Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Got a case of Pabst soaked in me gourd, bought my Action Slacks from Montgomery-Ward
Maxim Afinogenov

Has having an abundance of European players meant failure in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs?

Following the Mikhail Grabovsky post from a day ago, I poked my nose into the message forum, starting a thread that has since branched off into a discussion of European-born vs. Canadian-born prospects.

One of the posters on the forum put up this bit of information:

The following is a break down of the teams that were in playoffs and the amount of European players that each team had (results after Round 1):

1. New Jersey Devils 2
2. Colorado Avalanche 3
3. Calgary Flames 3 eliminated
4. Nashville Predators 3 eliminated
5. Edmonton Oilers 4
6. Carolina Hurricanes 4
7. San Jose Sharks 6
8. Mighty Ducks of Anaheim 6
9. Ottawa Senators 7
10. Buffalo Sabres 7
11. Tampa Bay Lightning 7 eliminated
12. Dallas Stars 8 eliminated
13. Montreal Canadiens 9 eliminated
14. Philadelphia Flyers 9 eliminated
15. Detroit Red Wings 9 eliminated
16. New York Rangers 14 eliminated

Taking no other variables into consideration, it seems that 6 of the 8 teams with seven or more Europeans on their roster lost in the first round, while only 2 of the 8 teams with six or less European players were eliminated.

Could these numbers (mind you, I didn't check them) be giving us a true picture, or are they just a bunch of "horse hockey"?

A couple of weeks back, Scott Burnside wrote a column for that discussed the merits of having a group of Europeans from a single country on one team, such as the Rangers did with Czech-born players:

It has been almost a decade since Scotty Bowman made hockey headlines when he sent his five Russians over the boards en route to the Detroit Red Wings' first Stanley Cup in 42 years.

But there remained for many years the idea that teams who had too many Europeans ran the risk of not having enough chemistry, not having enough chutzpah to win when it counted. Mike Smith, a former GM in Winnipeg and Chicago, was a master at uncovering European talent but couldn't quite translate that into playoff wins, which added fuel to the debate.

Then, when Bowman looked down his bench and decided it made sense to roll out a forward line of Sergei Fedorov, Slava Kozlov and Igor Larionov backed up by defensemen Slava Fetisov and Vladimir Konstantinov in 1996-97, the hockey world waited for the collapse that didn't come.

Greg, from the uniformly excellent The Post-Pessimist Association blog, provides another counterpoint, while discussing the same Burnside column:

But in hockey, it's still considered quite acceptable to Euro-bash.

It's not just a playoff issue -- witness the debate over the two star rookies. When it's finally grudgingly admitted that Ovechkin had a better year than Crosby, it comes with the caveat that he's two years older. Like he cheated. Canadian fans act like they'll undergo a nationwide penis-shrinkage if it's acknowledged that Ovechkin might actually be in Sid's class.

But it's the postseason where the weirdo hockey nationalists really come out to play. The Rangers won't win because they have too many Europeans! They'd rather be at the World Championships! No, the Rangers won't win because they don't have enough depth and their defense is pretty thin.

There've been enough excellent European playoff performances by now -- off the top of my head, Bure in '94, Kamensky in '96, Zubov, Kovalev, Hejduk, all those Red Wings douchebags -- that it's not really any sort of valid question any more, but there's still an undercurrent of "Euros disappear in April." It's a sad, silly argument, and the underlying causes aren't easy to counter -- is it best to send Patrik Eliáš and Martin Havlát around to explain their first round stats? Perhaps kneecap Don Cherry? Hell, I dunno. It's late and I've had a bit much to drink.

Now, that's something that I wish I could've written... maybe I just don't drink enough?


Anonymous alanah said...

Your breakdown of Europeans on the teams eliminated in the first round is startling at first. But after considering it longer, I don't think it means much. As you said, other variables aren't taken into consideration, and they need to be.

In several cases, there are other quite obvious factors which one can blame for the losses. And in other cases, are teams which have proven themselves in the past.

Off the top of my head:

1.Flames - At the finals only 2 years ago, they've already proven themselves. A number of different players, sure, but I bet if someone goes back and looks at the roster of 2004, their percentage of Europeans hasn't changed much.

