Stanley Cup contender checklist: How do the final seven playoff teams stack up?

A season’s worth of roster building — from offseason moves, deadline deals, drafting, and developing players — culminates in the Stanley Cup playoffs for 16 teams. 

Now with only seven teams remaining, who built a roster that best stacks up as a contender?

The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn put together a blueprint for contenders based on a decade of champions using Game Score Value Added. There’s no single method for team building, but the blueprint helps pinpoint patterns that have led to success. 

There are 10 common elements that stand out as the staple pieces found in those championship-caliber teams:

  • Elite first-line center that’s among the very best players in the world.
  • Elite first-line winger to support the elite center.
  • Two other top-line wingers on each of the top two lines.
  • Top-line center to play behind the elite center.
  • Two more top-six forwards for depth in the middle six.
  • Elite No. 1 defenseman.
  • A second No. 1 defenseman to play behind him.
  • A top-pairing defenseman to help anchor a strong second pair with the No. 2.
  • Another top-pairing caliber defender to crush soft minutes on the third pair.
  • A top-10 caliber starting goaltender.

This is just one way to analyze, but it’s the measuring stick we’ll use for the remaining teams, using both projections (based on three years of data weighed by recency and adjusted for age) and actual values (per 82 games, to equal the playing field) from this year to see who measures up within the range per position. 

Of course, as the Panthers who were eliminated just last night show, it’s not just a matter of building a stacked roster. Florida had nine of those 10 elements solidified, only falling short with their second “top-pair defenseman.” That’s why it’s important to consider who has risen to the occasion, and who has fallen short this postseason as well. 

 

Cup Checklist legend

Gold Checkmark: Exceeds expectations, above acceptable range from average Cup-winner 

Black Checkmark: Right on target, in line with average Cup-winner

Grey Checkmark: Passable, below average relative to average Cup-winner but within range

Red X: A hole in the lineup, below acceptable range from average Cup-winner

Color-coding all matches to “projected” range of average Cup-winner. 

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

As the only team through to Round 3, the Lightning have shown they have what it takes. Even more impressive is that they managed to sweep their Round 2 opponents, the Panthers, without Brayden Point which shifted Anthony Cirelli and Nick Paul higher in the depth charts. 

Eight of 10 elements earned a check, varying in where they fit within the ideal range per position. This is a lineup with superstars who have been the game-changers a championship team needs. Victor Hedman leads his team with an average game score of 1.29. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos are right behind him, as expected. 

Fourth is the player who missed all of Round 2. Point has the most glaring red “x” next to his name. As well as he played this season, it wasn’t quite at his usual level. And the injury that sidelined him this series took away an opportunity for him to show just how much he rises to the occasion in the playoffs. While not ‘having’ an elite 1C is concerning, the Lightning know what they have in Point, and have elite talent around him at the top of their lineup to make up for it.  

The other player to fall short of the list is Nick Paul, though most of that is based on his time with a weak Senators team. The utility forward has shown that he’s been a good fit since the deadline. Plus, there are other options to fill out that slot whether it’s Brandon Hagel or Ross Colton who meet the criteria. 

Author: Lucy Green