LeBron, Chris, and D-Wade. Let the championships begin.
LeBron James made his long-awaited announcement of where he would “take his talents” next year (to use his formulation). We can’t say we care a great deal, our following NBA basketball closely having ended when Earvin Johnson and Larry Bird left the stage. But it did get us to thinking, what would be the NHL equivalent scenario of a LeBron James – Chris Bosh – Dwyane Wade trifecta?
Looking at the NBA version, you first have arguably the best – and certainly most compelling – player in the game in LeBron James. No player in the NBA possesses his mix of skill and brawn, his ability to score from 30 feet or looking down at you as he dunks the ball in your face. He can run the floor, he can rebound. And he does it while being the face of the league. You want to argue for anyone else? What other player in the league could command an hour of prime time television time to announce where he would play basketball?
Next, you have a fine player who occupies a place on the edge of the “elite” in the NBA, a player with fine statistics who has toiled in relative anonymity for a team that struggles as often as not. Chris Bosh has spent seven years in Toronto with the Raptors, but has made the playoffs only twice (both times losing in the first round). Only once has any of his Raptor teams finished above .500.
Finally, you have the host – Dwyane Wade – a player of remarkable skill in many aspects of the sport. A scorer, a playmaker, he can beat you in any number of ways. In seven seasons he has averaged fewer than 24 points per game only once, fewer than six-and-a-half assists per game only once. His teams have made the playoffs six times in his seven seasons, and he won an NBA title in 2006.
OK, so who might be the NHL equivalents of such a trio? Well, in place of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, imagine…
…Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, and Rick Nash. Ovechkin – the guy who will score over, around, or through you. Crosby – the playmaker, the scorer, the guy who will do whatever he needs to do to win. Nash – the power forward with a lock-picker’s touch. We also have Ovechkin – arguably the best (and certainly most compelling) player in the NHL – who has known little but post-season disappointment. There is Nash – the best player on a struggling team that has made the playoffs only once in his career with the Columbus Blue Jackets. And there is Crosby – mentioned in the same breath with the elites in the game (and thought by many to top that list), who has an NHL title on his resume.
Now, imagine Ovechkin and Nash joining Crosby in Pittsburgh (since Crosby is the “Wade” player in this scenario, it’s his team). On ESPN last evening, we already saw a projection that the Miami Heat would win 66 games next year, be guaranteed of a playoff spot (a 100.0 percent probability) and have a 35 percent chance of winning a title in 2011. Would an Ovechkin/Crosby/Nash trio have the same probabilities were they to join forces?
Not on your life.
You could make the argument that even with Evgeni Malkin on that team, the reconstituted Penguins would not win 66 games. The Detroit Red Wings of the 1995-1996 season hold the NHL record for wins (62). Such a team as the one that has this all-star trio might be a good bet to reach 55 wins, but remember that only two teams in the history of the NHL have reached the 60-win mark (the Montreal Canadiens of 1977-1978 being the other).
Would such a team be guaranteed a playoff spot? In the Eastern Conference, as currently constituted, you would have to think so. But a guaranteed top-spot? A division championship to get a top-three spot? They would certainly be a favorite – probably the favorite – to win the top spot in the East, if not the President’s Trophy. But a lock for that kind of finish? Probably not.
What about a championship? Would such a team have that 35 percent chance of winning a title that the Heat have by one projection? Remember, that 62-win Red Wings team lost in the Western Conference finals in six games to the Colorado Avalanche, a team that won 15 fewer games than did the Red Wings that year (but went on to win the Cup in the finals). It helped that in the four games the Avalanche won in that series, the best playoff goalie in NHL history – Patrick Roy – allowed a total of only five goals.
It is the difference between hockey and basketball. The NBA has become – oddly enough for a team sport – an individual-driven enterprise. Individuals are marketed, individuals can make a difference. Hockey is – with its constant motion, four rolling lines, three alternating pairs of defensemen – much more of a team game. And there is no basketball equivalent to what a “hot goalie” can do to the best laid plans in building a team.
Dream all you want about an Ovechkin/Crosby/Nash trifecta. Or substitute whoever you please in your “fantasy” top line. In the NHL, it’s about what you build around those stars as much as the stars themselves.
Just another way to think about the off-season as one part of a “process” for building a roster.