Phew. Finally a chance to catch our breath after what was perhaps the best 2nd round of playoff hockey ever played. We were treated to three 7 game series, 9 overtime periods, and an epic showdown between the league’s premier young rivals, Crosby and Ovechkin. Perhaps overshadowed by all the intensity and exciting finishes, is a fairly simple underlying theme: Youth.
– Of the league’s top 20 playoff scorers this season, only two players are north of the age 30 mark: 31 year old Marc Savard, and the ever youthful Nicklas Lidstrom.
– ALL of the league’s top 10 playoff scorers are under the age of 30, and only Zetterberg (28) and Franzen (29) are above the age of 25.
– 6 of the 8 starting goalies in the second round were under the age of 30, and 3 of those are 25 years of age and under.
Heck, you can see this trend just by quickly rattling off the top 2 players on each of the remaining playoff teams: Pittsburgh with Crosby and Malkin, Carolina with Staal and Ward, Detroit with Zetterberg and Franzen, and Chicago with Kane and Toews.
Now, if you look closely at some of those names, you may begin to see another trend emerge. Crosby – 1st overall in 2005, Malkin – 2nd overall in 2004, Staal – 2nd overall in 2003, Kane – 1st overall in 2007, Toews – 3rd overall in 2006. Catch my draft…errr… drift?
With the imposition of the salary cap, we’re slowly witnessing a shift of power in the NHL towards teams that can develop elite homegrown talent, particularly at the top end of the draft. As scouting resources and technology improve, you’re going to see fewer and fewer talents fall through the cracks because they play in some remote location or some lesser known leagues. For those of you who are keeping up with the draft, names like Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman Larsson come to mind immediately as examples of players who may have become mid-late round gems for some lucky teams in the past.
Going back to our playoff studs example, let’s take a look in the rearview mirror.
1999 NHL playoffs – Conference Finals: 10 years ago
4 teams: Buffalo, Toronto, Dallas, Colorado
Top 3 scoring leaders for each team: Jason Woolley, Michael Peca, Alexei Zhitnik, Mats Sundin, Sergei Berezin, Steve Thomas, Mike Modano, Brett Hull, Joe Niewendyk, Peter Frosberg, Joe Sakic, Claude Lemieux.
Amount of homegrown top 5 picks: Mike Modano
2004 NHL Playoffs – Conference Finals: 5 years ago
4 teams:Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, San Jose, Calgary
Top 3 scoring leaders for each team: Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Fredrik Modin, Keith Primeau, Alexei Zhamnov, Jeremy Roenick, Patrick Marleau, Vincent Damphousse, Jonathan Cheechoo, Jarome Iginla, Craig Conroy, Martin Gelinas
Amount of homegrown top 5 picks: Patrick Marleau
2009 NHL Playoffs – Conference Finals: Present Day
4 teams: Pittsburgh, Carolina, Detroit, Chicago
Top 3 scoring leaders for each team: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar, Eric Staal, Jussi Jokinen, Ray Whitney, Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, Patrick Kane, Martin Havlat, Jonathan Toews
Amount of homegrown top 5 picks: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Eric Staal, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews
That kinda says it all doesn’t it?
Drafting in the lottery is starting to evolve from a luxury to more or less of a necessity when it comes to achieving sustained playoff success. We should expect to see the likes of Pittsburgh, Washington, Chicago, Columbus, and St. Louis battling it out amongst the league’s elite over the course of the next few years thanks to their tremendously talented young cores. Burke himself understands that the days of long “dynasties” are over, and explained the importance of developing premier homegrown young talent while also supplementing it with cheap supporting role players on entry level contracts. Players like Jordin Staal, Kris Letang, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Kris Versteeg, Jiri Hudler, Valtteri Filppula are the unheralded key contributors of this year’s playoffs.
As for the Maple Leafs, we can only hope that both the fans and the management are learning a valuable lesson as envious spectators this spring. Youth is the name of the game now, for the times they are a-changin’.
Always a pleasure,