A Team That Can Win It All

Regardless of your approach to acquiring the parts, we all pretty much want the very same thing. A team that can win a Stanley Cup.

It's worth remembering what kind of squad can do this so that we can design our approach to accomplish this goal, rather than being simply stuck in the paradigms of a "rebuild" or a "reload" or anything other "re" you could come up with.

Taking a gander back to spring 2006, our team looked something like this:

F - Hemsky, Horcoff, Smyth, Peca, Samsonov, Murray, Harvey, Stoll, Torres, Dvorak, Laraque, Winchester, Moreau, Pisani

D - Pronger, Spacek, Bergeron, Greene, Tarnstrom, Smith, Staios

G - Roloson, Markkanen, Conklin

Looking back now at the team that marched through the playoffs is very interesting. You could say that at forward we were fairly top-heavy in that our bit parts weren't actually that good. Murray, Harvey and Winchester really didn't belong in the NHL at that point (though at least Murray and Harvey were vets, that is why they were around). There remains some question in the minds of detail-oriented fans such as myself if we'd have won the cup had they found a way to either keep Marty Reasoner or acquire Dean McAmmond in that trade that was voided.

The top 9 were very solid. Hemsky, Horcoff and Smyth speak for themselves. Despite my utter displeasure with Smyth's playoff performance, he was at least steady. Stoll was blossoming into his pre-concussion form that had him playing some of the best hockey for this team on a number of nights. Mike Peca was a playoff superhero at both ends of the rink. Samsonov made one of the greatest passes I've ever seen live considering that some future hall of famer wearing #5 from Detroit was in his way and the game was on the line. He was a truly outstanding deadline pickup in that he's a bit piece with an elite element to his game that can get your team plays like the one that resulted in that Hemsky goal. Raffi Torres came off a truly amazing regular season that many probably forget saw him pot 27 goals. He actually had a fairly disappointing playoff statistically. The important part was that our secondary scoring was solid. It was not one of Radek Dvorak's better years in my books, but with that said, when your depth players are of that high a level, it's okay. You're not having to worry about a bunch of AHL callups or rookies or 3rd year incomplete non-elite players screwing up or buckling under the pressure. There was also some guy named Fernando who realized he could really shoot a puck and just sort of took things over. People forget just how good he was. If he'd somehow managed to get that last game winner, despite the amazing performance of Pronger, he had to be MVP. You can't score that many playoff winners and not get it.

So, how do we compare to that team?

Hemsky vs. A better version of Hemsky CHECK

Smyth vs. Penner - I'm going out on a limb and saying as of next year Penner is better than Smyth from 05-06 CHECK

Horcoff vs. Horcoff - I don't think he's as good as he was. I think he careered in 05-06 and will never approach those totals again. NEGATIVE

Peca vs. Cogliano - Obviously not even close. We have no one even moderately similar to Peca, a vet warrior who will be there every time it matters NEGATIVE

Samsonov vs. Nilsson - Nilsson might be an opportunist like Samsonov, but he has nowhere near the pedigree, experience, or ability to make elite plays that Samsonov had NEGATIVE

Pisani vs. Pisani - Fernando has had one of the most unfortunate turns of anyone since the run. I truly do think he was breaking through and would have deserved his $$$s had he not lost all semblance of health. NEGATIVE

Moreau vs. Moreau - The Ethan that was a good strong soldier in 06 has long since vanished. He no longer hits and no longer takes his underrated slapper in the offensive zone. He's also lost his mind on the PK, an area he used to play exceptionally in terms of positioning. NEGATIVE

Torres vs. Brule - There is no question that Brule has come a long way and is rounding into a very nice player. There is also no question that Raffi has regressed, likely due to his off-ice behaviour getting the best of him. Should Brule continue down the path he's on, he'll probably whip Torres career-wise, but right now he's no 27-goal man. NEGATIVE

Stoll vs. Gagner - Both are complete-ish centres with gifts in the offensive zone. Right now, Sam is certainly not what Jarret had become in terms of the consistency of his efforts and result. He'll also never be the PK'er, faceoff guy, or shooter that Stoll was. People forget how important it is to have a whack of shooters on any successful team. NEGATIVE

Dvorak vs. Potulny - Again this is a circumstance where people both forget that Dvorak was a formerly high end guy being used in a depth role. Radek was a good hockey player having what many considered to be an iffy year (others would disagree profoundly, but that's another debate). As much as I like what Potulny's showing, there's no comparison here. NEGATIVE

I don't think we need to delve into Harvey, Winchester, Laraque, Murray other than to say that they were more veteran than today's crew of Stone, Jacques, Stortini and O'Sullivan. Maybe O'Sullivan would have been a better comparison for Dvorak, and I think that battle's more even.

