Commentary

The playoff value of grinders

It's an old hockey cliche about winning the Cup, but how valuable are they?

Updated: May 5, 2010, 9:18 AM ET
By Tom Awad | Puck Prospectus
Maxime TalbotBruce Bennett/Getty ImagesWhich came first: the grinder, or the Cup?

Additionally: Once you consume this article about the value of grinders in the playoffs, check out another Puck Prospectus piece -- this one rating the best third-line guys.

In the NHL playoffs, scoring is at a premium. Conventional wisdom says goals are harder to come by in the playoffs, and the conventional wisdom is correct: Over the past 10 seasons, scoring has averaged 2.74 goals per game per team during the regular season, but only 2.39 in the playoffs, good for a 13 percent decrease. In addition, teams play against each other multiple times in a row, which allows them to develop strategies to shut down the opposition's top lines. Because of all these factors, it is acknowledged that teams must get contributions from their grinders in order to succeed in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Many grinders have made their reputations in the playoffs. One of the most famous is Bobby Nystrom, a member of the four Cup-winning New York Islanders teams in the early '80s, who developed a reputation by scoring four overtime goals in the playoffs, despite averaging less than half the offensive output of teammates Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier. More recently, Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby have been members of four Stanley Cup-winning teams with the Detroit Red Wings from 1997 to 2008, and formed the "Grind Line" with Joey Kocur and later Darren McCarty. Just last season, Maxime Talbot became a hero for the Pittsburgh Penguins as he followed only 12 regular-season goals with eight in the playoffs, including two in Game 7 of the Final.

So the question lingers: Are grinders the key to the Cup?