Stanley Cup 2017, IV: Gold & Silver

I II III IV V

Here we are again: on the one hand, we’ve got a team well established as a winner, with 4 Cups to its name and a handful of proven international superstars on their side.  On the other, we’ve got a team that’s never been here before, has a roster (mostly) full of near-nobodies, and plays in a city the average person doesn’t associate with hockey.  This is how it’s been each year for kind of a while now.

Recently we’ve had Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York, and New Jersey in Finals against San Jose, Tampa, Los Angeles, and Los Angeles respectively.  Going back to the Canucks/Bruins series, only the Blackhawks/Bruins series doesn’t really fit this mold.  True the Lightning and Kings each have at least a Cup, but how many regular folks know that (or care for that matter?)

It would have been horrendous for ratings and league popularity to have the Ottawa Senators find a berth in the Stanley Cup Final.  It’s also what I wanted most, with Nashville clinching first.  A Final with two Cup virgins, each from small markets, each franchise born in the 90s, and each with a defensive superstar I’d love to see hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.  Alas, it was not to be, and in their stead, we’ve got Goliath.  At least there’s a clear underdog here to root for, and root for them I shall.

Penguins vs Senators:  This was entirely expected.  In fact, along with the following series, I predicted this one on the nose.  The Penguins, beaten and bruised, haemorrhaging players all playoffs long, managed to use their intangibles and their star power to narrowly win the war of attrition that is fighting the Ottawa Senators and their stifling system.  It was a rollercoaster of a series, with Ottawa and Pittsburgh exchanging wins before a complete and utterly devastating blowout put the Sens on the brink.  In true pesky Sens fashion, they suffocated their way to a Game Six comeback win, and, surprisingly, turned a boring first period of Game Seven into an all-time legendary game, answering the Pens goals with quick responses all the way to a marathon double-overtime finish.

I picked the Penguins to win, but my heart was screaming for the Senators.  Weird, I know.  I don’t hate this Senators team.  Both Buffalo and Ottawa are so far removed from 2006-07 that it doesn’t feel relevant anymore.  I like Erik Karlsson.  More than anything else, I wanted a new team to win, and I discovered that I’d be happy for the Senators if they pulled it off.  Now, much of that is satisfaction from an indirect blow to the Leafs, but hey, I like to have fun.  On the other hand, it’s probably best the Senators didn’t win.  The NHL is a copycat league, and boy, I don’t want to see this kind of hockey become the norm.  Not again.

Playoff Series
2017-05-13; OTT 2, PIT 1 OT
2017-05-15; OTT 0, PIT 1
2017-05-17; PIT 1, OTT 5
2017-05-19; PIT 3, OTT 2
2017-05-21; OTT 0, PIT 7
2017-05-23; PIT 1, OTT 2
2017-05-25; OTT 2, PIT 3 2OT
PIT defeats OTT: 4-3
Prediction: Penguins in 7 ✓✓

Ducks vs Predators:  We’re in a new era.  For a couple years around the lockout, the Anaheim Ducks more often than not faced the Detroit Red Wings in the playoffs.  Half of the time, they’d advance.  Now, they seem to run into the Nashville Predators every other year, but they never win.  In three meetings, the Preds have owned the Ducks 12 wins to 7.  That’s not to say this one was lopsided.  In fact, the team that scored first went on to lose 4 of 6 games.  This was an evenly matched, blow and parry type of series, with the counter being strong enough to overpower the initial attacker.  This was a feisty battle, which is expected with these Ducks, having usurped the role of the NHL’s bullies from a combination of Vancouver, Boston, and Philly.  The Predators were somewhat lucky to escape from this series with minimal injuries, though those they did suffer could be crippling; they’re missing their top 2 centers.

For Nashville though, it was their insane depth that carried them through Anaheim.  With an all-time great defensive line, albeit with Anaheim’s in 2nd right behind them, a host of young wingers (hello, Milwaukee Admirals) and the continued absolutely stellar play of Pekka Rinne, they simply outmatched the Ducks.  Any other team, perhaps, and the Stanley Cup is the Ducks to win.  With a shaky goaltending performance from Jonathan Bernier and the young John Gibson out with injury, it’s hard to imagine the Ducks having an answer to four lines of onslaught from the Preds, but weaker netminding has won Cups.  The Ducks, somehow, seem to have a wide open Stanley Cup window, despite an aging core and old-school coach.  They’re filled to the brim with young talent that, in a few years, might just give Southern California another Cup.

Playoff Series
2017-05-12; NSH 3, ANA 2 OT
2017-05-14; NSH 3, ANA 5
2017-05-16; ANA 1, NSH 2
2017-05-18; ANA 3, NSH 2 OT
2017-05-20; NSH 3, ANA 1
2017-05-22; ANA 3, NSH 6
NSH defeats ANA: 4-2
Prediction: Predators in 6 ✓✓

A newbie and a repeat appearance.  This should be good, no matter what happens.


Advanced stats herein are taken from March 1st through the end of the third round, with the rankings being among the two teams remaining.

