During the course of the Avalanche game, a graphic was shown analyzing the play of the Red Wings both with and without Pavel Datsyuk. That graphic eventually got me thinking about how important Datsyuk, and more generally the elite two-way center is to a team. As a franchise, I think we've been absolutely spoiled for the better part of two decades to have guys like Steve Yzerman, Henrik Zetterberg, and Pavs himself providing some of the best pivot play in the league. I'll be looking at Stanley Cup winners since the Wings won in '08 - I was going to go back further, but I've found some evidence contrary to my original hypothesis. Continue reading to see some interesting trends.
I believe that every team since those '02 Red Wings (save the Devils of '03) have had an elite two-way center that has put the team over the hump. I'm finding it is really hard to find what the team's record was without these players, so as a substitute, I will look at performances in wins and losses to determine how much of an effect he has on winning. It's the best gauge I have to go on with the limited information nhl.com provides. Also, it is prudent to note that the norm will be all players do well in wins and poorly in losses, but what sets the players apart for me will be how large those splits are. Unfortunately, takeaways in wins and losses are not tracked, which would be a more helpful tool to determine how much good defense effects the game.
We'll start off by taking a look at the 2011-2012 Boston Bruins and Patrice Bergeron. In the past three seasons, Bergeron has played in 116 wins, amassing 42 goals, 77 assists, 119 points and a +84 rating. In the same time period, he has played in 96 losses where he has piled up 16 goals, 23 assists, and 39 points with a -32 rating. He also had 145 takeaways during those three seasons. David Krejci has also had similar numbers in the past two years (minus the gaudy takeaway totals), but not in '09-'10. Playoff numbers from last year show great similarities between the two again, although Krejci managed to get more takeaways (15) than Bergeron (11) in that time. These two both greatly outperformed the highly regarded Zdeno Chara in the playoffs, who had 11 takeaways to go with 25 giveaways.
2010's winner boasts their own Selke favorite, Jonathan Toews. Toews is as good defensively as both Bergeron and Krejci combined; Captain Serious has 244 takeaways the past three years. In 125 wins, he has 66 goals, 80 assists, 146 points, and a +105 rating. In 90 losses, he has 20 goals, 35 assists, 55 points and is -41. Patrick Kane was still relatively productive in losses and had almost 40 giveaways a year to go with 50 takeaways. Marian Hossa is comparable to David Krejci of the last example in that he supplemented Toews very well both defensively and offensively - he even did well in losses. Toews remained a defensive pain in the playoffs and had only 3 points in 6 Blackhawk losses; Hossa had 2 points in those losses and Kane had 5.
I'm beginning to notice a trend that I hadn't expected here - two great two-way players get the job done instead of just one. With that, let's take a look at the '09 Penguins, with Crosby, Malkin, and Staal. Much to my surprise, Crosby's a pretty bad defensive center. He had only 114 takeaways with at least 180 giveaways from '08-'09 to '10-'11. Also surprising was that he was extremely good in wins but still really good (besides +/-) in losses. In 113 wins, Crosby notched 88 goals, 120 assists, 208 points, and was +108. In 86 losses, he scored 28 goals, 42 assists, and 70 points but was -70. Evgeni Malkin's numbers are almost the same as Crosby, including the good play in losses, except for his takeaway numbers in '08-'09. He had 94 takeaways that season and hasn't gotten close since. He also had 27 takeaways in the postseason, although his giveaways were extremely high as well in both the regular and post seasons. Jordan Staal's defensive stats certainly aren't anything extraordinary, although he seems to be the one who was contained in losses and contributing in wins.
And now to the '08 Wings and Datsyuk and Zetterberg. I don't think it's a reach to say Datsyuk is the best defensive forward in the game - he had one takeaway for each day in a year (not counting leap years) from the '07-'08 season to the '09-'10 campaign. In 148 wins in that timeframe, Datsyuk had 65 goals, 125 assists, 190 points, and a +115 rating; in 95 losses, he was held to 25 goals, 49 assists, 74 points, and was -23. Zetterberg only had 148 takeaways in that same interval. He was great in 138 wins, scoring 72 goals, 93 assists, 165 points and going +89. In 88 losses, Zetterberg only managed 18 goals, 45 assists, 63 points, and a -34 rating. Zetterberg was much better in the '08 postseason as far as the takeaway/giveaway ratio goes, which brings me to a bit of a conclusion about what the two-way center/forward brings to the equation in terms of winning the Stanley Cup.
I came into this little experiment expecting each of these Stanley Cup winners to have one extremely great two-way center leading the way. What I've found is that that kind of elite pivot really, really helps, but isn't exactly a necessary necessity. The Penguins won with strong team play more than anything else, and it shows this year without Crosby in the lineup. Boston won with a bevvy of secondary scoring and some staunch defensive play, and although having Bergeron is definitely a contributor to that, I don't know if he's irreplaceable. What I think I can take from this is that, while having a guy like Datsyuk is a huge boost to the team, it's a 23-man effort, and one player retiring or moving on isn't going to shatter a well-coached and well put together team. Datsyuk's skills make life way easier for everyone else out there, but he isn't the end all be all. If anything, those hard workers like Zetterberg and Staal are just as important to have on the roster as a Datsyuk is.
So, fret not Wings fans. Pavel Datsyuk is one helluva awesome dude, but the world won't end when he decides to hang up his skates. If this Wings roster decides to skate for a full sixty minutes, there's no doubt they will be able to hang with anyone in the league. Of course, those 100+ takeaways a season are pretty damn nice, so get that knee better soon, Pavel.