The point is, the evidence, as opposed to the rhetoric, suggests there is no one-size-fits-all blueprint for success. The Penguins have won three Stanley Cups mostly by tearing it down and then building it up again (and landing talents from Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr a generation ago to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in modern times). They win because of high draft choices. Detroit, which never seems to have a high pick, wins through player development. They haven’t had any high draft choices.
Conclusion: Success and failure have little to do with geography or location, Canada or U.S., and everything to do with smart operating principles and a little bit of luck (having Crosby available at No. 1 the year you bottom out is better than having Erik Johnson available at No. 1).
Moreover, it also means that if Vancouver does win it all this season, ending the so-called “drought,” it really will have no impact or trickle-down effect on what happens to the other six Canadian clubs anyway. All that it will really do is just kill an easy storyline for next spring.
THE HENRIK AND DANIEL WATCH: Life without Daniel Sedin began pretty well for the Vancouver Canucks, who haven’t lost since their star forward went out of the lineup. Sedin is out with a concussion, sustained on a hit from the Chicago Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith, and it created a back-to-the-future moment for his twin brother, Henrik. It was two years ago when Daniel missed 18 games with a broken foot that Henrik answered, once and for all, if he could compete a high level without his twin patrolling the wing. The answer was a definitive yes – and voters for the Hart Trophy dutifully took note and named Henrik the NHL’s MVP for the 2009-10 season, a year in which the Vancouver Canucks had 103 regular-season points and made it to the second-round before losing to Chicago.
How is Daniel’s absence this year different than in 2010? According to Henrik, “I don’t think it’s easier because he’s one of the best players in the league but it’s less pressure maybe right now, because last time around, I had to prove to everyone that we were able to play without each other. This time, everyone has seen … I mean, obviously, we’re better together, but it’s not like I’m getting a big drop-off when Danny’s not there.” Henrik is currently playing with Zach Kassian and Mason Raymond, but the Canucks expect Daniel back for the start of the playoffs.
COYOTE SURGE: The most consistently underrated player of his generation must surely be the Phoenix Coyotes’ Ray Whitney, the Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., native and former Edmonton Oilers stick boy who came up big when he had to again – namely in Thursday’s must-win game over the San Jose Sharks, when he made two brilliant passes to earn assists on Radim Vrbata’s goals in a 2-0 Phoenix victory. Whitney has 999 career points, with four games to go in the season. He is 12th overall in the NHL scoring race (23-50-73), a plus-25 and his 55 even-strength points are tied for fourth in the league. Only Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh), Steven Stamkos (Tampa) and Jason Spezza (Ottawa) have more. What an unlikely success story – and the real irony is that Whitney made those pivotal plays Thursday night against the Sharks, the team that drafted him originally, 23rd overall in the second round of the 1991 entry draft. San Jose let him go after the 1996-97 season when he was just 121 points into his career. Edmonton signed Whitney as a free agent that year (smart), but then put him on waivers (dumb), where he was claimed by the Florida Panthers and proceeded to score 32 goals and 61 points in 68 games – and he was off and running. Whitney turns 40 on May 8; and unlike some players of his age, isn’t dithering at all. He’d like to keep playing. We’d like to see him keep playing too.
AND FINALLY: By contrast, 36-year-old Milan Hejduk, a stalwart on a decade’s worth of Colorado Avalanche teams, may pack it in this year, according to the Denver Post. Hedjuk acknowledged that this could be his final season: “I don't want to analyze right now, but it definitely could be,” he said – and that would be a loss. Hejduk’s calm professionalism has helped the Avs become one of the NHL’s most surprising teams this season – and he is the last remaining link to the 2001 championship year. Colorado may not make it this season, but all those young speedy talents up front (Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, even Paul Stastny is not that old) suggest a bright future.
Editor's Note: The original web version of this story contained an incorrect spelling of Milan Hejduk's name.