Who has the depth edge?
Top-line strength is more important, but deep rosters provide an edge in even matchups
Last season, when the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Vancouver Canucks in six games, Chicago's depth advantage was seen as the key factor in its success. Beyond top stars like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, the eventual Stanley Cup champions were stacked with a huge arsenal of secondary talent including Dave Bolland, Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Troy Brouwer, Andrew Ladd, Tomas Kopecky and more. Throughout the 2009-10 regular season, Chicago enjoyed a league-leading 49.2 goals of value above replacement-level from its third- and fourth-line players.
Consider last year's playoff matchup between Chicago and Vancouver:
While no one questioned that Vancouver's top-shelf players Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows and Mikael Samuelsson could match the Hawks, the Canucks could ice only a handful of decent secondary talents, such as Kyle Wellwood, Pavol Demitra, Steve Bernier and Jannik Hansen. Unfortunately for Vancouver, even those select few proved no match for Chicago's third-liners. As a percentage, the Canucks' depth players were responsible for only 16.7 percent of the team's non-goalie Goals Versus Threshold (GVT), the Hockey Prospectus metric that evaluates player value. That figure is the lowest among teams that made the postseason.
History is therefore not telling us that depth is a bad thing, but rather that it is far less important than how good the team is overall, regardless of where its goals come from.
When watching that series, it certainly appeared that having a deep roster is one of the keys to going far in the long and physical postseason, and that relying too much on your top line is a recipe for an early exit. That may have been true in this particular case, but the data show that this is far from the rule. In fact, teams from the 2009-10 season whose depth players represented the larger percentage of team GVT were actually more likely to lose.
MORE NHL HEADLINES
- Sharks use 5-goal 2nd to take down Ducks
- Miller nets go-ahead goal, Bruins beat Isles
- Pacioretty's late goal helps Habs top Rangers
- Retiring Brodeur leaving ice 'really happy'
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
NHL Insider Content
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
Prospectus: Rating B's, Canucks' depth
CapGeek: Bs, Canucks provide cap blueprints Conn Smythe Watch: Thomas takes the lead
Greenberg: Projecting Tyler Seguin
Greenberg: Lapierre is Canucks' MVP
Prospectus: Special teams aren't that key
Conn Smythe Watch: Kesler's charge
Joyce: Sharks stars lack 'it'
Greenberg: Best Gs vs. the best shots
Conn Smythe Watch: Thomas rises
Button: Philly's crisis of crease confidence
Greenberg: Can blocks carry Bolts to Cup?
Prospectus: Ranking Caps' playoff failure
Prospectus: Top playoff rooks since 1998
Conn Smythe Watch: Roloson No. 1
Prospectus: Datsyuk remains underrated
Conn Smythe Watch: Neuvirth shines
Greenberg: Best D pairs vs. Alex Ovechkin
Prospectus: Thomas doesn't give B's big edge
Prospectus: Playoff team depth rankings
Cooper: Preds try to ditch Rd. 1 jinx
Prospectus: Team-by-team odds to win the Cup
Prospectus: Ranking the first-round netminders
Prospectus: These Sharks built to last
Prospectus: Puck luck could pluck Ducks
Cooper: Why playoff hockey is so different
Team Scouting Reports
How to beat the Boston Bruins
How to beat the Philadelphia Flyers
How to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins
How to beat the Washington Capitals
How to beat the Anaheim Ducks
How to beat the Detroit Red Wings
How to beat the San Jose Sharks
How to beat the Vancouver Canucks
May 11: Why Wings may soon fall off
April 28: Strome surges in Mock Draft 2.0
April 13: Nashville tries to overcome history
April 11: D. Sedin tops final player rankings
April 7: Coaches feeling the hot seat
April 6: How Caps' draft strategy has worked
March 30: Can Flyers win Cup with Bobrovsky?
March 9: Re-ranking Top 50 draft prospects
Feb. 28: Traded prospect evals
Feb. 28: Rating trades in the West
Feb. 28: Rating trades in the East
Feb. 17: Worst. Trades. Ever.
Feb. 17: NHL Mock Draft 1.0
NHL Rumor Central
Get news and rumblings before anyone
NHL Experts Blog
Daily ice shavings of insight
NHL Draft Blog
A look towards June 2011