Is The NHL Moving Back Towards A Heavier Style Of Game?

Photo: ABC30

Over the past several seasons, the Stanley Cup has not necessarily been decided solely because of how deep and skilled a team is but also the intangibles, including toughness, one has. The Florida Panthers this season have been a prime example after acquiring 6’2”, 201-pound left-wing Matthew Tkachuk last summer.

Last season, Florida won the Presidents’ Trophy and was the highest scoring team that the NHL has seen in a long time, averaging 4.11 goals-per-game and having five scorers with at least 28 goals in addition to one with 24.

Over last summer, Florida lost right-wing Claude Giroux, a proven, consistent scorer thought his NHL career; left-wing Jonathan Huberdeau, who was coming off of a season where he tied for second in the league in scoring (115 points) and led it in assists (85); and left-wing Mason Marchment, who was coming off of a season where he notched 47 points in just 54 games.

Due to salary cap constraints, Florida was unable to adequately replace all three of them but acquired Tkachuk, one of the top scorers in the game (tied for 14th with 40 goals, sixth with 109 points) who also brought some bite to the team (tied for fourth with 123 penalty minutes).

In addition to Tkachuk, Florida added 6’0”, 185-pound defenseman Josh Mahura (sixth among team defensemen with 14:49 average time on ice per game) and 6’4”, 208-pound blueliner Marc Staal (fourth: 21:54) over the past year.

Perhaps no one has exemplified this model better than the Tampa Bay Lightning, who tied then NHL records 62 wins and 128 standings points during the 2018-19 regular-season with three 40-goal, 90-point players and nine scorers with 40 points. Though they had 6’5”, 224-pound defenseman Braydon Coburn, two-time 80-penalty minute center Cedric Paquette, and 6’4”, 224-pound blueliner Erik Cernak, Cernak averaged just 16:07 per game (sixth among Tampa Bay defensemen) while Paquette played only 12 minutes (10th among team forwards to appear in at least 50 games). Despite their success in the regular season, Tampa Bay was swept in the first round.

Over their three postseasons in which they made the Stanley Cup Final, which included two championships, 6’3”, 223-pound center Nick Paul has been fifth among all Tampa Bay forwards in ice time-per-game (18:18) over that span and 6’2”, 204 pound left-wing Barclay Goodrow (17:46) eighth (ahead of center Steven Stamkos). They also acquired 6’0”, 212-pound defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (19:30, fifth); 6’2”, 210-pound defenseman Luke Witkowski; 6’2”, 222-pound defenseman Zach Bogosian (17:40, seventh); 6’2”, 225-pound defenseman Luke Schenn (10:52, ninth); and 6’3”, 234-pound left-wing Pat Maroon (12:36, 10th) during the 2019-20 season prior to lifting the Cup.

After the Colorado Avalanche were bounced in the second round in three straight seasons, the team added 6’5”, 233-pound defenseman Kurtis MacDermid; 6’3”, 218-pound blueliner Josh Manson (17:11, fifth); 6’1”, 227-pound defenseman Jack Johnson (11:06, seventh); 6’0”, 207-pound left-wing Nicolas Aube-Kubel (10:22, 12th); and 6’3”, 209-pound center Nico Sturm (8:27, last among Colorado forwards). Despite losing left-wing Brandon Saad and right-wing Joonas Donskoi, the toughness Colorado acquired seemed to offset the subtraction of scoring.

While toughness and grit have played key roles in long postseason runs throughout the NHL lately, there is much more to it than that. There is not just one factor that gets a team a Stanley Cup but how several come together at the right time. However, that does not minimize the need of grit.

While Tkachuk, Staal, and Mahura have all played crucial roles to Florida’s run to the Stanley Cup Final, the team already had a strong foundation in place with players not known for their feistiness such as center Aleksander Barkov, left-wing Carter Verhaeghe, and defenseman Aaron Ekblad. The same goes for Tampa Bay, Colorado, and any other Stanley Cup Champion team. The key seems to be teams going with their guys and implementing some toughness around them.

Teams like the New Jersey Devils and Edmonton Oilers arguably had more depth and superstars than Florida currently has but both were not able to find as much success due to the different style of roster construction, two that did not have as grit which they needed at this time of the year.

The Western Conference finalist Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars have a few guys who bring grit throughout their respective lineups (6’2”, 218-pound Vegas left-wing William Carrier? 6’2”, 217-pound Vegas right-wing Keegan Kolesar? 6’6”, 230-pound Vegas defenseman Nicolas Hague? 6’3”, 205-pound Dallas defenseman Thomas Harley? 6’2”, 205-pound Dallas left-wing Jamie Benn? 6’3”, 225-pound Dallas center Radek Faksa?) but no bruisers, per say. Yet, they have both gotten to this point. Will it make a difference for the winner of the series against Florida?

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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16 Responses to Is The NHL Moving Back Towards A Heavier Style Of Game?

  1. Jon Sorensen says:

    Greetings folks! Just a quick note, if you haven’t done so already, please consider subscribing to NoVa Caps posts in the “subscribe” box located in the upper right corner. Thank you!

  2. Anonymous says:

    I agree with this. I think the pendulum probably swing too far to the “we gotta get faster” side of things, we saw from 2010 to 2105. Now it’s swinging back. Just look at last five Stanley Cup winners.

  3. dwgie26 says:

    You gotta have a little of both. This is what makes Wilson (and even Hathaway) important pieces to a Cup run. NAK can fill in for Hathaway. Malenstyn will add some snarl at 4LW.

