From the Anaheim Mighty Ducks to the hidebound Vancouver Canucks, the mantra is "You need experience to win in the playoffs." This (like the Mighty Ducks) is a canard. Too often, "seasoned" is merely a fancy way of saying "old." The Edmonton Oilers, who dominated the NHL from 1984 to '90, won the first of their five Stanley Cups when their core—Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr and Glenn Anderson-averaged 22? years of age and totaled only 25 years of NHL experience. When the Oilers ceded the title temporarily during that seven-year stretch, it was to the 1986 Montreal Canadiens, who had eight rookies, including Conn Smythe Trophy-winning goalie Patrick Roy and 10-playoff-goal scorer Claude Lemieux, and to the 1989 Calgary Flames, who featured 51-goal sophomore center Joe Nieuwendyk and rookie hellcat Theo Fleury, who combined for 15 playoff goals. Of more recent vintage, the 2000 champion New Jersey Devils, who played four rookies in important roles, throttled the more experienced, and sagging, Dallas Stars, proving that sometimes you do have to truss people over 30.
In the Gilded pantheon of hockey virtues-leadership, toughness and tenacity—speed deserves an honored place. With the crackdown on hooking, holding and obstruction, speed is not merely a desirable attribute but an imperative. Plodders like the New York Rangers, who spin at 33? rpm in a 78-rpm universe, are being left behind by dynamic, skating teams like the New Jersey Devils and the Colorado Avalanche.
The shift to speed began in the late 1990s, when teams with middling talent (the Edmonton Oilers and the Buffalo Sabres) gained playoff upsets by playing up-tempo. It accelerated when young legs carried forwards like the Philadelphia Flyers' Simon Gagne and Colorado's Milan Hejduk to almost instant stardom. If the NHL ever gets around to removing the red line, look out: The race to the Cup might not always go to the swiftest, but that's the way to bet.