NHL playoffs proving there’s no one right way to build a winner

Welcome back to the NHL playoffs insights and predictions, now there are only three teams left. This week, we look at how to build a winning, ownership team, Florida’s physicality, a defensive arm, and world championships.

There is no way to build a winner.

Looking at how each team in the final four is built, it will be interesting to see what teams take from it.

They can’t exactly replicate Vegas because they are an expansion team that still benefits from some of their picks like Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith and Shea Theodore. It’s worth noting, though, that they traded for Jack Eichel and Mark Stone. They signed Alex Pietrangelo in free agency. Smaller but still important, they also acquired players like Chander Stephenson, Alec Martinez, Barbashev and Howden in minor deals.

All teams in the Final Four have made significant trades to add to their drafted core. Florida drafted Aaron Ekblad and Aleksandr Barkov first and second, respectively, but traded for Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Bennett, Brandon Montour and Sam Reinhart. Gustav Forsling apologized. Signed Carter Verhaeghe and Sergey Bobrovsky in free agency.

Carolina and Dallas, on the other hand, were less aggressive. The Stars made a big splash a decade ago when they acquired Tyler Seguin from Boston. They also quietly made some nice additions at this year’s trade deadline. Carolina’s big move came last summer when they traded for Brent Burns. Signing Jesperi Kotkaniemi to the offer sheet was a bold move that paid off. Both rosters, however, are comprised of mostly drafted and developed players, with the odd sprinkling of recall moves for any team.

No matter what anyone tells you, there is no proven right way to build a champion. If it were that easy, every team would be doing it.

Although three of the final four teams aren’t where they are specifically because of this, picking up top talent at the top of the draft certainly helps. Those who emerged as leading players were acquired later in the draft, such as the Stars’ top forwards Jason Robertson (39th overall) and Roe Hintz (49th overall) and Carolina’s Sebastian Aho (35th overall) and Jakob Slavin (120th overall). Vegas opted to cash in on big trades for Eshel and Stone in its draft capital.

The talk of Florida making a blockbuster trade for Tkachuk and, to a lesser extent, Vegas with the Echelon trade. The other two teams followed suit by preparing, developing and increasing their team as much as possible.

The Vegas Golden Knights are one win away from eliminating the Dallas Stars from the NHL playoffs and advancing to their second Stanley Cup Final. (Getty Images)

The Panthers’ physicality paid off

There were all kinds of extracurricular activities in Florida’s first-round series against the Boston Bruins. Especially a cheap shot on Eric Staal when the Panthers and Linus Ullmark were trying to fight off Tkachuk. It was a physical series and as it went on, the Boston Patriots seemed to tire as the young players in Florida got stronger.

After the Panthers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round, Tkachuk suggested their physicality wears on the Leafs as the series continues. Ryan O’Reilly agreed with this assessment.

“Obviously they were more physical than us,” he said.

Against Carolina in the next round, it was more of the same. Especially when Bennett took Slavin out of the game. Side note: It’s nice to see players say it’s pure success like Slavin because for some reason every big success turns into an argument, which is exhausting to say the least.

The Panthers are technically ranked 10th in 60 minutes. To date, they have played the most games except for one team, so they are second overall. But when they hit, they get their money’s worth. Gudas and Bennett are among the leaders in the game and constantly leave their mark on the opposition. You can put together complete video packages of all your biggest hits to date.

The endgame is partly a battle of attrition. Bobrovsky and Klachuk’s scoring are the main reasons the Panthers are in the Stanley Cup Finals, but they are wearing teams down physically and their confidence is growing along the way. Now, they will have time to win the last two rounds as they only need nine games (technically 10) to win the last two rounds.

Pace possession is still a recipe for success.

When the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup as the eighth seed in 2011-12, it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise, pointing out how they’ve been a dominant ownership team all season.

The Kings took control of the game and struggled to score, but in the final day they got Jeff Carter and the rest is history. Carter is a key part of their attack and has scored 8 goals in the league.

Florida’s run may have been surprising this year, but they’ve also been a prolific possession team all season. They finished third in 5v5 corsi and played the team that finished first in 5v5 corsi in the Eastern Conference Finals. Of course, Florida’s scoring has been inconsistent all season and has been unbeatable in the playoffs.

