Thursday, May 28, 2009

Stanley Cup Storylines

Now that the Red Wings and Penguins have officially avoided what would've been a disastrous (for the fans…and the League) nine day layoff between the 3rd and 4th rounds, the hockey world can focus exclusively on the marquee matchup the hockey gods have presented us with.

Without further ado, here are five storylines to watch as the Stanley Cup Final unfolds:

1) A Repeat?
In North-American major professional sports, no team has won back-to-back titles since the NFL’s Patriots in ‘04 and ’05. The last NHL team to repeat as champion was the Wings themselves back in ’97 and ’98. They will be attempting to win their 5th Stanley Cup in 13 years (and only 12 seasons), which as a Leafs fan pretty much makes me want to cry.

I think the long long-term contracts to Zetterberg and especially Franzen will eventually hinder them, but you have to hand it to Ken Holland and his entire front office who have been the best in the business for almost 15 years. A fifth Cup, including two back-to-backs, elevates them again historically. By the way, the Wings spent a total of $2.2 million on goaltending this year.

2) The Playoff Goal-Scoring Record
The all-time single season playoff goal-scoring record is 19 and held jointly by Jari Kurri and Reggie Leach. Sidney Crosby (14 goals) is within reach and Evgeni Malkin (12) has an outside shot of breaking the mark. The two have combined to score 40% of the Pens playoff goals and have pushed each other in a way no two teammates have since Mario and Jagr almost 20 years ago. Zing!

(Sidenote: How many players would pass up an empty net goal, like Crosby did in the dying seconds of game four versus Carolina, while chasing such a colossal record? Not many. And certainly not Malkin or Ovechkin.)

3) Benedict Hossa
That was the name given to Marian Hossa by a friend of mine (obviously a huge Pens fan) after Hossa spurned Pittsburgh’s $50 million offer and chose instead to sign a one-year deal in Motown for “a better chance at the Cup”. The next 10 days will ultimately determine whether Hossa made the right choice, but one thing is absolutely certain: Hossa is the only athlete that we can truly believe when he says “it’s not about the money”.

4) Team Canada’s Olympic Goaltending Situation
Two weeks ago Cam Ward was the “it” goalie and received considerable ink (ahhh, type?) as the best option for third goaltender on next year’s Canadian Olympic roster. Now, I’m not sure why the third stringer for a tournament that doesn’t start for another nine months has suddenly become such a hot topic, but it has. And Marc-Andre Fleury is now getting his turn as flavour of the day and you can be sure that should Chris Osgood collect his fourth ring (3rd as starter) many will speculate that he too deserves consideration. There is no disputing the numbers Osgood has put up over his career, and Stanley Cups are why you play the game, but these Detroit teams that he backstopped haven’t exactly depended on him for greatness. I wouldn’t say he has won Stanley Cups as much as he hasn’t lost them.

Anyway, so much can happen in the four months of NHL hockey prior to the Olympics that all anyone can say for sure is that behind Brodeur and Luongo are several capable possibilities. And Osgood isn’t one of them.

5) The Grizzled Rookie
Winnipeg native Darren Helm is on the verge of earning his second Stanley Cup ring and amazingly will still enter next season as an NHL rookie. The game five overtime hero for Detroit has played just 23 regular season games total over the last two years (versus 34 playoff contests) meaning he’ll be perhaps the most decorated rookie ever to play in the NHL.

Here is how the 22 year-old Helm has spent his last five springs: two trips to the Stanley Cup Finals (’09 & ’08); one loss in the Memorial Cup Final (’07), third round (’06) and second round (’05) losses in the WHL playoffs; and a Junior “B” championship with the Selkirk Fisherman.

Oh, and he also won back-to-back World Junior Championships for Canada.

Winning is all the guy knows.

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