Cup Finals Preview: Blue Collar vs. Blue Chip

The Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks are two teams that have battled incredibly hard to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, and it should be a very compelling culmination to the 2010-11 season. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the series is just how different these teams are, particularly with regard to the pedigree of their players.

The Vancouver Canucks have a core of three talented forwards who were all taken in the first round: Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler. Brian Burke, then General Manager in Vancouver, traded away a king’s ransom to draft the Sedins with the second and third overall picks of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft; the twins said they wouldn’t play in the NHL unless it was for the same team. It’s taken awhile, but they’ve finally come into their own and emerged as legitimate stars. Henrik and Daniel are quite likely to become the first brothers to go back-to-back as league MVP in a very long time.

Kesler is by almost any measure the best American skater in the National Hockey League today. The Michigan native was selected in the first round as well, and has emerged as a true impact player. Through three rounds, he is without question the front-runner to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Mike Richards, Loui Eriksson, and Corey Perry are just some of the high end talent Vancouver passed over to take Kesler in the incredibly deep 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

Completing the glamorous foursome of the Canucks is Roberto Luongo, former Captain and Olympic gold medalist. Luongo was selected fourth overall by the New York Islanders back in 1997, and has been one of the league’s finest netminders for the past decade.

In sharp contrast, the Bruins’ “Core Four” is comprised of two second round picks, a third round pick, and a ninth round pick.

First and foremost, Tim Thomas has been doubted, overlooked, overshadowed and dismissed since being drafted 217th by the Quebec Nordiques back in 1994. Thomas has played for 11 professional teams since leaving the University of Vermont after four seasons, and only in the past handful of seasons has emerged as an impact NHLer. A finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best netminder, Thomas set a single-season record for highest save percentage.

Team captain Zdeno Chara was drafted 56th overall back in 1996, and his rise to prominence has been anything but predictable. Of the 55 men selected ahead of him, 19 have played fewer than ten NHL games, and only three have played more games. Once part of a trade so bad the then GM of the New York Islanders, Mike Milbury, is still ridiculed about it (the deal that moved Jason Spezza and Chara to the Senators for Alexei Yashin), Chara’s rare combination of skill and size has made him one of the league’s best — and most-feared -= rearguards.

Selected late in the second round of his draft year (2003), Patrice Bergeron was passed over twice by several general mangers. Perry, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby are among the men who played with and against Bergeron at the 2005 World Championships. What they all have in common aside from being first round picks (Perry was picked 28th in the same year as Bergeron) is that they all failed to beat out Bergeron for MVP at the 2005 World Championships.

Last, Vancouver native Milan Lucic is the physical pace-setter, also a former second round pick (50th overall in 2006). Lucic brings his well-known fisticuffs, his dominating physical presence, and a highly underrated playmaking ability to the table, and he’s quickly become one of the Bruins’ most important players (as well as a huge fan favorite in Beantown). When he’s on his game, no matter what else is happening on the ice, the opposition has their hands full with Lucic.

The contrasts in styles and pedigree couldn’t be more extreme, setting up what should be a very compelling Cup Finals between a team that has never won the Cup (the Canucks) and a team that’s on a nearly 40-year Cup drought (the Bruins last won in 1972, when the league was comprised of only 14 teams).

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  1. Canucks & Bruins: Forward Comparison — Puck Sage: The spice & the spin - May 31, 2011

    [...] I mentioned over at Inside Hockey the core groups on these two teams are a little different, as is the team balance. A few more posts [...]