Daniel Wagner

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With the NHL Entry Draft on Sunday came the annual tradition: the running of the fans to YouTube. Since most hockey fans don’t watch hundreds of major junior, European hockey, and United States Hockey League games with notepads out, the only familiarity they have with the prospects that have suddenly joined their favourite team is from scouting reports, draft rankings, and YouTube highlight packages.

I certainly do it. I manage to watch a bit of major junior from time to time, but I prefer to watch junior hockey in person, so I tend to take in more local Junior A than CHL games. So when the team I cover, the Canucks, gets a slate of new prospects, I turn to YouTube to get my first look at them.

As I’ve been doing that this week, it got me thinking about how the draft creates unrealistic expectations and how some of those unrealistic expectations are echoed in free agency.

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(Bruce Bennett, Getty Images)

(Bruce Bennett, Getty Images)

Prior to the NHL Entry Draft on Sunday, the hockey world was awash in draft rankings and mock drafts, all trying to predict or at least give some indication of how the draft would play out. Of course, they were all rendered completely moot as soon as the draft itself was underway, as every NHL team operated from their own internal draft ranking, many of which differed significantly from that of independent scouts, websites, and publications.

As a result, highly-ranked prospects slid down the draft board, while other picks had fans and analysts scratching their heads as to why that player was picked in that position.

Which teams strayed the furthest from the pre-draft consensus? I decided to find out.

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The Dino Ciccarelli Award is presented to the best rookie during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is named in honour of Ciccarelli’s rookie record 14 goals during the 1981 postseason, scored in just 19 games. Candidates are not required to be a total jerk.

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Torey Krug and Brandon Saad were two of the only rookies left standing by the end of the playoffs. (Jim Rogash, Getty Images)

Of the rookies that made played in the 2013 NHL playoffs, none really pulled away from the pack for the Dino Ciccarelli Award. While there were many competent performances from this year’s crop of rookies, none of them set themselves apart the way that Brad Marchand did in 2011 or Ville Leino in 2010.

Emerson Etem led all rookies in points per game, but his Anaheim Ducks lasted just one round, so his 5 points in 7 games lack a larger body of work.  Like Etem, there are a number of other rookies that might have had a larger impact if their teams had played them more or gone further in the playoffs. Casey Cizikas, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Tyler Toffoli might have made an argument for themselves if things had gone differently for Islanders, Senators, and Kings.

By the time the Stanley Cup Final rolled around, there were just two truly impact rookies remaining: one for the Bruins and one for the Blackhawks. But between Torey Krug and Brandon Saad, there can be only one winner of the Dino Ciccarelli Award.

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(Jim Rogash, Getty Images)

While some Bruins fans shut down emotionally in response to Blackhawks goals, others had a far stronger and more Ugh-ful reaction. (Jim Rogash, Getty Images)

Hockey Ughs is the cynical sister to Puck Daddy’s Hockey Hugs, a feature written by my same-sex blog-partner Harrison Mooney from Pass it to Bulis. While Hockey Hugs highlights the joy of scoring a goal and celebrating it with your bestest buds, Hockey Ughs highlights the agony of the other team’s fans right behind the glass, watching those hugs.

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When last we left Hockey Ughs, we had just finished with the second round of the playoffs, which means there are a plethora of Ughs from the Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Final. We’ll get to those a little later, but first we have a very special edition of Hockey Ughs.

You see, it’s not every day that the Stanley Cup is won on enemy ice, particularly not in such dramatic fashion, with the home team leading the game heading into the final minutes, only to have the game tying and winning goals score in a 17-second span.

The Chicago Blackhawks’ shocking comeback left the Boston Bruins fans in the building shocked and bewildered. And, of course, the cameras focussed on the Blackhawks’ celebrations captured some of those fans and their looks of disbelief and despair. Here are the finest Hockey Ughs of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final:

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Andrew Shaw ($577,500) punches Brad Marchand ($2,500,000) repeatedly (priceless). - Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Andrew Shaw ($577,500) punches Brad Marchand ($2,500,000) repeatedly (priceless). – Jim Rogash/Getty Images

It seems like NHL fans, media, and even some General Managers were big fans of After School Specials. After all, it’s not enough that a Stanley Cup Final is thrilling, tense, and exciting — we have to learn a lesson as well. Every Stanley Cup Final seems to turn into a teachable moment: forget all the other Finals, this is how you win the Stanley Cup.

In 2010, the lesson apparently was to go with a cheap goaltender so you can use your cap space elsewhere. And yet, in 2011, the two teams that made it to the Final had two of the more expensive goalies in the league. That year, the lesson was that you won through toughness and intimidation (rather than Vezina-calibre goaltending, apparently).

The lesson some got out of Anaheim’s Cup win in 2007 was that fighting and goonery was once again a viable way to win. The next year, the Detroit Red Wings had the fewest fights in the league enroute to winning the Cup.

With all that said, we can clearly learn something from the two teams that made it to the Stanley Cup Final this year. I got to wondering how exactly these two teams spent their money to get to this point? How did they divvy up their salary cap and is there something that can be learned from that?

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(Dave Sandford, Getty Images)

(Dave Sandford, Getty Images)

Hockey glorifies size. It’s understandable, considering how physicality is an undeniably important aspect of the game. You need big defencemen to clear out the front of the net and big forwards who can prevent themselves from being cleared. You want players with enough size to deliver punishing body checks to create turnovers and make opponents panic with the puck. You need players who can use their body effectively to protect the puck.

Size is frequently overemphasized, however. Reading draft previews, a prospect’s bio will quote scouts going on and on about his big frame, then add in at the end ”And he can skate!” as if that’s a bonus rather than a requirement. Undersized forwards and defencemen struggle to get noticed in the minors, as less talented, but bigger-bodied teammates get called up long before they do.

That’s one of the reasons why this Stanley Cup Final match-up is so interesting to me. Despite one team’s reputation, these are actually two of the smallest teams in the NHL, showing that size doesn’t matter nearly as much as some would suggest.

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The series definitely will not be decided by who can make the goofiest face. (Bill Smith, Getty Images)

The Stanley Cup Final kicks off on Wednesday, because what better time to start the biggest playoff series of the year? At this point, you’ve been practically buried in series previews, many of which will try to boil the matchup down to a few key elements. This series will come down to goaltending, one will claim, while another will trumpet secondary scoring as what will determine the end result.

Really, it’s essentially impossible to predict. I can, however, tell you some things that won’t matter. So here are three things that, despite claims to the contrary, this series definitely won’t boil down to:

Who wants it more

Here is a cliché that needs to die a painful death, preferably scripted by George R.R. Martin.

It usually gets brought out at the conclusion of a game or series, sometimes even by the players themselves. Asked to explain how they won, they might respond, We just wanted it more, as if the player just finished reading The SecretThe power of positive thinking propelled the puck into the net, you see. Read the rest of this entry »