by PuckStopsHere on 06/08/13 at 01:35 AM ET
The Boston Bruins have swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in four straight games. Pittsburgh was the most likely team to win the Stanley Cup this year according to the Las Vegas odds. This makes Boston a surprise Stanley Cup finalist, but they are not that big a surprise. They won the Stanley Cup two years ago and were probably the second most likely team to win the East Conference.
The problem is that Boston isn't an elite team. As usual in the salary capped NHL none of these teams exist anymore and thus the Stanley Cup finalists will not be elite like they once were.
It is probably meaningful to compare this season's Bruins to the 2011 Stanley Cup winners and see how they measure up to the necessary, but not sufficient conditions to be an elite team. An elite team must have at least three players who will be Hall of Famers when they retire. These players must be close enough to their primes that they are star players. They must also have a top goaltender (who may be included in the three or more Hall of Famers) who is among the top handful of NHL goalies. This is not a sufficient condition as the team must still play well, but they cannot be an elite team without elite players.
Comparing Boston teams we see that they have downgraded in goal. Tim Thomas was the best goalie in the NHL in 2011. He was arguably the best player in hockey that year. He was an elite goalie and is a future Hall of Famer. He has been replaced by Tuukka Rask. Rask is a good goaltender and it is possible that he might be an elite goaltender but I don't think he is there. He has never been a Vezina nominee. He has never appeared in an All Star Game. I think he is a strong goalie in the tier below the elite ones but he isn't an elite goalie. That in and of itself says this Boston team is not an elite team. I will not dismiss them entirely because they come close in their goaltending so if they truly have a dominant number of future Hall of Famers in other positions it may tip the balance in their favor.
Boston has two players who are future Hall of Famers regardless of what they do in the rest of their careers. There is Zdeno Chara, who is arguably the best defenceman in hockey today and there is Jaromir Jagr. Jagr's best days are over. He is still a capable second or third line forward but he is not an All Star today. There are not likely any other players on Bruins who are on Hall of Fame tracks. Sure Patrice Bergeron is the reigning Selke Trophy but it is hard to imagine a Hall of Fame trajectory. David Krejci and Nathan Horton are the top two scorers in the playoffs to date but neither has ever had a tip level regular season. I suppose it is possible that Milan Lucic or Tyler Seguin or Brad Marchand or goaltender Tuukka Rask or even Torey Krug to have Hall of Fame careers but that requires every one of them to have several seasons where he significantly exceeds his current level of achievement.
Boston is not an elite team. They are not as close to being an elite team as they were in 2011 since they have downgraded in goal and they were not an elite team then.
As a positive, at least Boston is significantly better than last year's East Conference Stanley Cup finalist - the New Jersey Devils. New Jersey was an average NHL team at best. Boston is at least clearly above average.
The problem with the NHL today is that it is no longer possible to build an elite team. The Stanley Cup finals used to be a battle between two elite teams and that is no longer possible. That is a loss for the fan. The finals are no longer a showcase of elite teams. Far too often in today's NHL if there are no elite teams then teams that are merely average can make the Stanley Cup finals. That isn't happening this year and that will likely make this a solid Stanley Cup final for this era and but not a truly memorable final historically.
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