When either the Pittsburgh Penguins or Nashville Predators win the Stanley Cup in a couple weeks, they will do so in spite of massive flaws that have prevented hundreds of other teams from winning a championship.
The last time a team won a Cup without a No. 1 defenseman was 2006 when the Carolina Hurricanes won 16 games on the backs of six blueliners who could be labeled as "fine." The last time a team won a Cup without an elite No. 1 center was… well, that's harder to define.
Was Andy McDonald "elite" for the Ducks in 2007? What about Scott Gomez in 2003 or 2000 for the Devils? It's fair to say they were either good or very good in the moment, but they're not exactly Joe Sakic, Sergei Fedorov, Anze Kopitar or Jonathan Toews.
It's been at least a decade since either occurred, which means the Kris Letang-less Penguins or the Ryan Johansen-less Predators are about to buck the trend.
Is it better to have two No. 1 centers—Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby—and a 2006 Hurricanes level of defensemen? Or is it better to have four No. 1 defensemen—PK Subban, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, and Roman Josi—and a collection of perfectly fine bottom-six centers carrying the offense?
The Predators can counter the Crosby and Malkin lines with their top-four defensemen, which means this series will likely be decided by what the speed of the Penguins third and fourth lines do in their matchups with the Predators' bottom pairing of Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber.
Last year, the Penguins feasted in the Stanley Cup Final on the San Jose Sharks' bottom pairing of a mailbox and one of those things that stick out of the ground that are designed to stop cars from crashing into foot traffic. They went by their given names, Roman Polak and Brenden Dillon, and were two of the biggest reasons the Penguins won in six games.
Listen: Dave Lozo and Sean McIndoe talk the Stanley Cup on VICE Sports' hockey podcast
Irwin and Weber won't be pushovers, especially if the Penguins continue with their current line combinations. Phil Kessel hasn't been a staple of the third line but that could change during this series, otherwise it will be really easy for Predators coach Peter Laviolette to get the matchups he desires.
On the other side of the equation is how the Penguins match the Predators' lines. The Penguins' top pairing (Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta? Ron Hainsey and Brian Dumoulin?) gets the line with Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, and after that… does it really matter? The Penguins lack a shutdown pairing and the Predators don't really have a line that demands it be shut down.
If the Predators' top defensemen do their jobs, and there's not much difference between Matt Murray and Pekka Rinne, that turns the Final into the Predators' depth forwards vs. the Penguins' depth defensemen, and in that matchup, the advantage goes to... geez, who knows?
It all comes down to what's more important—a strong D or a top-heavy F. Both teams have been screwed by injuries and it will almost definitely take seven games to decide who will bask in the afterglow of the shiny Cup.