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RULE THE ROOST

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It’s a common habit that losers try to copy winners. “The winners did everything right,” is a very common assumption – although it’s pretty stupid to believe in this ;-).

Photo  Thomas Roost

So, let’s have a look at the four semi-finalists in the NHL. What are they doing differently than others? They will set the new trends in hockey because they won and we – maybe wrongly – assume that they will also win in the future with the same ingredients.

One of the “wisdoms” is that you have to be a big sized team to be successful in the NHL and yes: If you look at the St. Louis Blues they have with 187.5cm on average the second tallest team in the NHL, so the Blues are the “proof” that you have to have especially tall guys in your team. But wait, not so fast, there is a small group of “renegades” telling that you easily can win with a short team and yes: Look at another semi-finalist, the Pittsburgh Penguins: on average, they are nearly 3cm smaller in size than the Blues and just the NHL’s No. 25 in this aspect. Hmmm… the fact is that the 2nd tallest, then No. 13, 16 and 25 are the semi-finalists. So, the unspectacular truth is: One can’t assume that you have to be a tall or short sized to be successful. By the way, the tallest (Arizona Coyotes) and the shortest team (New Jersey Devils) both did not manage to catch a playoff spot…

Ok, let’s turn the page. To win in the NHL, you need to have muscles and weight and the proof for this are the San Jose Sharks and the St. Louis Blues; they both rank 5th and 6th in terms of weight. Their bodies have an average weight of more than 93kg. But… I guess…. You know it already: not so fast! We have also the Tampa Bay Lightning with 90.6 kg (ranked 22nd) and the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3rd last in this ranking with an average weight of “only” 89kgs. Hmmm…

Well, bingo, I have the answer! You need to be an experienced team to win in the NHL. Others will tell you: No, I don’t believe in this, I guess you need to have a young team to succeed. Young teams have much more energy than old teams. You need to be young and energetic.  The –once again–unspectacular truth is that, on the one hand, you have the San Jose Sharks which have the 3rd most experienced team with an average age of 28.5 years and on the other hand there are the Tampa Bay Lightning (26.3 years) with the 4th youngest roster of all NHL-teams. And then we have the Pittsburgh Penguins and the St. Louis Blues, they both are more or less middle of the pack in this category. So, again, also, the average age of a team gives us no clue at all.

Next wisdom: You need to have a top goalie to win in the NHL. Ok, let’s face all the goalie rankings from different reliable hockey-sources. If I look at data from the last two years up to a couple of weeks ago, I come to a more or less consistent Top 10 or 11 goalie-ranking: 1. Lundqvist, 2. Price, 3. Quick, 4. Holtby, 5. Schneider, 6. Crawford, 7. Rask, 8. Fleury, 9. Smith 10. Bobrovsky, 11. Mrazek.  You know what?
Not even one of these goalies – and this is NOT my personal goalie-ranking, it is a summary of rankings published in reliable hockey-magazines such as The Hockey News – is a goalie of the four semi-finalists.

Does this mean that you don’t need an excellent goalie to succeed? Partly yes; these statistics supports my thesis that you “only” need” at least average goaltenders to succeed but not necessarily the best ones. To be very precise: You definitely need good or even very good goaltending to succeed in NHL-playoffs, but there is a small but important difference between being basically a very good goalie and displaying very good goaltending… This means that an average goalie is also capable of dishing out excellent playoff-run-performances. Every goalie has hot and cold streaks and if you are an average goalie but you are lucky enough to have a hot streak then you will put exactly the good performance on the ice when it is needed most: Good goaltending. And even if you are Henrik Lundqvist and you are unlucky enough to be on a cold streak… then…

Now, let’s turn to another often heard NHL “playoff-wisdom”: The San Jose Sharks and the St. Louis Blues can never win, these are the typical loser teams with “loser-poster-boys” like Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton. You need the playoff warriors and winner-personalities like Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford, who always play at their best when it counts the most. Well… again… not so fast. Joe Thornton was voted as the 2nd-star in the successful quarterfinal Game 7 versus Nashville. Thornton and Marleau are now heading to the semi-final and the same goes for the so-called “chronic loser team” St. Louis Blues. What about Toews and Crawford? They lost with the Blackhawks in the first round and both underperformed compared to what they are able to put on the table. Toews and Crawford were playoff heroes one year ago but the following is often forgotten: Crawford, for example, also played pretty below average in last year’s playoff first round. The unspectacular truth is that there are probably no players who are always bad or always good in clutch times. Sometimes they are good and sometimes they are not. Again, a boring result, unspectacular facts. But, not so fast: Are these facts really boring, is this really unspectacular?

For me, all these unspectacular findings are extremely spectacular because it proves more or less that we know much less about successful hockey than we might admit. I compare our hockey knowledge a little bit with the knowledge of brain scientists. Our brain and the sport of hockey is most exciting and we try to discover and control everything as fast as possible. We are unbelievably hungry in terms of statistical knowledge, but, at the same time, we are often too uncritical of theories and “hocus-pocus”. Let’s realize that we know just very little about the mystery of our brains and we indeed do not know that much about winning in hockey in top-level competitions. Winning and losing is still a mystery to a huge extent and, probably, the luck-factor is still underrated in our analysis. But this is exactly what makes our sport of hockey so attractive. The outcome of results of games between two major-league pro-teams is still quite unpredictable and this is a big reason why I love hockey so much.

Let’s embrace ice-hockey and let’s further study our game with critical but also with winking eyes and always remember the following quote by William Shakespeare: "The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool." ;-)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Thomas Roost (@thomasroost) was born in 1960 and lives in Horgen, Zurich. Since 1995 he has been working as NHL-scout for Central-Scouting Europe, since 2010 also as scout for EHC Biel in the National League A.

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