A Whale For The Killing
It's admittedly weird that I live in a country which has seen two of it's NHL teams re-locate with one of them eventually winning a Cup and yet I can seperate them from their infancy while still associating the Carolina Hurricanes with the Hartford Whalers.
The only explanations I can offer is that the old charges of the Brass Bonanza played in the Adams Division and if you grew up hating the Habs as much as I did then you liked every other team in Jack's bracket. Of course that doesn't explain why I let the Avalanche nee Nords stand alone now does it?
Sometimes I go old school when it comes to memory and I can recount almost verbatim things I read in some editions of The Hockey News from the early to late 80's. I don't know why your memory works like that but I suspect LT has the same thing going on. I was reminded of this a couple of nights ago when a few buddies of mine dropped by and we enjoyed some libations and somehow began talking of Richard Dotson and the '83 White Sox rotation. With G6 of the Pistons/Heat as our nostalgia soundtrack I wondered aloud why it is that I know so much less about players in the NBA in '06 then I did back in '86 given the advent of the internet and all the information it holds.
Back to the '06 SC Finals and if you mention the Canes to me then I'm thinking of the days of the Whale with Francis, Sly Turgeon, Luit and oddly enough one of the NHL's gunslingers of the '80's in Torrie Robertson.
So here we go, Edmonton against Hartford so let's break it down shall we?
Note: I really can't do anything with numbers that MC hasn't already done, taken pictures of and then plastered all over the net. I will throw out old timey metrics like icetime and plus/minus and try to draw conclusions from those antiquated stats:D
Goaltending: If there's one thing Oilers fans have learned from this Cup run it's this: you'd better be damn strong from the defense and beyond if you plan on winning a series while being bested in the netminding department. Oilers were outchanced in the Det series and yet they finished it in 6 games. Edmonton had that trouble through most of the Salo era but now they're in a time when Roloson makes you earn nearly every red light. Roloson is nearly 37 years old and has craved this chance for a long time and you might not say it from the tone of his voice but the guy is clearly a fierce competitor that's acquired a certain amount of bitterness and a healthy chip on his shoulder from his days in Minnesota. I'm not complaining because it's serving him well and if you don't believe in yourself I don't think you can expect your teammates to believe in you. On the other end Carolina has a 22 year old goalie who's set to play at least two and most likely three games in what is a certifiable madhouse. He's also a guy who's been winning at least some games while giving up a few bad goals. The only times Rolo has looked less than great for the Oilers was G4 against SJ and G4 against Ana and the latter was a game where he was throwing up more than Woody Harrelson after the cunnilingus scene in Kingpin. This might be sacrilege in Edm but based on regular season numbers I think the Whale would be best served if Gerber was the one authoring this long run.
Defense: The Whalers don't have a Chris Pronger. They once had THE Pronger but that was quite awhile ago and now their top two dmen, at least in terms of icetime, are Hedican and Ward. The former was a combined -34 in the '03 and '04 seasons and now he's drawing the most ice on a team with a chance to win the Cup? I think they should invent a word that means super flummoxed because that's how I feel right now. Ward's a steady enough guy but once again I don't think you're winning a whole lot with him carrying the second biggest sack of mail. Note: as I continue to slam the Canes you'll think I'm really undervaluing them and especially in light of their 12 second season wins. But just be patient and I'll get to that. So we've established that one team has a Pronger and the other doesn't and would it be too much to suggest that Hartford doesn't even have a Jason Smith? Carolina does have two impact, at least by first glance, centres in Staal and Rod "The Bod" Brind'Amour at the helm so on the road MacT's looking at which tandem to match up against Staal and which goes against Jesse Ventura. I feel comfortable with the Spacek/Staios tandem no matter who they draw and when things turn at Rexall the Canes defense is so underwhelming that Jarrett Stoll's line might even score a point or two.
Forwards: This one gets a little dicey because at least IMO home ice won't be a factor in this series unless they play a seventh game. Wow I guess I just broke new ground with that observation but just hear me out first OK? What I mean is that for the first six games you'll see three where Laviolette decides who plays against whom and for the other three MacT makes the call. Now if I thought Carolina was good enough to win three of the first six games then I'd give the forwards edge to them but I don't believe that's the case so I'll call the forward situation to be pretty much a wash. If you're MacT and you're going on playoff numbers alone then I'd suggest he aim his primary five man unit not towards the Cullen-Staal-Recchi line but rather towards the Williams-Brind'Amour-Stillman troika and here's why. Staal does have seven goals this playoff season but just two of them have come at ES and let's run with that theme shall we?
Here's a look at these two lines in terms of ES goals and collective +/-:
Staal's line: 8 goals ES and -1.
Billy Graham's line: 12 goals ES and a collective +26.
A couple of notes on this. These were the lines that Car went with for the last three games so I have no idea how long they've been units. Also you could argue that on the road at least there's a explanation for this swing because Staal's been seeing all the tough min and the other line's been swooping in and then away with some nice spoils. That's still a pretty big gap though and if they're gonna keep those lines intact I'd be tempted to let Spacek/Staios take on Staal and then let Pronger/Smith face off with The Body.
On the other side of things I read a couple of interesting notes today. The first had to go with Hemsky going back on the 94-10 line. The other had to do with MacT perhaps following up on the talk of how the plan of attack against Carolina will mirror the plan against Detriot and that begat the Oilers practicing the trap yesterday in upsate NY. Winchester made his inital foray into the playoffs because MacTavish felt that 27 couldn't skate well enough to fit into that particular plan. So in thinking of lineup construction and the ensuing matchups it's hard to believe that Hemsky will remain with the 94-10 for more than half of their ES shifts. I'd imagine Dvorak or perhaps even Harvey will see as much time on the first line as will Hemsky. Unless we're talking the plan at Rexall and then maybe they try and hide Hemsky a little. We know that four of the top six forwards in terms of ES TOI will be 94-10-34-37 and it's hard to imagine that 20 won't chime in there somewhere else as well. Back to the 3rd line of the Canes for a second and it features Whitney-Weight-Ladd so even though the Canes will try and get some of their top six against the Stoll line in Carolina I think the Weight line's soft enough that maybe MacT wouldn't mind letting Stoll take them on at home. One last thing. Moreau and Murray played together for a lot of games and showed some real chemistry in the latter part of the Anaheim series. On the other side of things the Canes 4th line has played together for 54 games collectively and haven't recorded a point between them. That's not a misprint.
Special Teams: As you can see from MC's site the Canes PP success has been built upon the backs of some less than stellar PK competition. So I'll take the Oilers PK to fair at least decently against the Canes PP and the Oilers PP can light anybody up or they can go into a funk against anyone. I truly believe it's more about their execution or the lack of it when it comes to their ultimate numbers.
Prediction: Truth be told I would've been a lot more worried about an Oilers/Sabres final than an Edmonton/Carolina affair. Most fans with a clue or at least some semblence of objectivity would agree that had Buffalo would be in the Finals had at least two of Numminen, Khalinin and Tallinder been available for the Conference final. I won't bring Connolly into this because the Canes were missing Cole. Yet it still took the Canes seven games to beat a team who's defense corps would eventually be as recognizable as Darkman's face.
I'll take the Oilers in six but I'll say the same thing I did heading into the Anaheim series where I reserved the right to ammend my prediction to Oilers in five if they take G1 on Monday night. For as much depth as the Canes proclaim to have on offense they're still relying on a rookie goalie who's shown at least a couple of cracks and there's no one with even half a grain of sense who wouldn't give the Oilers a serious edge on defense.