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Sammy Pahlsson, you're my hero!

It’s no big secret that since well before this blog began, Sammy Pahlsson has been my favorite player. He was the first player featured in Meet Your Mighty Ducks, Part 1 (whatever happened to that series?), he was my dream centerman in If I were an NHL Player, he is the subject of my famous man-crush poem, and I’ve picked him to score a goal in every gameday prediction. But a strange thing has happened—slowly but surely Sammy has turned from a personal cult hero into a recognized playoff hero.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. To get a better sense of the scope of this heroism, I’ve taken the liberty of splitting the season into four different segments, with a fifth segment representing the playoffs. Each segment represents 20 or 21 games, and I’ve included winning percentage and power play results in the table.

Segment No.

Record Win Pct. PPG for PPG against

1: 1 – 20

13-2-5

.775

23/113

13/102

2: 21 – 41

15-5-1

.738

24/98

19/111

3: 42 – 61

7-9-4

.450

18/97

18/101

4: 62 – 82

13-4-4

.714

24/92

11/94

5: 83 – 103

16-4-1

.786

16/105

16/121


In all segments except #3 the Ducks were a dominant team, and in segments 1 and 4 a lot of credit goes to special teams domination. In the playoffs, however, you can see that power-play scoring was a wash—it didn’t carry the team to playoff success. Instead, segment 5 was about winning through even-strength play.

Now when it comes to 5-on-5 hockey, Randy Carlyle was fairly strict in his mostly-three-line approach. Each line served a specific purpose, and each line generally saw the same type of opposition. For purposes of this exercise I am really going to look at the three centermen, but they really are just to demonstrate the results for each forward line.
  • Andy McDonald (C. Kunitz, T. Selanne)—Andy Mac was the #1 offensive line for the Ducks, and was fairly assured to see the best defenders from the opposing team. As such, Andy’s defensive responsibilities weren’t too strenuous—he generally was in a position to outscore his opponents.

  • Ryan Getzlaf (D. Penner, C. Perry)—Getzlaf centered the second scoring line, a pretty favorable spot to be in—secondary defenders had to put up with the size and skill of the kid line. Considering his soft minutes, he too was in a position to outscore his opponents.

  • Sammy Pahlsson (T. Moen, R. Niedermayer)—Pahlsson had the defensive role against the opposition’s best scoring line. He played the team’s murderer’s minutes—the icetime in which the Ducks could expect to be outscored. His job was to limit the bleeding, and contribute when he could.
These centers make for nice study subjects also in that none of them missed a game all year. In fact, that is true for 8 of the Ducks’ top 9 forwards—if you’re looking for a theory why the Ducks won, there’s a start. Anyway, here’s their 5-on-5 results in each of the five segments—goals for and against while these centers were on the ice.
5-on-5 GF and GA Totals
20-game segments

(Click image to enlarge)

I guess the first takeaway is that there’s plenty of ways to win. In Segments #1 and #4, the Ducks won a lot on Getzlaf’s results as well as a strong power play. In #2, the McDonald line really powers things. In #3 (the injury segment), we can see crummy results across the board. But really, look at the green bars: it’s really amazing how Pahlsson explodes come playoff time.

Here’s how his season rates and postseason rates compare, looking at goals for and against per 60 minutes. Bear in mind that the results in the regular season column earned Pahlsson a nomination for the Selke trophy.

Reg. Season Playoffs Difference

EV minutes/gm

12:43

14:09

1:26

EV PLUS/hr

+2.01

+3.43

+1.42

EV MINUS/hr

-2.24

-1.62

+0.62

EV DIF/hr

-0.23

+1.82

+2.05

PK minutes/gm

4:29

5:06

0:37

PK PLUS/hr

+0.00

+0.56

+0.56

PK MINUS/hr

-6.21

-3.92

+2.29

PK DIF/hr

-6.21

-3.36

+2.85


In the playoffs, Pahlsson’s line was on the ice for more 5-on-5 goals-for than McDonald’s line or Getzlaf’s line, all while shadowing Gaborik / Sedin / Zetterberg / Alfredsson. Sammy’s line was also on the ice for 8 of Anaheim’s 16 game-winning goals, including 7 of its last 10. Now I’ve stated before that I’m not overly concerned about whether or not Sammy ended up winning a Selke or Smythe trophy, but I do think it should be recognized how strong his postseason contribution was—it blows away his supposedly-strong regular season.

And that really is really what made this cup win so especially sweet for me—not only does my franchise’s dream come unbelievably true, but as a bonus my longtime favorite, once-cult hero plays like a fucking superstar to make it happen.

And it's not just this past postseason, either. He's played a big part in the '03 SCF run, the '06 WCF run, and now the '07 Cup win. Only he and Rob Niedermayer played in all 58 of those playoff games, and only Sammy played in all 246 regular season games between them too. And picked up a Swedish Elite Gold, a World Championship Gold, and an Olympic Gold along the way.

C'mon, Ducks fans, say it with me. Sammy is god.