After a holiday hiatus, Matt Pryor has returned to the blogosphere. His New Year’s resolution is to keep it pithy in 2014.
THE 2013-14 NHL SMALL-STAR TEAM
For years, I watched Theo Fleury and the original “Little Ball of Hate,” Pat Verbeek, skate in the NHL. Despite being just 5’6″ and (allegedly) 5’9″, respectively, both players tallied over 450 goals and 1050 points while playing in the best hockey league on the planet. Small men with skill have always had a place in the NHL, at least since the New York Americans’ 5-foot-3 netminder Roy “Shrimp” Worters won the Vezina Trophy in 1931. Today, Martin St. Louis (5’8″) is the standard bearer for the short guys of the NHL. The 38-year-old winger currently ranks 20th in the league in scoring, with 19-21-40 in 43 games.
The average NHLer has grown over time, and is now 6’1″, 204 lbs. Coaches and General Managers alike covet big players, like Zdeno Chara or Rick Nash. One of the first comments Brian Burke made after assuming the role of President of Hockey Operations in Calgary was, “…this team needs to get bigger.” Does player size really translate to wins, though? This chart James Mirtle put together in January 2013 lists the average height, weight and age of all 30 clubs. Montreal, the shortest team in the NHL, finished 2nd in the Eastern Conference last season before bowing out in the first round of the playoffs. The 2nd-shortest team in the truncated 2013 campaign? The Chicago Blackhawks, your 2013 Stanley Cup champs. The two tallest clubs last season were San Jose and Winnipeg, and only the Sharks made it into the postseason.
I grew weary of hearing “[Player X] is too small for the NHL” some time ago. The truth is, hockey is a game of skill. Being 6’5″ is nice, but if you can’t skate, stickhandle, shoot and pass, it means nothing. On the other hand, a little guy who can do all of those things can go far. To prove the point, I’ve selected my own 2013-14 NHL Small-Star Team, composed entirely of players under six feet tall. After a surprising amount of deliberation (I didn’t realize there were so many talented players under 6′), here’s what I came up with:
Matt Calvert, CBJ (5’11″) – Sidney Crosby, PIT (5’11″) – Martin St. Louis, TBL (5’8″)
Mats Zuccarello, NYR (5’7″) – Pavel Datsyuk, DET (5’11″) – Patrick Kane, CHI (5’11″)
Jussi Jokinen, PIT (5’11″) – Claude Giroux, PHI (5’11″) – Cam Atkinson, CBJ (5’8″)
Nathan Gerbe, CAR (5’5″) – Andrew Shaw, CHI (5’10″) – Brendan Gallagher, MTL (5’9″)
Mike Cammalleri, CGY (5’9″), Sean Bergenheim, FLA (5’10″), Ryan Callahan, NYR (5’11″)
Brian Campbell, FLA (5’10″) – Kimmo Timonen, PHI (5’10″)
Torey Krug, BOS (5’9″) – James Wisniewski, CBJ (5’11″)
Anton Stralman, NYR (5’11″) – Ryan Ellis, NSH (5’10″)
Honorable Mention: Kevin Shattenkirk, STL (5’11″)
Tim Thomas, FLA (5’11″)
Anton Khudobin, CAR (5’11″)
Honorable Mention: Jhonas Enroth, BUF (5’10″)
NOTE: When selecting the Small-Stars, I decided to use one “FancyStat” to settle any ties: CF% rel, or Corsi for percentage relative to team CF% when the player is not on the ice (h/t Extra Skater). In simplest terms, it’s a way to answer the question, “Is the team better (or worse) at controlling the puck when this player is on the ice?” Of all non-goalies on the Small-Star team, the only player with a negative CF% rel was Martin St. Louis, at -0.9%. Surprisingly, the highest CF% rel on the team was Brendan Gallagher, with a +7.8%, which is also tied for 5th-highest in the NHL.
The average height of the 2013-14 NHL Small-Star Team is 5’10″, a full three inches below the league average. Based on their CF% rel numbers, this is a team built for puck possession, one which will get the puck into the offensive zone and keep it there for an extended period of time, wearing down defensemen and goalies alike. The team, minus the honorable mentions, comes in just under the salary cap at $63,674,512. Take another look at the roster above. Could a team with no player over 5’11″ win the Stanley Cup today?
Follow Matt Pryor on Twitter: @BigTex1926