by PuckStopsHere on 04/12/09 at 02:58 AM ET
I think no team is over 50% likely to win the Stanley Cup this year. That means that most likely San Jose will not win the Stanley Cup this year even though they are the single team with the best chance at it.
What makes San Jose the most likely cup winner? They had a very good regular season winning the President’s Trophy. They did so despite travel issues that when accounted for would make their lead even bigger.
San Jose has the most talented team in the league with no clear weaknesses. They have a good goalie in Evgeni Nabokov. Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Christian Ehrhoff and Rob Blake give the Sharks one of the better defences in the NHL. They have a good group of forwards in Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Devin Setoguchi, Milan Michalek, Ryane Clowe and Jonathan Cheechoo. They have some good grinders and wily veterans to make up their depth including Travis Moen, Jeremy Roenick, Mike Grier and Claude Lemieux. This is a good team.
Like any team there are questions. Many of the stars on the team have never had a deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Until they do, people like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabokov will be questioned. Of the players with Stanley Cup experience most are on their last legs. Rob Blake won in Colorado. He is 39 years old. Claude Lemieux has won in the past. He is 43 years old and more than likely a playoff healthy scratch after his one point regular season. Travis Moen won in Anaheim, but he is not a leader here. Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich won in Tampa Bay. Lukowich is a depth defenceman. Boyle would likely play a far bigger role if San Jose won than he did in Tampa. Rookie coach Todd McLellan has experience as Detroit’s assistant coach last year, but one wonders if he can be outcoached against a more veteran coach in a best of seven series. There is some Stanley Cup experience, but the key guys don’t have it.
Should San Jose win the cup are they an elite team? Are they a team that will be compared with the greatest teams of all time? My guess is no. Those teams don’t exist very much in the salary capped NHL. It is hard to keep a talented team together long enough to reach that level. I have argued in the past that to be an elite team it is necessary (but not sufficient) to have a few (3 or so) key players who are future Hall of Famers and a top goalie (who may or may not be a Hall of Famer). San Jose has one player who I would induct into the Hall of Fame if his career ended right now. He is Rob Blake. Blake is still a top defenceman on the team, but his days as a top defenceman in the league are over. Joe Thornton is probably on a Hall of Fame track. I wouldn’t induct him if his career ended now, but a reasonable projection of the rest of his career gets him there. Evgeni Nabokov is a good goalie. They have the goalie requirement. He might be a Hall of Famer, but it is more likely he will fall short. Jeremy Roenick is very close to a Hall of Fame career (for example a significant role in a Stanley Cup run would probably get him there - but his best days are done). Players like Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle and Devin Setoguchi have not accomplished enough in their careers to be seriously considered as Hall of Fame possibilities. Claude Lemieux has had some great Stanley Cup playoffs in the past and gets Hall of Fame consideration for them, but he hasn’t had enough top level regular seasons in his career and seems unlikely to get there at his age. All in all, San Jose has likely two to three players who will make the Hall of Fame and Blake and Roenick are past their prime. That probably falls short of the key Hall of Fame players they need. There are some possibilities that I am wrong, but I would bet against it.
The Stanley Cup playoffs are an exciting time. Anything can happen. Often surprises occur. The most likely team to win the Stanley Cup this year is the San Jose Sharks. They are definitely far from a lock. They have some questions to answer, but they have a better shot than anyone else.
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