May 17, 2010
During this off-season, the Montreal Canadiens were mocked for going after small players.
People made fun of the Canadiens, wondering if they were trying to field some sort of pee wee team, or if they were simply trying to attract talent to dominate the NHL limbo circuit.
And now the Canadiens are playing in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Flyers have also been mocked, signing Danny Briere(notes) to an eight-year contract during the summer of 2007. Briere's talent has always been undeniable, but his stature (a generously listed 5'10", 179 lbs) has always left a lot to be desired.
People wondered how a franchise with such a proud history of size and physical intimidation could put so much on the shoulders of players who were built more like speed skaters than hockey players
And now the Flyers are playing in the Eastern Conference finals.
And the Flyers spent this summer trading for Chris Pronger(notes) (6'6", 220 lbs), quickly signing him to a contract extension (an extension that might eventually appear misguided). Pronger is joined in the Philadelphia defensive corps by the almost equally huge Braydon Coburn(notes) (6'5", 220 lbs).
And so we see two teams finding success with a similar formula. Small, quick, shifty forwards reinforced by big defenseman.
The post lockout NHL was always supposed to be about speed, but teams like the Anaheim Ducks and Detroit Red Wings found success in size (the Penguins found success with a sick amount of talent and the Hurricanes found success in people being a little bit surprised the lockout had actually ended).
Depending upon how well the Flyers or Canadiens play in the Cup finals, it could represent a shift in the kind of NHL players that are considered attractive. Will Martin St. Louis(notes) (5'9", 177 lbs) be a huge trade chip for the Lightning? Will the Buffalo Sabres be poised to find success, given their combination of small forwards Derek Roy(notes) (5'9", 188 lbs), Tim Kennedy(notes) (5'10", 173 lbs) and a huge defenseman Tyler Myers(notes) (6'8", 222 lbs)?
And more interestingly, is Toronto GM Brian Burke getting ready to jump in on this movement? Burke has always been about giant forwards, but while he traded away the tiny Jason Blake(notes) (5'10", 180 lbs), he also traded for the speedy Phil Kessel (decently sized at 6', 192 lbs).
Will Burke try and revive the Leafs this off-season with more players like Kessel (but perhaps even smaller), while also hanging onto the huge defensemen he loves so much?
If Montreal or Philadelphia win the Cup this year, it could mean new careers for hundreds of players once thought too small to play in the NHL.
And it could mean a lot less recruiting will be done at Big and Tall shops around the world.