It’s almost impossible to win the Stanley Cup without an elite defenceman. The past 10 Stanley Cups have been won by teams with Kris Letang, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Zdeno Chara, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer.
With Kris Letang done for the season after surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck, the Penguins are trying to be the first since 2006 to win without one.
Pittsburgh’s top seven defencemen in these playoffs — Ian Cole, Trevor Daley, Brian Dumoulin, Ron Hainsey, Olli Maatta, Chad Ruhwedel and Justin Schultz — have exactly zero lifetime Norris Trophy votes between them. (Mark Streit, who would be number eight, received votes in three different years.) That’s almost unprecedented for a Stanley Cup champion.
The only real comparable is 2006 Carolina, also managed by Jim Rutherford. The Hurricanes’ top six — Mike Commodore, Bret Hedican, Frantisek Kaberle, Niclas Wallin, Aaron Ward and Glen Wesley — also had none. The seventh, Oleg Tverdovsky, did. He dressed for one game in the final.
Daley has missed the first two games of the series against the Senators and hasn’t practiced with the team since his injury in Game 5 against the Capitals. Schultz left game two with what looked like a right shoulder injury, but traveled to Ottawa for game 3 and the Penguins say he’s “day-to-day.”
Schultz has anchored the left point on the Pen’s power play since the injury to Kris Letang, and leads the playoffs in PP points by a defenceman.
Jason Botterill, The Penguins associate general manager until last week, credited former Ottawa Senators Sergei Gonchar and Jacques Martin for their coaching efforts with the Penguins defenders.
“Sergei is responsible for one-on-one work. Video, stick detail and individual skills. Jacques chooses the pairings, the defensive-zone strategy, how do we want to play opponents?”
Postscript: Justin Schultz did get some Norris Trophy votes in 2016-17. He finished 10th in voting, which was a bit of a surprise. Playing on the Penguins power play has boosted more than a few players who hadn’t been considered elite.