    The Caps has been missing some snarl on the blue line the last couple of years though. Would like that to be Alexyev at 6’4 225 lbs. Not sure he is ready to be that guy yet, but want to let him play. So ideally, this is what we would see as a LD acquisition. A low cost (<1.5M) bigger, physical dee than can play third pair or even platoon with Alexyev.

    • Anonymous says:

      Of course you need both, but focus is a on “change” of late. I think it’s true. Mac even corrected one of “quote grabbers” about the need to add speed, saying Caps team needed to be faster with the puck not faster at skating. Big difference.

  4. franky619 says:

    Luckily the Caps have Jensen, an advance stats darling.

  5. Jon Sorensen says:

    I think it has swung back a little. Mac even said recently the Caps didn’t need to get faster, but faster with the puck. I also think Caps are down a bit in the grit department, so hopefully Caps add some nasty somehow this off-season. It certainly isn’t in Hershey.

    • dwgie26 says:

      Well Malenstyn is grit in Hershey. He should be up. Sutter is only 23 and he has some grit. He is RFA this year so hopefully the Caps re-sign him.

      Where we really have lacked grit is on defense. The McCarthy/Lavi system of fancy defensemen didn’t work well. I have no issue with resigning Jensen and TVR as RH defensemen are hard to find. But I’d like a gritty 3LD who brings some nasty at a value. Alexyev as the 7th Dee.

  6. novafyre says:

    Bolts’ Cooper has always been a fan of physical hockey. However, this has led to far, far too many minutes in the sin bin and other teams have taken advantage of Tampa’s hitters being off the ice. Also, their physical corps has gotten older — and slower. I think this has led to a decrease in effectiveness and an increase in sins as they commit even more errors trying to catch up. So somehow you still need to have speed with your physicality.

    • andrew777dc says:

      Affirmative. Speed + Physicality, Else: Errors. Rinse + Repeat.

    • Anonymous says:

      It could be that, or it could be that they’re just tired, seeing as they’ve played an insane amount of hockey over the past four years, with very short summers for recovery.

      • novafyre says:

        They were tired. But Hedman admitted that his body doesn’t recover as fast as it used to. So did Vasy. Older players, tired players, or players playing with injuries do lose a step, do get behind and in trying to play catchup commit more errors and fouls. Even Vasy is agreeing to playing fewer games next year. So yes, their incredible number of games played made them tired but aging bodies figured in as well.

  7. Prevent Defense says:

    The ever-elusive “Big Thing” in the NHL

    Re-posting is poor form, but it’s A Propos in this case:

    “The NHL Big Thing – The Big Thing in the years just before the 2004 NHL lockout was “Team Speed.” By 2010 it was playing “A heavy style of game.” Still later we had a repeat of the Red Wings’ Big Thing of the 1980s and 1990s: “Puck Possession.” Every five seasons or so one “Big Thing” gives way to another “Big Thing.”

    The LA Kings two Championships definitely hinged on “Heavy Style” with big forwards delivering crushing hits all season. Cindy Crosby’s Pens were red-hot for years in the Puck Possession paradise. Not sure just what Big Thing the Caps had in 2017-18. Or what Big Thing the Caps didn’t have in the two President’s Trophy years.

    FLA has christened yet another NHL Big Thing. Now it’s called, “Capacity to Endure.” Says new head coach Paul Maurice: “We talked about developing the capacity to endure. That was an opening speech line. We had to develop the capacity to endure so that if you get into a playoff game … you have developed that ability to endure the grind.”

    I always remember TBL cheap-shot-Paquette drilling a VERY talented Michal Kempny, beginning his injury-slide into career collapse. And FLA Peter Worrell cheap-shotting Jan Bulis, effectively ending his career too. Big and Physical I don’t mind. Big and Cheap Shot … that’s TBL and PIT

  8. Anonymous says:

    I like Sheary a lot, but he’s not really a great fit with the Caps given how he’s most effective (in transition). The Caps are a heavy team, built around Ovechkin, who tried to play a high tempo offense, rather than play to their strengths. This is why Kuzy was so clutch in 2018- he was able to change the pace while maintaining possession. But the team isn’t built for it, so it’s really hard to keep that up for an entire season.

    McMichael reminds me of Justin Williams sometimes, in that he has a perpetual motor and a nose for the net. Oshie plays the same way. Pavelski has been able to extend his career by being a master down low. Wilson is surprisingly bad at generating offense down low, so the Caps could really use an upgrade to their net front presence, especially given Oshie’s health questions moving forward. Whether that’s internal or not, I dunno. I’d give a long look at Michael Bunting. He’s a prick, but he draws more penalties than he takes, and he’s a dog in the paint.

    While it would be nice for the Caps to play like O is 23 again, and play run and gun like the Canes, the team isn’t constructed that way. Trying to squeeze the square peg in the round hole was a bad idea.

    • Anonymous says:

      With all due respect, you are way off on this one. Where else are you going to find 20 goals for pennies? He can play on any line, and has excellent possession metrics. Mac wants to re-sign him (why he wasn’t dealt at the deadline)

      • dwgie26 says:

        Despite many people thinking it is bad asset management, the Caps are very good to their players and I suspect he wasn’t moved out of respect since he just had a kid. Sheary is not what we need right now and he should go get paid somewhere else (a la Beags).

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