BOSTON - They always say that the NHL is a copycat league once a formula is out there for a Stanley Cup winner.
Well, it would appear that teams are actively going to try and get bigger, stronger and meaner after watching the St. Louis Blues dominate 5-on-5 play, push teams around and generally use their oversized roster en route to a Stanley Cup title this week.
The parade through St. Louis won’t even happen until Saturday afternoon and Bruins players cleaned out their lockers on Friday afternoon, but other teams are already putting the big, bad plan into action this summer. It certainly would appear that the Washington Capitals have that in mind as they landed hard-hitting, suspension-earning defenseman Radko Gudas in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Certainly, the Capitals already have their own nasty, check-throwing types in Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson, among others, but adding Gudas to that mix just makes Washington even that much more difficult to play against next season. It should also make things easier for the NHL Department of Player Safety to track down their frequent customers with both Gudas and Wilson now taking residence in Washington together.
Capitals GM Brian McLellan referenced Gudas’ “competitive, physical game” in a statement following the trade, and this is cleaned-up hockey executive speak for a player they obviously feel is going to be willing to do any necessary dirty work in the playoffs.
Just as the Blues were playing a punishing style that won the war of attrition against the Sharks and the Bruins in the final two rounds of the postseason. The Blues became the first team in Stanley Cup Final history to have two different players suspended in the series with Oskar Sundqvist and Ivan Barbashev dinged for throwing dirty hits and that was certainly no accident given the heavy, punishing, in-your-face way that they played.
Bruce Cassidy was asked about teams perhaps leaning into size, strength and physicality and away from too much speed and skill as a result of the way the Cup Final played out, but the B’s bench boss wasn’t ready to go there when the question was posed to him while the series was still going on.
“I think it’s a good discussion, right? You’ve got this decade you’ve got the Bruins [Washington] and LA and they were certainly heavy teams. You’ve got Chicago and Pittsburgh that were more geared toward speed and skill. So, it’s a good argument about how best to construct your team,” said Cassidy. “I think GMs go through it every day to figure out the best way to go. This year, I think you’ve got two heavy teams. “You’ve got St. Louis and I feel that we’re in that [heavy] category. I think they’d probably say the same thing. Comparably around the league, I think we’re both perceived in that same way. Who knows maybe the shift will go back that way? It’s a good conversation [to have].”
While it’s true that the Bruins do have some big, heavy players: Zdeno Chara, David Backes and Brandon Carlo for instance, the Boston roster is noticeably smaller than St. Louis. The heaviness was a calling card for the Blues roster as were the borderline hits thrown in the postseason. On the Boston side, it was about having enough to merely survive against the Blues, a bigger, stronger team.
It's clear now that teams around the NHL while watching the Blues hoist the Cup have received the memo that playing like St. Louis will be rewarded. It raises the question whether it’s in the best interest of the Bruins to get bigger, heavier and stronger this offseason so they’re a little more well-equipped should they get into an alley fight in a seven-game series with a team like the Blues again next season.
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