It is not a revelation that big physical teams that can do a bit of everything win Cups. While the term Big Boy Hockey might refer to the "intimidation" aspect of winning hockey, the game is always going to be about more than just hitting and gloves in the face.
The 80 - 90's saw the confluence of some amazing talent, for instance. Talent that still had the benefit of what Big Boy Hockey is supposed to do. Protect the stars and discourage guys "running around". It has changed and become more about how many hits you can get, and / or how close you ca get to the edge of taking too many penalties for even a fantastic penalty kill that is the secret strength of any Big Boy Hockey success story. That second one works a lot better if your team is owned by the Chairman of the Board of NHL Owners, of course...
But the old rules also allowed lesser players to "waterski" behind Lemieux or Gretzky while they were winning multiple Cups. That has changed, and contributed to the current "Golden Era". The changes out of the lockout also allowed players to play the game faster, and of course evolution ( and nutritional science ! ) made players get bigger and stronger.
Our beloved sport has always had a physical nature, and if you look at the Cup winners over the last thirty years, you realize that this idea of "Big Boy Hockey" is perhaps a misnomer. I use it to denote a style that can best be typified in the minds of hockey fans ( of my era, at least, though I was just a teen at the time ) by noting the 73-75 Flyers. Winning the Cup in '74 and '75, they put a stamp on the NHL that was followed by many teams to varying degrees of success. They were, of course, not the only ones. The Bruins in '72 were pretty tough AND had Bobby Orr. Hell, Bobby went looking for fights !
Today, teams like the Kings and the Bruins are foremost amongst the teams flying the BBH flag. That one is in our division, and the the other is the team that beat the Canucks for the sacred chalice in 2011 is not lost on Canuck fans. It makes one keenly aware of that particular aspect of the game. Spend some time on Twitter and here, and it won't be long before someone brings up a perceived slight. So, we are intimately aware with the benefits of playing it physical and pushing the limits of the rules. But talent still should be the determining factor, right ?
Wellllll....some teams had a Gretzky or a Lemieux and some did not. But look at the list of teams that have won the Cup, you could probably make a case of varying degrees that all teams that won the Cup played Big Boy Hockey. Some were just more obvious about it than others. But, with three of the last four Cup winners using the blueprint ( and with our current GM in Vancouver someone intimately involved with building that type of team ), you cannot ignore that the game seems to be leaning that way at the moment.
We know about the hill that is there to climb in the Pacific division. The Ducks are ( or have been ) at or near the top of the NHL all year. The Kings have left the run a little late this time, but they are the Kings, and the current bane of the Canucks existence. Now, I choose to look at the two games left against those b******s as a chance to knock them the hell out of the dance before it even starts. But there is no denying the challenge they give this current Canuck squad. The Sharks ? Big enough. Talented enough. I dunno. They are like a beautiful apple you buy, and then bite into, and find it is softer than it looked. Who's your captain indeed.
So, how about that Canuck talent ? Can the existing roster play "Big Boy Hockey" ? Mike Gillis decided he needed to go that way before Jim Benning took over, and there is no doubt the roster is bigger than the 2011 edition. So let's start there.
There are three types of players on the team :
Lifers - These guys have been on the team through at least two GM's. They have been around for the time when the style of play they loved and were the best in the NHL, at least in the regular season. The style that the superior talent and just enough toughness of the BlackHawks used win Cups. These players came that close, saw the changes around them and throughout the league, and adapted and thrived to varying degrees.
Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin ( '99 draft ). The Twins are never going to be at the top of the hit parade, or even at their very best against a style that can be their kryptonite at times. But they get no respect at all for being two of the tougher players in the NHL. The list of players that takes the abuse they do and yet still be able to come back and compete the next shift is a short one indeed. And refs never give them respect, because, you know. Twins. ( well, that is as good an explanation for the inexplicable as any other. Every other superstar in the NHL gets the calls all the time ! ). Not the prototypical BBHer's by any means.
Kevin Bieksa ( '01 ) His style of play is tailor made for it, and he can definitely play a Big Boy Hockey style. Next.
Alexander Edler ( '04 ) Edler often leads the Canucks in hits, is talented as hell, and can play a tough style when he wants to. It is funny how we always want more from him. Definitely a bounce back year after The Lost Season.
Jannik Hansen ( '04 ) Dude is a 9th rounder, one of the fastest guys on the team, and an effective player, as well as a grating presence. Came into the league getting on people's nerves, and still can do it well.
Alexandre Burrows ( signed Nov '05 as a free agent ) Finishes every check, and Whiteboard Willie is discovering what other coaches not named Tortorella did. Burrows can do a lot of things in a lot of situations.