Anyway, I think it's plain to see we're sorely lacking up front.

On the back end, it's a slightly different story.

Pronger vs. Souray - ha...hahahah...hahahahahah....NEGATIVE. The laughter hides the pain. I had to rub my eyes and double check every time I saw Pronger's name on the screen because I thought there was no way we'd ever have a guy like him at that juncture and for essentially nothing.

Spacek vs. Visnovsky - Lubomir is elite level whereas Jaroslav was secondary. He did a very good job for us down that stretch but even at his peak couldn't change a game like Visnovsky can. CHECK

Smith vs. Smid - I'm going to say that even now, and sure by the end of this season, Smid has a leg up on Smith here. It's true they're slightly different defencemen, but Smid is rounding into our most solid physical and defensive guy in a rapid hurry. Smith survived this year but was already deteriorating. CHECK

Staios vs. Gilbert - I do this instead of Staios v Staios because the roles have changed significantly. At forward they really haven't. Gilbert is a better player now than Staios was then, with possibly only the reliability of his game as the remaining question. CHECK

Bergeron vs. Grebeshkov - I happen to think that Bergeron was better at this stage than Denis is right now because he could jump up onto the first pairing and give you great minutes, and is was a force on the PP. Some may disagree with that, but remember the time. NEGATIVE

Greene vs. Staios - Even with Steve's deterioration, he's fine if he's #6. And he's better than the human penalty machine himself. CHECK

Tarnstrom vs. Strudwick - Dick er...Dirk...er...Dick wins this one. Versatility and some high-end skill whereas Strudwick is just versatile. NEGATIVE

So, on defence we are in many ways better than that 05-06 team. Differentiating however between a team led by Chris Pronger and one led by either Souray or Visnovsky is another matter. Not having Pronger requires that the rest be better. In a year I still think this group is better than that group. The likelihood of them being together for that long however is seriously in doubt.

In goal for me is totally up in the air. Were Khabibulin playing this year, I think it'd be an easy debate to say that his top end and average are both better than Roloson's. Remember Roloson wasn't even that good in the regular season that year for us.


SO, we want a Cup, there's the kind of changes we need. Seems like a mountain right? Maybe not.

If you accept that Hemsky, Horcoff (ugh...), Penner, Visnovsky, Smid, Gilbert and either Khabibulin or whoever replaces him can be on a cup contender, and we can add pieces that shuffle other pieces lower, we can build a contender quickly. I prefer this approach to rebuild central.






I think that squad gets us close. It has no Pronger certainly, and I can't think of who could be the Peca but there should be options out there. I've moved out a ton of guys, partially through the trades I proposed earlier in this blog, but I think a thorough house cleaning would be the only way, and that of the movable guys, an agressive approach could move them all. I'm also not interested in our mediocre young guys. Nowadays you can replace the mediocre part of your lineup with cheap vets, then upgrade at the deadline if you must.

I suppose the most controversial thing I've done is propose they move Sam Gagner. I just don't know if he's going to work out to a high enough potential to justify keeping him, when I'd rather run Horcoff-Wheeler-SHUTDOWN-Potulny out there each night. The biggest gamble is Brule with as much responsibility as he has, but again, you can always go grab a vet at the deadline.

The big keys are Bernier (goaltending depth + future number 1. He's at .941 in the AHL right now), Volchenkov and Jurcina (change the complexion of our back end for a different look), Bourque and Wheeler (scoring depth and very smart hockey players).

So that'd be my vision for the one-year turnaround. I'd keep a vet or two in the 13 and 14 fwd spots so that Eberle would have minimal responsibility. If he blossoms, great. If not, he's got all the time in the world. I haven't taken into account who we might draft. I know of course it wouldn't go EXACTLY to plan ever, but it's most important to have a vision.

So, back to the beginning. Which group is better?

F - Hemsky, Horcoff, Smyth, Peca, Samsonov, Murray, Harvey, Stoll, Torres, Dvorak, Laraque, Winchester, Moreau, Pisani

D - Pronger, Spacek, Bergeron, Greene, Tarnstrom, Smith, Staios

G - Roloson, Markkanen, Conklin


F - Hemsky, Horcoff, Penner, Pisani, Wheeler, O'Sullivan, Brule, SHUTDOWN, Eberle, Potulny, Bourque, Elkins, +2 vets

D - Visnovsky, Gilbert, Smid, Grebeshkov, Volchenkov, Jurcina

G - Khabibulin, Bernier

It's probably still 05-06, but by a lot less. That was also the end of year team, not the beginning.

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