Thursday, May 28, 2009

'09 Penguins the '84 Oilers?

Unless you've been under a hockey bag for the past few days/weeks you've noticed that a great deal of electronic ink has been spilled comparing the current Penguins group to the '84 Oilers championship team. NHL.com has a relatively extensive write up drawing out the parallels between the two. Like the '84 Oilers, who lost to the dynasty Islanders in '83, only to learn what to do to beat the Islanders from that series, the Penguins look poised to topple another dynasty; that of the winged wheel.

The comparisons are startling, until you realize that the Penguins haven't won it yet, meaning that the comparisons are totally moot unless they actually do win.

It seems far to early to be making this comparison a feature story on NHL.com (although Bettman's love of the Pittsburgh franchise's poster boy surely is no secret). And the comparisons may be overdrawn. One of which is the suggestion that this series is the young Penguins versus the grizzled old farts in Detroit. With the duo of Malkin and Crosby leading the way, and Fleury backstopping their effort, it may indeed seem the Penguins are the youthful team out to slaughter the ancient great red beast. And while the Penguins have an average roster age that is a year or two below Detroit, the Wings have found themselves propelled this postseason by the legs of some youthful exuberance of their own. Needless to say, guys like Filppula, Ericsson, and Helm, are a big reason why the Wings are back in the Finals. And running a line that looks like its straight from a Griffins game has not been particularly damaging to Detroit (Leino, Abdelkader, and Meech on D).

Of course, the Wings top offensive weapons are barely 30, and although Lidstrom is getting up there in years he seems to be more akin to a fine wine. All of this suggests that the comparison between the Pens and the '84 Oilers has more holes than at first glance. We won't know just how apt or foolish the comparison is until this series begins, but I for one think calling this Penguins team "Generation Now" is a bit premature.

One comparison that can be made is between this series and last year's series. The Wings are a bit more banged up this year, but are deeper. And the Pens again find themselves the favorites in the minds of more than a few hockey analysts and bloggers. The refrain heard last year, "I hate the Wings. Pens in 6;" "The Pens are too youthful for the aging Wings, Pens in 7;" and so on are again being heralded by various hockey pundits. Pittsburgh rolled through Philadelphia last year in the finals, heading into the Cup Finals firing on all cylinders. They seemed like an unstoppable offensive force, led by Marian Hossa. This year Hossa has a winged wheel on his jersey, but Malkin and Crosby have picked up the "slack." Can both these teams win it? Absolutely. But let's not kid ourselves, not a whole lot has changed, and it remains to be seen whether this Penguins team learned enough last year to defeat a team that seems to have only gotten better between last year's Finals and this year's.

It'll be a great series. But please, hold off on the Oiler comparison.