Gillis Guys - It is funny. Because the media in this town always get the last word after a guy gets fired, Mike Gillis looks like he is going to be remembered in Vancouver on their terms, and not on his own. And that is a shame. For all his foibles, Mike Gillis turned out to be a pretty good assessor of hockey talent, at times at least. The draft record was as uneven as most of the other GM's in this town. Credit him for noticing how it was going, and how they were calling the game, even after all the statements by the league about "penalties always being penalties". It should not be surprising to anyone that whistles get swallowed in the playoffs.
Christopher Tanev ( signed in'10, free agent ) First and foremost of the Gilly Guys. Maybe his best signing. The kid is as cool as ice under any playing conditions. He may not personify BBH, but he can play against it as well as he can against just about any style, it seems. He is going to finally get paid this summer.
Dan Hamhuis ( signed in '10, free agent, drafted in '01 by Preds ) Another defender that is not the prototypical BBH defenseman, except he is. Just a very good all round defenseman. Hits more and harder than he gets credit for as well.
Frank Corrado ( stolen in the 5th round by Mike Gillis in '11 ). Looks pretty good...
Zack Kassian ( acquired in '12, drafted in '09 by Buffalo ) A Big Boy Hockey archetype . Now just do it all the time Kass' , and this town is yours...
Chris Higgins ( acquired in '13, drafted on '01 by Montreal ). He finishes his checks, and skates and plays hard. I have been too impressed by his game in the past to be happy with his game right now. But he can definitely hang in a tough game.
Yannick Weber ( a 13/14 acquisition, drafted in '07 by the Habs. ) Maybe not the poster child for the rough and tumble, but he looked the best out of all the guys that got in the lineup when the injury bug hit, and he did pretty well, considering.
Brad Richardson ( signed for 13/14 season as a free agent from the Kings ) Played in L.A, and he is known for playing old school hockey.
Shawn Matthias ( acquired from Florida in 13/14 in the deal that sent you know who to Florida, who drafted him in '06 ). Singlehandedly making the Luongo deal look good, and who thought he could score like that ? Next.
Ryan Stanton ( Signed off the waiver wire from the Hawks system for the 13/ 14 season ). I love this guy. The new Aaron Rome, but he could be even better.
Ronalds Kenins ( Free agent from the Zurich Lions, another 13/14 signing ) Thank you Marc Crawford !
Bo Horvat ( drafted in '13 with a pick acquired in a trade that sent a popular goalie the other way ) He personifies Mike Gillis's middle finger to the haters with every game he plays. He can play Big Boy Hockey, and excel at it. And he is only going to get better.
The New Guys - The guys that Jim Benning put into the lineup. He has, of course, decided to keep all of the above this year ( and this is not about reading his mind in the future. Let us see what the Tabula Rasa that is this season looks like when the writing is finished. ). But these guys were his first attempts at putting his stamp on the team.
Nick Bonino ( an '07 pick by the Sharks, acquired in a trade for some centre that did not want to be here, but would not say that in the last offseason ). I feel more is to come from him, but as far as playing the tough style, he excelled on a deep "Big Boy Hockey" team in Anaheim just last year.
Luca Sbisa ( picked up in that same trade, drafted in '08 by Philly ) You would think the poster child for the type of play we are talking about would be a no brainer. But, again, consistency. This guy would be killing it if he was consistent, and own this town with Kass'...
Radim Vrbata ( signed as a free agent from Pheonix, a '99 draft by the Avs ) A skilled winger that is not scared to go in the corners. You need more than just "muscle", and he leads the team in goals while playing with about five lines worth of players.
Derek Dorsett ( acquired in the past off season from the Rangers, drafted by CBJ in '06 ) Can score a little, play the PK, and leads the Canucks, and I think the league now, in fights. A poster child for Big Boy Hockey.
Linden Vey ( drafted by the Kings in '09 ) Not sure about this guy either. He is good with the puck in tight places, but just not productive or consistent enough for me at this time.
Now, while it is still a work in progress, and there are other bigger and deeper teams to contend with in the West, and the Pacific right now, a look down the prospect list ( check the sizes ), and the general style of play that most of the top prospects in the organization are known for ( some more than others ) should make Canuck fans that wonder if the team can compete going forward happy.
Competition just makes one stronger. They are headed in the right direction. Of course, if the Kings handle them on Saturday afternoon as easily as they did the last time, well, none of the above applies, and I am obviously just blowing smoke.
It is a pretty big game...