The NHL is a copycat league. We hear that a lot around this time of year, as the field narrows and the number of teams watching sadly from the sidelines grows. All of those teams will have to get better if they want to win a Cup, and some have more work cut out for them than others.
But how do they do it? By cribbing notes from the teams that are winning, of course.
Luckily, this year’s conference final teams will make that a relatively easy job. While every team is different, this year’s final four share some significant similarities. So if you’re a GM facing pressure to improve and you’re looking for a successful formula to borrow, we’ve got you covered. Here are eight lessons we can learn from the teams that are still alive in this year’s Cup hunt.
Lesson #1: Playoff-tested goaltending is overratedWe all know the old clichés: You build a winner from the net out. Goaltending is what wins in the playoffs. And when push comes to shove, you want a goalie who’s been there before, because those are the guys who know how to win, whatever that means.
But recent history has shown that that none of that is necessarily true, as teams have managed deep playoff runs without a veteran star in the crease. This year, there were five goalies in the league with 70 or more playoff starts on their resume, all of whom led their team to a playoff spot. But four of them went out in the first round, and the fifth, Marc-Andre Fleury, is watching the Penguins’ run from the bench.
Heading into this year’s final four, the most experienced starting goaltender left standing in terms of post-season action was Ben Bishop – and he’d never even started a playoff game until last season. Brian Elliott had lost his starting job in each of the last two post-seasons in St. Louis, Martin Jones had never started a playoff game before this season, and Matt Murray was a rookie who didn’t even debut until December.
Lesson #2: Have a young backup you can trustSo you don’t necessarily need to go all-in on a veteran star, at least based on this year’s final four. But there’s a corollary to this rule: Having a capable young backup as an insurance policy sure seems to help.
We’ve already seen that come into play in Pittsburgh as well as in Tampa, where Andrei Vasilevskiy has once again been pressed into action for an injured Bishop. The Blues haven’t had to start Jake Allen yet, but he’s good enough to give them that option. And in San Jose, Jones was the capable young backup until the team went out and made him the starter this summer. And the Sharks still made sure to go out and get James Reimer at the deadline, just in case Jones faltered.
Add it all up, and heading into the playoffs with two solid options – even if one of them is young and cheap – may be just as good if not better than having one veteran star. (Or maybe not. Goaltending is voodoo.)