4 Playoff Veterans in Crucial Semifinal Roles

The best way to construct an NHL roster that can consistently compete on a yearly basis is through the development of a core of top contributors who can establish an organizational foundation. A roster additionally built to win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs requires a winning formula of talent, experience, grit, and leadership. The right blend of chemistry frequently includes acquiring veterans from other organizations who can add both tangible and intangible elements to a team in order to help sustain a long playoff run.

Virtually every NHL team who makes a deep playoff run includes these types of veteran additions, including all recent Stanley Cup champions. Left-winger Pat Maroon has won consecutive Stanley Cups as a role player with two different organizations, the St. Louis Blues in 2019 and the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2020. The Washington Capitals were helped on the blueline by former Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik during their Cup run in 2018. The Penguins themselves benefitted from key minutes on the way to back-to-back titles from fourth-line center Matt Cullen, who reached 40 years old by the time they clinched their second Cup in 2017. The Lightning, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, and Vegas Golden Knights all feature acquired veterans who complement their core franchise players in a vital way.

Montreal Canadiens – Corey Perry

Right-winger Corey Perry is playing in his 16th NHL season but only his first with the Canadiens. At just 21 years old, he became a key offensive contributor for the 2007 Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks. He also reached the Stanley Cup Final in the Edmonton bubble last season with the Dallas Stars. The 36-year-old has recorded 104 points in 156 career playoff games and won the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP for the 2010-11 season.

Perry’s offensive production has decreased over the past four seasons, but he still managed to record six points in 11 games through the first two rounds. His true contribution to Montreal’s stunning victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs and subsequent sweep of the Winnipeg Jets, however, is the grit and leadership he brings to a roster with a younger core group of forwards. The Canadiens have found a successful rhythm using all four lines and playing strong team defense in front of future Hall of Fame goaltender Carey Price. Their position in the Semifinal might never have been a reality without Perry’s willingness to play a pivotal role as a bottom-six forward.

Tampa Bay Lightning – Ryan McDonagh

Defenseman Ryan McDonagh played eight seasons with the New York Rangers before they dealt him to the Lightning in February 2018. Although the best years of his career are behind him, he won his first Stanley Cup last season at the age of 30 with the Lightning. 

Ryan McDonagh, Tampa Bay Lightning
Ryan McDonagh, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Now in his 11th NHL season, McDonagh is not counted on as heavily as he was with the Rangers during their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014. However, he still plays a pivotal role as a second-pair defenseman, as he has averaged over 22 minutes of ice time per game this postseason. The Lightning are loaded with homegrown superstar scorers, and top defenseman Victor Hedman is among the most valuable players in the NHL. In their Semifinal matchup with the Islanders, they will also need depth players like McDonagh that can bring leadership and experience while still playing at a high level. 

Jean-Gabriel Pageau – New York Islanders

The Isles keep winning playoff series against teams that look much better than them on paper. During the three-year tenure of head coach Barry Trotz, they have now won five true playoff series and a qualifying round in 2020. As pointed out consistently on the Nassaumen podcast, they are far greater than the sum of their parts.

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The tremendous scoring balance of the Islanders’ lineup was significantly aided by the 2020 deadline acquisition of center Jean-Gabriel Pageau from the Ottawa Senators. Now in his ninth NHL season, Pageau was an integral part of Ottawa’s run to Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Final and New York’s run to the Eastern Conference Final last season. His offensive contributions during the 2021 Playoffs have considerably exceeded his career averages, as he leads the team with 13 points in 12 postseason games. 

Max Pacioretty – Vegas Golden Knights

The Golden Knights stormed through the Colorado Avalanche with four straight second-round victories to clinch a berth in the Semifinal. Among the top contributors to their offensive success late in the series was 32-year-old left-winger Max Pacioretty, who hit the ground running after returning from an injury that kept him out of action when the playoffs began. Pacioretty has now tallied four goals and four assists in just seven games since rejoining top-end scorers Jonathan Marchessault, Mark Stone, and William Karlsson.

Max Pacioretty
Max Pacioretty, Former Montreal Canadiens Captain (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Even in his 13th NHL season at age 32, Pacioretty is significantly more valuable to his team’s core than any of the other three players previously analyzed. The most intriguing part of his role in the series is that he spent his first ten NHL seasons with the opposing Montreal Canadiens. The former Habs captain finished with 448 points during his tenure in Montreal before being dealt for Nick Suzuki, Tomas Tatar, and a second-round pick in September 2018. Both organizations have benefitted in different ways from the blockbuster deal, but the semifinal matchup will decide who gets the last laugh between Vegas and Montreal.  

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