 

C4. Nashville Predators vs M2. Pittsburgh Penguins:  This will be fun.  As I alluded to above, this is a real David vs. Goliath story.  The Pittsburgh Penguins are the defending Stanley Cup champions looking to become the first team to repeat since 1998.  They’re also making their third return trip to the Final in their history, which is weird — the Penguins only seem to make the Final in pairs of seasons.  The Nashville Predators are the first lowest-ranked seed to make the Stanley Cup Final, and are making the franchise’s first appearance as well, having previously never even played for a Conference Championship.

The thing about hockey is, though, that this is far more even of a match-up than it appears when comparing each franchise and their histories up to and including this past regular season.  The Predators have steamrolled their way to this point, losing just four games; the Penguins made easy work of their nearby interstate rivals, while getting into seven game slugfests with their next two opponents.  Looking at how banged up each team is, their deficiencies balance out:  Nashville has no center depth, while the Penguins are in shambles on the back end.  They’ve also deployed both of their goaltenders to decent results, as Matt Murray returned from a long injury from round one.

Meanwhile, in Nashville, Pekka Rinne has held fort for three rounds — we haven’t seen a sniff of Juuse Saros.  The Predators wingers are a deep collection of NHL vets and nobody rookies, whereas the Penguins are looking at promoted depth at this point.  To look at positions of strength, you see the Nashville blue line being dominant and as previously mentioned, in a class of its own.  In Pittsburgh, you’ve got the all-star one-two punch of Crosby and Malkin.  The Preds had done a great job of shutting down others’ offensive talents — Kane, Tarasenko, Getzlaf — but, I said the same of the Sharks last year.  The Penguins were just too quick to counter.  If Pekka Rinne stands on his head, the Penguins are toast.  If Crosby and Malkin play like, well, like they have been, then the Predators have a tough road ahead.  I like the Predators and I’m rooting for them.  The city deserves a Cup.  P.K. Subban deserves a Cup.  I want to see Mike Fisher (or proxy captain) hand it off to Pekka Rinne in full goalie gear.  I want a Cup champion wearing a color other than black or red.  I want a new team to win a Cup.  It’s about time.

That said, Penguins in six.  Yeah, they’re going to repeat.  I picked against them last year because of what my heart said; I won’t make that mistake again.

Power Play%
NSH: 13.7%
PIT: 26.8%

Penalty Kill%
NSH: 82.4%
PIT: 81.7%

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
NSH: 52.10%
PIT: 46.71%

PDO
NSH: 102.27
PIT: 101.54

Notable Injuries
NSH: Kevin Fiala, Ryan Johansen, Mike Fisher
PIT: Kris Letang, Patric Hornqvist

Season Series
2016-10-22; PIT 1, NSH 5
2017-01-31; NSH 2, PIT 4
NSH: 1-1-0
PIT: 1-1-0

Nothin’ but gold, baby.  In about two weeks, we’ll see a team decked out in gold lift the ultimate silver prize, the Stanley Cup.  And, shortly after that, the NHL will welcome another gold team to the party — the Vegas Golden Knights.  This seems less than unintentional, now that I put it all out there…

Final Fun Facts & Frivolity Field
Cup Virgins:  1 — NSH, OTT
Cup Champions since 2006:  1 — PIT (’09, ’16)
Longer (or, only) Cup drought:  NSH — 17 seasons

Just like last year, our final two teams’ logos are facing each other in battle, though I think they look far more intense this time.  Here’s hoping for a different result than before.

Wishes for Adidas’ NHL Takeover

With Adidas being the parent company of Reebok, they’re set to assume production of all NHL jerseys for the 2017-18 season.  Last time this happened, when Reebok took over in the offseason of 2007, all NHL team jerseys were redesigned to fit the new Edge template.  With this change being forced upon each team, some took the opportunity to rebrand or refresh their looks.  Some overhauled completely (Dallas, Vancouver, and Washington for example).  Others made minor tweaks to their jerseys.  Some made basically none.

Some teams made mistakes.  A few of them, unfortunately, still live to this day.  I’ve taken it upon myself to present a few concept logo blocks with my vision for team primary logos and colors going forward.  If these changes don’t happen, I will be disappointed, but I won’t give up hope — I’ll continue adding to this collection when inspiration strikes, provided that my ideas don’t magically come to life before then.

First up, my Buffalo Sabres:

Buffalo SabresBuffalo Sabres (Away)

Ditch the silver lines, return to a real, vibrant blue, and voilà!  That’s all they need.  This look is clear, identifiable, and timeless.  If they’re going to hoist the Cup at some point, I desperately hope it’s in these.  With the Sabres scheduled to play as the home team at the 2018 Winter Classic, we may see this jersey appear as soon as then — hopefully they do the right thing and elevate it to primary duty afterward.  If not, the likely worst case scenario is it would become a full-time third in 2018-19.  If that happens, they will have earned my money.