It may not be that surprising that the Seattle Kraken, the fifth-ranked team in the 5v5 corsi, made it to the second round. Although the Dallas Stars finished in 10th place, they have yet to play a team ranked higher than them. The only real surprise is Vegas, who finished 22nd in the regular season, but they were without Mark Stone for half the season (granted, they weren’t much better with him) and missed out on underrated players like William Carrier and Brett Howden. For a long time, Ivan Barbashev added on the last day. Still, goaltender Adin Hill has been good in the postseason despite struggling with possession.

Possession is still important and that talk seems to be somewhat muted as stats such as expected goals emerge and more emphasis is placed on shooting ability. Obviously, they are all important. It’s important to have legitimate game breakers – look no further than Vegas. Having a hot goalkeeper is also about the best gift you can receive. But game-to-game control and how you do it (strong frontloads, cycling, neutral zone suppression) leads to regular season success and still translates to playoff success.

The importance of craftsmanship in the game

One thing that is underplayed every season, but seems important in every playoff game, is the defensive arm. If you look at the last four teams, they all have a total of three left shots and three right shots, except for one in Shea Theodore, who has the most skill in the game.

During the regular season, you can pass through your side. The inspection is not that strict, teams don’t have a game plan for the opposition and there is not much detail about the game. At least a third of the league isn’t particularly good, which gives you more time to play easy games.

Last year’s Stanley Cup Finals followed a similar pattern. The Avalanche wore three lefts and three righties the entire playoffs. The Tampa Bay Lightning have worn three right-handed shooters in total as much as possible, the problem being that their options beyond Eric Cernak, Zach Boghossian and Jan Ruta haven’t exactly been guys you trust at the top of your lineup. This game, the Panthers and Hurricanes wore only three left-footed and three right-footed uniforms. The stars tried but Colin Miller and Jani Hakanpa, both reliable righties, sometimes gave them no choice.

After all, when you’re playing offside, everything takes just a second — like taking a D-to-D pass, rotating your hips and turning your body to the ice to make a transition. Off the rush, it’s easy for attackers to drive wide. A defender cannot follow you with the stick when defending from his side because he has to bring it completely on his body.

Check out this example between Golden Knights forward Keegan Kolesar and Stars stud Miro Heiskanen. When Kolesar drives wide, Heiskanen swings the stick at first and once he misses, he has to regroup himself, allowing Vegas an extra second of time and space to cut him off and gain space on him. By then it was already over. Heskanen could not recover.

In the playoffs, we see the boys play higher in the game. The teams that are far from the playoffs and year-to-date generally have an even spread at the back.

Sabs’ Peterka is appearing at the World Championships.

Last week we mentioned that the World Championships is a great tournament where players can improve their game, rebuild their confidence and benefit from playing in a different environment. One player who continues to emerge is Buffalo Sabers winger JJ Peterka, who plays for Team Germany.

In the year A second-round pick in 2020, he completed his first full season in the NHL, playing on the junior line to talk to Dylan Cozens and Jack Quinn and putting up a reasonable 12 goals and 34 points. Despite their expected streak of early possessions, they went 18-24, a feat that wasn’t largely due to Peterka and was partly due to the Sabers’ scoring prowess last season.

He had 11 points in 13 games in March, but added one goal (his only point) in eight games in April. At the World Championships, though, it was a different story. Germany are in the semi-finals and are leading their team in goals. His 10 points in eight games ranks him third in scoring in the competition, and at just 21 years old, he has plenty of room to grow and is showing glimpses of his potential.

This is a huge lapse in the quarter final and the video clip doesn’t do justice to how he dominated the entire shift. When he finds the puck in a prime scoring position, he shows smarts by deflecting the shot, getting inside and stretching out a desperate defender. Many players are happy to get that shot in prime scoring position, so they run fast. Peterka grabs it and pulls his toe, and once he knows he’s beaten the defender, he leans into the shot and puts it to the side, on his body. It’s not easy to get that little bit of heat, but he’s got just enough muscle to beat the keeper.

He was one to watch going into next season, playing in the youth and development teams and finishing in the top 6, but he is taking it a step further in this competition and putting himself firmly on the map as a player.


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