Leading up to Wednesday's Game 1, Puck Daddy is previewing every facet of the Stanley Cup Finals between the New Jersey Devils and the Los Angeles Kings— on the ice and off the ice.
With New Yorker Dustin Brown and Minnesotan Zach Parise wearing the 'C' for the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils respectively, an American captain is guaranteed to hoist the Cup for the second time in the history of the NHL, 13 years after Derian Hatcher became the first for the Dallas Stars.
It will finally put that old chestnut that you can't win the Cup with an American captain to rest.
Wait, what's that? No one's ever said that? Huh.
Both Brown and Parise are made from the same mold of captain: slightly undersized forwards that make up for being not big by playing like they are. They're fabulous on-ice leaders that play infectious games -- the Kings have taken on Brown's gritty, two-way game, and the Devils have rallied around Parise's nightmarish, tenacious forecheck. As they go, so go their teams, so it makes sense to compare their captaincies head-to-head, even if leadership is an abstract concept hardly conducive to juxtaposition.
Who has the better captain: The Devils or the Kings?
New Jersey Devils
Parise is a genuine, likeable, well-spoken guy, often credited for fostering a tight-knit bond among his teammates. He's not one to make big speeches. His leadership is on the ice. From Fire & Ice:
Teammates haven't noticed much difference in Parise's personality since he was named captain before this season. They do see a commitment in him to do what is necessary to make this team a winner.
"He's probably more driven than anything this year just having the C," center Travis Zajac said. "He's a great leader. He doesn't have to say much. He is the leader on this team by the way he works, the way he acts. People listen to him, people watch him and everyone on this team respects him because of that."
Parise models the way the Devils are supposed to play, so it's no surprise that the Devils are one of the league's elite forechecking teams. His legs never stop moving, and he hunts down defenders in the corners as good as anybody in the game.
He's one of the Devils' offensive leaders as well, with 14 points in 18 playoff games. When he's not producing, the Devils struggle, as they did in the first 3 games of thier series with New York. Parise had one assist in that stretch, and the Devils were shut out twice. But it was his breakout in Game 4 that turned the series around. Parise contributed 2 goals and an assist in a 4-1 win in Game 4, then 1 and 1 in a 5-3 win in Game 5.
Los Angeles Kings
By all accounts, Dustin Brown isn't going to will his team to victory with motivational speeches either, and he probably won't reduce anybody to tears at the bench, Kevin Garnett-style. He's a soft-spoken guy. That's not his game. From the Associated Press:
If Dustin Brown stands up in the Los Angeles locker room before the Stanley Cup finals opener Wednesday night and delivers a stirring, emotional speech that would make Mark Messier proud, his teammates won't know how to react.
''Well, he's not a rah-rah guy,'' veteran Kings defenseman Matt Greene said. ''We don't have too many of those guys in the room. But he knows how to lead, and he does it by example.''
But while he's not exactly a stirring orator, his on-ice example has done wonders for the Kings this postseason. What more can be said about it? Brown's been arguably LA's best skater. He leads the team in goals, points, shorthanded points, plus/minus, and hits. He may be a soft-spoken leader off the ice, but there's nothing soft about the way he plays. He pretty much exemplifies everything about the Kings' identity, and as long as he's going at such a high level, the Kings are going to follow suit.
One wonders if Brown and Parise's different situations in regards to their future with the team will have any affect on their ability to lead. Brown exploded offensively the moment there were suggestions he might be traded. Parise, on the other hand, is a UFA in July. Every time the Devils have gone up against a playoff opponent, somebody has speculated that he might be playing for that opponent next season. He's already tried to shut down talk about his future on Media Day -- will it stick?
But this is idle speculation. Where the Kings take the edge in this preview is defensively. Brown is a team-best plus-13. Parise is third-worst on the Devils with a plus/minus ranking of minus-3. Now, plus/minus is a bit of a bum stat, but when you're at the top or the bottom of it, it says something. What it says in this case is that Brown is a defensive standout in a way that Parise is not.
Supposing Parise and Brown's scoring dries up, Brown will continue to contribute in a way that Parise simply does not. As a backchecker, as a shutdown forward, as a hitter and as a penalty killer, Brown edges Parise.