, I can't wait to see how the 2014-15 Canucks team takes shape.

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