Calgary Flames (Third)Calgary Flames (Fourth)

Fixing the Calgary Flames would be simple: return to the 1980s.  Get rid of the black.  Promote the existing third to primary and add a road counterpart.  You won the Cup in these jerseys; why wouldn’t you want to promote them?  ’nuff said.


Carolina Hurricanes (Third)Carolina Hurricanes (Fourth)

The Carolina Hurricanes need a uniform update, badly.  Their 2013 redesign was horrendous, but thankfully they kept their unique third in reserve.  I wouldn’t mind seeing them upgraded to full-time duty.  The flag logo is far better than the swirl, even though they did win the Cup in the latter, but there’s also the fact that I’m not a fan of black primaries.  What about red?  I think that looks damn hot, even if it is a (tropical) storm warning flag.


Colorado Avalanche (Third)Colorado Avalanche (Fourth)

The Colorado Avalanche have been using the 2007 Reebok transition look for a decade; they’re the last to maintain use of the “apron string” look.  It needs a change more than any other team.  Their current thirds are decent, but I’m not sold on them being a primary.  They’re just a bit too experimental, plus burgundy has always been the Avs’ color.  How about these?


Columbus Blue JacketsColumbus Blue Jackets (Away)

The Columbus Blue Jackets‘ third is a great, great look.  I love the jersey, the color scheme, and the logo.  It’s more distinct, compared to the Jacket’s current palette which features zero unique colors.  The only problem is that vintage white cannot be used as an away jersey base, so to solve I’ve made it white across the board.  Looking sharp!


Minnesota WildMinnesota Wild (Away)

The Minnesota Wild are rumored to be going forward with a green jersey, similar to their Stadium Series jersey from last season.  I’m for it.  I think they should keep their away white jerseys and use them template for the homes.  Easy.  I bet this is exactly what we see come Draft Day, more-or-less.


Ottawa Senators (Third)Ottawa Senators (Fourth)

The Ottawa Senators are in dire need of a new look, having used the same original Reebok template since 2007.  Luckily, they’ve already created a complete set that would do nicely.  The “O” logo ties the franchise back to its predecessor in Ottawa, while ditching the tired look of the three-quarter-profile cartoon centurion.  Same as with Columbus, the vintage white is normalized to pure white.  There was a rumor swirling earlier this year that something like this was in the works for the future.  It’s been quiet on that front recently, but I’d still imagine this has a very good chance of happening.

Alternatively, they’ve been sitting on this cleaner version of their original profiled Senator logo for awhile.  It’s not on their jerseys anywhere, for some reason.  If the classic look isn’t to be, why not revamp the jerseys with this badass logo on front?  Hell, I’d be okay with a return to the black primary if this is what it looks like.


San Jose SharksSan Jose Sharks (Away)San Jose Sharks2San Jose Sharks (Away2)

This is more of a thought than a hope.  The San Jose Sharks used the Reebok takeover to refresh their Shark-biting-stick logo in 2007; modernizing while maintaining the overall look.  It’s been a decade since then, and the franchise has matured to a point of ubiquity and success in the Bay Area.  It’s time to grow the logo to match.  We know it’s a hockey team, so there’s no need for a stick in the logo.  This past season the Sharks released a beautiful set of “future” secondary logos for marketing purposes, which went more-or-less unused: see the clean full-bodied shark above.  There’s also a variant with a more triangular shape and a subtle SJ at the vertex.  Either one I think would be a great primary look.


Washington CapitalsWashington Capitals (Away)

Last but not least, look at this.  The Washington Capitals have used this stunning secondary logo since their transformation in 2007.  How is it not the primary?  I get that the wordmark is an update of their original logo, but come on.  This would be an incredible primary logo.  It’s simple, easily reproduceable and identifiable, and it’s freaking brilliant.  It forms a “W.” It’s got the Capitol in negative space.  The angle in the neck invokes the Washington Monument.  It’s wonderful.  After their latest playoff failure, it might just be a decent time to re-brand.  Make this the primary now.


I have a few more wants that I’m not sure how (read: am not skilled enough) to express visually:

Los Angeles Kings

The Los Angeles Kings would do well to add purple back to their look.  I’m not sure if that requires a whole new logo or not — I’d lean toward the latter, given all of their success with their current setup.  Perhaps just a trim on the jersey?  The league needs more purple; ie any purple.


Vancouver Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks have a great set of uniforms, and it hurts to suggest changes because of their mixed history.  I like the orca logo, but the “Vancouver” wordmark needs to go.   Alternatively, promote the third to full time and go full 1970s.  Either way, that’s all I want, so there’s nothing really new to illustrate here.  The design of the jerseys and their colors are perfect already.

In conclusion, I’m surprised by how content I am with the look of the NHL these days.   Only a handful of teams need a redo on the logo, jersey, and/or colors.  For the rest, a few uniform tweaks here and there would be nice, but overall I think these aforementioned changes would be enough to make the league the best it could possibly look.  Now, if only we could make color versus color jerseys for games the norm, only then would we have perfection.