Where did the Penguins come from? They were awful for a while, so bad that Jagr wanted to leave and was traded in one of the worst trades for both teams in history. Neither team made out well. The only good thing for the Pens in that deal was that they got rid of his salary. So now I am reading what a masterful job of building a team the Pens have done. Ok, I will give them credit for the success, but how many people could have messed up with what the Pens had?
In 2003 they had the 1st overall pick and took Fleury. They could have had Eric Staal but they needed a goalie badly. Good pick.
In 2004 they had the 2nd overall pick and took Malkin behind Ovechkin. Again good pick.
In 2005, they had the 1st overall pick again (thanks to the lockout) and were rewarded with Crosby.
In 2006 they had the 2nd overall pick again and got Jordan Staal.
So I would not call this digging out diamonds in the rough. All of these players were either the #1 or #2 rated player in the world when they were picked. I mean DUH! Who else would they have taken? I have to say this though, in the NFL the Cardinals pick high every year and still screw it up.
My problem with the Pens draft is the following. They were bad for the years leading up to picking Fleury and Malkin. However, these two players were being groomed for the NHL during the lockout season and the Pens were again rewarded for being bad the same two years with the weighting of the lottery. I am not accusing anyone of a conspiracy. REPEAT NO CONSPIRACY. The odds were in the Pens favor to land #1 again and I am just saying it was not a fair system. I felt this way from the time that I read the way things were planned. The system after the lockout took a look at the recent performance of a few seasons and weighted the lottery in that manner. My feeling is that the teams that were struggling were rewarded again with high picks while not playing. The lottery for Crosby should have been all 30 teams with a 1 in 30 chance of picking.
Anyway enough history. Now for the real fun. The Eastern Conference Finals. This series should be a great matchup. These two teams don't like each other and have already played 8 times this year. With that many games you know there is already a checklist of hits that are owed for each team.
Not sure if the Flyers will bring Cote out of mothballs for this series. I know he is their heavyweight to match up against Laroche, but while game for the battle, Cote is not in the same heavyweight category. I would prefer to see the skills of Kapenen and Thoresen in the lineup.
The matchups are less important in this round since both teams have a plethora of scorers up front. The key to this series will be the officiating, since both teams have a lethal powerplay. I just hope the officiating calls the series evenly and lets the boys play the game within the rules.
Wow. The Pens have the group of stars with Crosby, Malkin, Hossa and a group of Sykora, Staal, and company. I feel that the Pens are a little more top heavy than the Flyers group of Briere, Richards, Carter, etc. The Flyers are built more like the Sabres and Devils of recent memory. Lots of guys that could all make you pay dearly for a mistake. While I love the depth of the Flyers over the Pens, the Pens top players are just flat out better. The Pens third line cannot match the Flyers group of Carter, Upshall and Knuble. The top two lines for Philly have shown that they can dominate a series, just like the Pens. For this reason I am going give the Pens a slight edge due to Crosby's and Malkin's individual ability.
The Flyers have a better overall defensive core. Timonen, Coburn, and Jones are all equal if not better than the Pens. I know Gonchar can really score, but his is not solid in his own end. The experience of Timonen, Hatcher and Smith of playoff wars give the Flyers the edge here.
I know that Fleury has come into his own this post season. But no goalie is playing better than Biron in these playoffs. I think that the total of 4 goals in 12 games that he feels he should have stopped. He has been amazing and worked with lots of shots. I have to give a slight edge to Philly here.
The two teams are tied at 24% in the playoffs for Powerplay percentage. The Pens rank much better than the Flyers in Penalty Kill (89% to 77%). Based on stats only the edge goes to the Pens. The Flyers have given up a few Powerplay goals though after the lead was established.
The Flyers are playing as the best team in the playoffs so far. I am not saying they are the best team, but every player is contributing in the offensive and defensive zones. Players are laying out to block shots and really supporting each other as a group. That said, Crosby is also playing like this is his first chance at the Cup and that means alot too. He is one of the best players in the sport and makes others around him better. This passion he has is canceled by the same passion of Richards on the Flyers. Richards sees himself as a winner on every level. He won a Memorial Cup vs Crosby, won a Calder Cup with the Phantoms. I give the edge here to the Flyers.
I am giving the edge to Stevens here. For one simple reason, all of his players like playing for him. The same cannot be said about the Pens. But this has very little to do with the outcome of the series.
Not sure what all that means - but I can't wait for Friday night.