by PuckStopsHere on 05/25/11 at 06:01 AM ET
I am back from
Rogers Arena and can report that Vancouver is celebrating. The Vancouver Canucks have made the Stanley Cup finals for the third time in their history and for the first time ever as the favorites.
When I speak of elite teams, I am using a definition which can be debated, but it works well. Historically all the elite teams - those teams that are in the discussion of the best teams of all time - have had several players (at least three and many times more) who wound up in the Hockey Hall of Fame. For the most part we can identify players who are on the way to having Hall of Fame careers well before they are over. I have written many posts identifying players ( here is the most recent one) that I would induct regardless of what happens in the rest of their careers. Of course there are players who are not yet secured as Hall of Famers who are well on track. By that, I mean that a reasonable projection of their career would make them a Hall of Famer. I would include both of these groups as likely Hall of Famers on a team.
It isn’t enough to merely collect future Hall of Fame players to make an elite team. For example, it is possible to have a group of over-the-hill players who were once superstars who had Hall of Fame careers but are no longer above average NHL players. So we must specify that these players must be at or near the peaks of their careers - or at the very least be all star level players at the time in question.
This is not enough. Goaltending is extremely important to an elite team. A team must have one of the better goalies in the NHL. Their goalie must be in the top group of goalies (for the sake of argument this group is approximately five goalies big - but as circumstances dictate might be slightly smaller or larger at any point in time). This is a slightly weaker condition than demanding that the goaltender is a Hall of Famer, but it is possible that this goalie is a Hall of Fame goaltender and is included in the previous group.
Of course all of this does not guarantee that a TEAM is an elite team. It merely says that they have some elite players. A team is more than a group of elite players. That said an elite team is a group of elite players who play well together. It is necessary but not sufficient for the group of elite players to exist. That can be used as a test to immediately decide if a team is an elite team candidate or not.
The Stanley Cup finals have historically been a battle between elite teams. Most of the historical playoff battles have included one if not two elite teams. It is a pet peeve of mind that this doesn’t happen much if at all anymore. This has happened because of expansion, which has spread out the number of places where top talent has been distributed. This has happened because the salary cap has significantly reduced the ability of a team to keep their talent even if they can acquire it.
So when all is said and done, does Vancouver qualify as an elite team candidate? They have no players who I would induct into the Hall of Fame if their careers ended today. They do have four players that can reasonably be considered to be on Hall of Fame tracks. They are Roberto Luongo, Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler.
Luongo has probably been the most consistent star goaltender over the past ten years. Though he has not won a Vezina Trophy, he could have done so. He had more than one Vezina worthy season. Both 2004 and 2007 were seasons where Luongo played better than many Vezina Trophy winners of the past. He is criticized for his failure to have won a Stanley Cup yet, but he has a remarkable track record of winning internationally and at the junior level. He is definitely on a Hall of Fame track and could cement his position this year with a Stanley Cup victory. He definitely qualifies as an elite goalie for the Canucks and is a likely Hall of Famer as well.
Both Sedins have been top scorers in the NHL. Henrik last year and Daniel this year. Henrik was the Hart Trophy winner last season and Daniel may be this season. These two players have only had two seasons where they have been truly among the top scorers in the league. The fact that they were both 29 when they made this jump is unusual. It has helped to keep their career totals quite low for future Hall of Fame forwards at their age. However, it is quite reasonable to suggest that recent Art Ross trophy winners are on Hall of Fame tracks.
Ryan Kesler is one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL. He has played a less defensive role this season and as a result has made a huge jump in the NHL scoring race. Kesler was the fourth highest goal scorer in the NHL this year. However he has never had a point per game season and at age 26 it is possible he never well. That doesn’t necessarily make Kesler a non-Hall of Famer. His defence is good enough that if he has an effective career with several more seasons as good as his last couple of seasons he could be on a Hall of Fame track. It is less certain than any of the players I have already discussed, but it is quite possible.
Vancouver has enough elite players to meet the necessary but sufficient condition to be an elite team, but do they play together well enough? Vancouver won the Presidents Trophy by a margin of ten points. They led the NHL in goals for and against in the regular season. They had the best power play in the regular season and finished third in penalty kill, but were barely out of first place. This is certainly evidence that they can play well together.
Vancouver may be an elite team. At the very least, they are a strong elite team candidate. They are likely the best team to make the Stanley Cup finals since the 2007 Anaheim Ducks. The potential exists for this to be an elite team.
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