Friday, October 20, 2006

QOTD: How important is strength up the middle?

Looking back at the last 20 Cup winners it is very apparent that one of the keys to winning a Cup is strength up the middle. In fact, only twice has a team won the Cup with less than two strong centers (playoff pts in parenthesis):

2006 Carolina Hurricanes – Staal (28), Brind’Amour (18), Weight (16)
2004 Tampa Bay Lightning – Richards (26), Lecavalier (16)
2003 New Jersey Devils – Nieuwendyk (9), Gomez (12), Madden (16)
2002 Detroit Red Wings – Yzerman (23), Fedorov (19), Larionov (11)
2001 Colorado Avalanche – Sakic (26), Forsberg (14)
2000 New Jersey Devils – Arnott (20), Holik (10), Gomez (10)
1999 Dallas Stars – Modano (23), Nieuwendyk (21)
1998 Detroit Red Wings – Yzerman (24), Fedorov (20), Larionov (13)
1997 Detroit Red Wings – Yzerman (13), Fedorov (20), Larionov (12)
1996 Colorado Avalanche – Sakic (34), Forsberg (21), Ricci (17)
1995 New Jersey Devils – Broten (21)
1994 New York Rangers – Messier (30)
1993 Montreal Canadiens – Damphousse (23), Muller (17)
1992 Pittsburgh Penguins – Lemieux (34), Francis (27)
1991 Pittsburgh Penguins – Lemieux (44), Francis (17)
1990 Edmonton Oilers – Messier (31), Simpson (31)
1989 Calgary Flames – Gilmour (22), Nieuwendyk (14), Otto (19)
1988 Edmonton Oilers – Gretzky (43), Messier (34)
1987 Edmonton Oilers – Gretzky (34), Messier (28)
1986 Montreal Canadiens – Smith (15), Carbonneau (12)

Looking at the 14 teams who have even an outside shot at winning the Cup (in my opinion), here are how they stackup at Center:
Anaheim – McDonald, Getzlaf
Buffalo – Briere, Drury
Calgary – Langkow, Lombardi
Carolina – Staal, Brind’Amour
Dallas – Modano, Ribero/Lindros
Detroit – Datsyuk, Lang, Draper
Edmonton – Horcoff, Sykora, Stoll
Minnesota – Demitra, Rolston
Nashville – Arnott, Vasicek, Legwand
New Jersey – Gomez, Madden
Ottawa – Spezza, Fisher
Philadelphia – Forsberg, Richards
San Jose – Thornton, Marleau
Vancouver – Sedin, Morrison

Here are the other 16 team and Potential UFA Centers/Trade Bait:
Chicago (Handzus, Smolinski ), Columbus, St. Louis, Colorado (Sakic), Los Angeles (Conroy), Phoenix (Comrie), NY Islanders, NY Rangers (Straka), Pittsburgh, Boston, Montreal, Toronto (Sundin), Atlanta, Florida (Nieuwendyk), Tampa Bay, Washington

I would be pretty surprised if Sundin and Sakic decide not to finish their careers in Toronto and Colorado respectively, but it either hits the market later in the year there would certainly be a bidding was for their services.

Calgary is the team with the most pressing need up the middle. I wouldn't be at all suprised to see Conroy back there at some point with his old linemate Iginla.

One common name when scanning the list of Cup winners is the Joe Nieuwendyk, who has won Cups in Calgary, Dallas and New Jersey. If Florida is not in playoff contention I would expect Ottawa and maybe Anaheim to make a huge push for both Nieuwendyk and Roberts. Calgary could be a good fit there too if they are unable to land a top 2 center who can consistently put up points.

Based upon this list I would say that Buffalo and San Jose have the strongest 1-2 combination up the middle and if history is any indication, one of these teams has a great chance of hoisting the Cup in June.

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