2. Nashville - They lost their spectacular European goalie, and were expected to suffer because of it. And so they did. (*need an extra European here!)

3. Tampa - Obviously the reigning Cup holders with many players from the original team, but this time they failed. Because they became "too" European? I doubt it. More likely because their coach is insane. :-)

4. Montreal - Lost their European captain, which seemed to take the heart out of their game. (*need another extra European here! Even Cherry would have to agree with that.)

5. New York - same as above. sort of.

6/7/8 - Philly/Detroit/Dallas - There's no excuses for, at least not by me. But my first thought is that coaching issues (like lack of playoff preparation) are a more likely and logical target than blaming the Europeans.

Anyway, sorry that's so long - got carried away! Great post, Brushback. Greg's, too.

5/16/06, 4:03 AM

Blogger Brushback said...

There's enough variables here (coaching systems, match-ups, relative strength and weaknesses of the players) where I figured that somone would find it interesting enough for discussion.

The raw numbers do jump out at you, though. I'm wondering if they stay about the same for the last 5 seasons or so, or if this year is just a fluke.

5/16/06, 10:20 AM

Anonymous alanah said...

A good question. I'll try and look that up today sometime.;-)

5/16/06, 2:02 PM

Blogger gsdgsd13 said...

Of course, the Euro-lacking Devs and Avs flamed out pretty quickly in the second round.

Thanks much for the link. Not much to add to what you and Alanah have said -- as you've both pointed out, there's really mitigating factors for most of the heavily European teams that went out early. The Rangers and Habs were perhaps the least-experienced teams in the playoffs, and both had gimpy key players; the Flyers had only gimpy players; the Red Wings' average age is 450 and they had a suspect (Canadian) goalie.

And just a quick check of the stats shows Eliminated Elias and that dude on the Ducks whose name I won't even try to spell leading the scoring and goalie categories, which you'd think would put it to rest - but it won't. You'd think Lidstrom winning the Conn Smythe in '02 would have, for that matter. Someday...

5/17/06, 1:48 AM

Anonymous D Cherry said...

maybe if there were more advertisments on their hockey jerseys the euros may have felt more at home and played better. There's nothing like a brightly colored cartoonish uniform to foster pride and teamwork.

5/17/06, 3:56 PM

Blogger Brushback said...

There's nothing like a brightly colored cartoonish uniform to foster pride and teamwork

Doesn't work in the ECHL.

5/17/06, 4:54 PM

Anonymous pack attack said...

You'd think Lidstrom winning the Conn Smythe in '02 would have, for that matter. Someday...

You'd think that the euro teams in the Olympics and the way they beat up the north american teams -- and one another, for that matter -- would prove that the old euro wussie stero-type doesn't play any more.

5/17/06, 7:32 PM

Blogger gsdgsd13 said...

I'm wondering if they stay about the same for the last 5 seasons or so, or if this year is just a fluke.

With a little free time at work, I did the 2003-04 season. These numbers based on playoff rosters, so some of the European guys may never have seen time -- but I left 'em in, on the grounds that 1) they probably still potentially infected their teammates with their lack of interest in the playoffs, and 2) I'm too lazy to cross-reference everything.


San Jose - 4 (lost conference finals)
St. Louis - 5 (out first round)
Boston - 6 (out first round)
Dallas - 6 (out first round)
Detroit - 7 (out second round)
Tampa Bay - 7 (the winners!)
Calgary - 7 (lost finals)
Montreal - 7 (out second round)
New Jersey - 7 (out first round)
Nashville - 8 (out first round)
NY Islanders - 9 (out first round)
Ottawa - 9 (out first round)
Toronto - 10 (out second round)
Colorado - 10 (out second round)
Vancouver - 10 (out first round)
Philadelphia - 12 (lost conference finals)

So those numbers are much less clear - and three of the four least-Euro teams bounced in the first round. (and remember when you could count on Philadelphia to be resolutely anti-European?)

I'm pretty sure there's a doctoral thesis somewhere in this stuff.

5/17/06, 9:09 PM

Blogger Brushback said...

Good work!

And this cracks me up:

they probably still potentially infected their teammates with their lack of interest in the playoffs

5/17/06, 9:13 PM


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