Thursday, June 11, 2015
Will NHL’s Copycat Teams Mimic Tampa’s Speed Game?
Firewagon hockey is back.
There was a moment, just a few minutes of Game 2's third period between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Chicago Blackhawks, that showcased the NHL at the very best. Hockey fans know that the Stanley Cup playoffs sees the world's best players throw all caution to the wind as they battle for that coveted prize. But you don't always get that perfect storm of speed, desperation, and talent.
For those few minutes in Game 2, both teams were playing at maximum tempo; hits, saves, and end-to-end action that caused heart attacks for fans of both ends. While there's something to be said about the suffocating grit of previous Los Angeles Kings teams or the goaltending performance of Henrik Lundqvist, a perfect storm of speed and intensity is what all sports fans — hockey die-hards and casual fans alike — want to see.
The NHL tends to be a copycat league, and the emphasis on different traits tends to shift depending on who actually wins the Stanley Cup. This is good news for the league regardless of who wins this year's Cup, but even more so if teams decide they want to copy the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Tampa Bay has a solid, but not spectacular roster, at least on paper. What they do have, though, is speed to burn, along with an infusion of youth. This is a much different team from the squad that made the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010-11; just a few year later, the roster is completely different. This year's Lightning team is the fourth-youngest in the NHL and is built for speed outside of a few select people in checking roles.
Not every team can have a former No. 1 overall draft pick in Steven Stamkos. And not every team can have the (no pun intended) lightning-in-a-bottle chemistry of the dynamic Triplets line. However, if you look at the individual pieces that make up Tampa's roster, it's a very achievable mix that isn't overly top heavy and isn't overly reliant on goaltending.
When the Chicago Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup, teams wanted to use that model for franchise building, but it was ultimately impossible. That roster was so stacked from top to bottom that it had to have its guts removed and rebuilt (successfully, to their credit) thanks to the salary cap. There was simply no easy way to replicate the formula.
Tampa Bay's roster is a bit of lucky chemistry in itself, but the pieces show a combination of home-grown stars and smart roster additions. Most importantly, GM Steve Yzerman built a squad emphasizing speed and skill for their identity rather than size and brute strength.
That part is key to creating league copycats. And if other teams decide that they want to emphasize speed and skill over the grit brought forth by the Los Angeles Kings, there's no guarantee it will lead to a Stanley Cup or even a playoff spot. But for fans of the game, firewagon hockey sure is a lot of fun to watch.