DOES DEFENSE WIN CHAMPIONSHIPS IN THE NEW NHL?
We have all heard the phrase or, if you like, cliché that “defense wins championships.” It comes from Bear Bryant and, expanded, reads, “offense sells tickets. Defense wins championships.” Bear Bryant was a football coach for the University of Alabama. He won a lot of championships…a long time ago. Back when football was as boring as it is today, except the players made less money and the cheerleaders weren’t made of silicone. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
So, why do we care about this phrase? Because our GM Dean Lombardi cares about it quite a bit. In fact, he is allegedly building our LA Kings with this aphorism in mind. He hired a defense first, defense last coach in Terry Murray, has drafted predominately defenders in the first round – Thomas Hickey, Drew Doughty, Colten Teubert and Derek Forbort, and a goalie in Jonathan Bernier, obtained Jack Johnson via trade, signed Rob Scuderi and Willie Mitchell, sent away offensive defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky for defensive defenseman Matt Greene and two-way center Jarret Stoll, discarded Michael Cammalleri, Matt Moulson and Brian Boyle (the latter two for nothing), has built forward lines, including a top 6, of two-way players with little star power and, through Terry Murray’s hiring, has molded the young offensive minded Anze Kopitar into a responsible two-way center. Some good things in there, eh? I agree. For what it’s worth, the fact that Teddy Purcell is near the top of the league in playoff scoring should not faze you. All it would do is piss you off if you knew that. Did you know that? It doesn’t matter. The problem, or rather the question, is this. Will this defense first philosophy and execution gain the LA Kings a Stanley Cup? In a word, no, and for the sake of your heart, don’t go to the 2007 draft and look at who the Kings could have gotten instead of Hickey. I still remember that day well, as does my television at whom I screamed for a few moments upon the pick’s announcement.
I digress. The answer to the Cup question is “no”, because if “defense” won championships, the LA Kings would have eliminated the San Jose Sharks. The truth is this: Balance wins championships and when one looks at each team that has won the Stanley Cup since the lockout, offense has progressively proven critical to success just as much, if not more, than the big D. This is a league wide trend and with the rule changes, it’s only going to become more obvious in the coming seasons. Take a look at the current teams still alive in the playoffs and where they stand:
In goals scored, Vancouver Canucks are #1, Detroit Red Wings #2, Boston Bruins #5, San Jose Sharks #6, Tampa Bay Lightning #7.
In assists, Red Wings are #1, Canucks #2, Sharks #5, Lightning #7, Bruins #9.
In goals per game average, Canucks are #1, Red Wings #2, Bruins #5, Sharks #6, Lightning #8.
In shots on goal, Sharks are #1, Red Wings #2, Bruins #3, Canucks #6, Lightning #7.
You don’t want to know where the LA Kings are in each of the above categories. It’s depressing. Seriously. You looked at the 2007 draft didn’t you? I told you. Don’t be a masochist.
In goals against per game, only the Canucks, Bruins and Sharks are in the top 10. In fact, the Sharks are 10th. Defense wins what again? Same with goals against average. The LA Kings are in the top 10 in each of these two statistics.
So, next time someone tells you about this defense thing and how critical it is to success, remind them that this is hockey. Putting the puck into the opposing team’s net is as important as showing up and after over five years of rebuilding this franchise under Dean Lombardi, I don’t want to see another one with a one-dimensional team built to keep the puck out of its own net while kindly keeping the same biscuit out of the opposing team’s basket. Either our general manager builds through free agency, trades and the draft and our coaches direct through systems and preached execution an LA Kings team that produces at both ends of the ice, or someone has to come in to replace the existing brass and do exactly that. In 2011-2012, the time for excuses will have passed. It’s time for balance. It’s time for results. GO KINGS!