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The Caps And Knights Might Have The Least Experienced Stanley Cup Final Rosters Ever

When the Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins met in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final, there were a lot of grizzled hockey men with a lot of Stanley Cup Final experience buzzing around the ice. The two rosters combined for 315 previous Stanley Cup Final games played, or about seven games played per skater.

This made sense: The two teams met in the previous Stanley Cup Final, and Detroit’s roster featured five players1 who had played for its 2002 Cup-winning team — four of whom,2 remarkably enough, also played for its Cup-winning team in 1998. Thanks to ageless wonders like Kris Draper and Nicklas Lidstrom,3 2009 still ranks as the most experienced Stanley Cup Final — based on the number of previous career Cup Final games its participants have played in — since the NHL lockout of 2004-05.

Fast forward nine years, and there are no Drapers or Lidstroms involved in this Stanley Cup Final — there’s no one even close. Instead, this season is offering up the least experienced rendition of the NHL’s championship series, which is currently tied at one game apiece between the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights, since the lockout. Between the rosters of the Golden Knights and Capitals, the players have combined for just 32 previous Stanley Cup Final games,4 according to data from Hockey-Reference.com. And only three of the 38 players who have taken the ice in the series have any Stanley Cup Final experience whatsoever.

This also makes sense, of course. Before this season, the Golden Knights weren’t a team, so there were no opportunities for large chunks of their roster to make one or several Stanley Cup Final runs together. Only two of their players have played in a Stanley Cup Final before: James Neal logged six final games for the Nashville Predators in their losing effort against the Penguins last season, and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury appeared in 13 final games for the Penguins, six in 2008 and seven in 2009.

And while this Caps team — with an offensive core of Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin that has been together for a decade — has been very good for a very long time,5 they were unable to advance to a final — or even a conference finals — before this season. Only Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik has Stanley Cup Final experience — he played 13 games, all directly in front of Fleury, as the Penguins lost to the Red Wings in 2008 and then beat Detroit in 2009.

Nearly everyone in 2018 is new to this

Combined previous Stanley Cup Final experience of players, and share of players with no previous experience, for each final matchup since 2006

Teams Total Players Prev. final Exp. (Games) Players with no Prev. Exp. Share with no Exp.
2018 Golden Knights Capitals 38 32 35 92.1%
2017 Penguins Predators 44 142 28 63.6
2016 Penguins Sharks 39 66 32 82.1
2015 Blackhawks Lightning 43 202 20 46.5
2014 Kings Rangers 39 131 23 59.0
2013 Blackhawks Bruins 41 185 17 41.5
2012 Kings Devils 41 138 27 65.9
2011 Bruins Canucks 45 36 40 88.9
2010 Blackhawks Flyers 43 55 38 88.4
2009 Penguins Red Wings 43 315 7 16.3
2008 Red Wings Penguins 41 161 28 68.3
2007 Ducks Senators 43 68 36 83.7
2006 Hurricanes Oilers 45 94 31 68.9

Source: Hockey-Reference.com

On the flip side, that means a full 92 percent of the players who’ve played in this series went into it with zero previous Stanley Cup Final experience. That’s another post-lockout record, beating the 89 percent mark from the 2011 Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks.

Speaking of 2011, it was also the only other post-lockout Stanley Cup Final that featured teams with fewer than 50 combined final games played in the players’ previous careers. The Canucks hadn’t been to a Stanley Cup Final since 1994, while the Bruins hadn’t been since 1990. And unlike the Red Wings — who apparently had access to a fountain of youth somewhere on Lake St. Clair for a decade and a half — neither roster featured a single player from their previous Cup berths.

Game logs from before 1988 aren’t available at Hockey Reference, so it’s tough to say for sure — but it isn’t preposterous to think that the 2018 final might be the least experienced Stanley Cup Final since the NHL’s expansion era began in 1967.6

Entering every NHL playoffs, pundits like to talk about two elements that teams need to make deep runs: hot goalies and postseason experience. Neither Vegas nor Washington has much experience, but the player tied for the most previous Stanley Cup Final games played does also happen to be a hot goalie: Fleury has been the best netminder in the 2018 playoffs (he’s pitched one of the best goaltending performances in playoff history, in fact), and he’ll no doubt win the Conn Smythe trophy — which goes to the playoff MVP — if his Golden Knights win the Stanley Cup. (Or maybe even if they lose.) Vegas can at least be thankful that it has benefited from a happy coincidence of two important factors.

So far, though, the Capitals’ 13 total games of previous Stanley Cup Final experience and the Golden Knights’ 19-game tally have been a wash. The series is all knotted up, and it’s anyone’s guess who will emerge victorious. Still, one thing’s for sure: If either team makes a repeat run to the final next season, it will almost certainly be in a championship series featuring more experience than the current one.

Footnotes

  1. Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper.

  2. Lidstrom, Draper, Maltby and Holmstrom.

  3. Who each logged meaningful Stanley Cup Final minutes for the Red Wings in 1995, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2008 and 2009.

  4. Excluding games that have been played in the ongoing final series.

  5. They’ve won three of the last nine Presidents’ Trophies.

  6. Which can also be defined as the post-Original Six era. In 1967, the league expanded for the first time since the 1920s.

Terrence Doyle is a writer based in Boston, where he obsesses over pizza and hockey.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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