While there is no single reason why the Vegas Golden Knights are the reigning Stanley Cup champions, a few factors are at the forefront of discourse surrounding how they earned their title.
The team's biggest critics point to salary cap circumvention as the primary driver of their success, as keeping Mark Stone on long-term injured reserve until the playoffs aided in their roster-construction efforts. Upon his return, Stone was an impact player, and the squad Vegas iced during the postseason was well over the cap.
Another factor that often comes up is the way the team has aggressive pursued available star power in recent years by trading for Stone and Jack Eichel, as well as outbidding the rest of the NHL on a massive free-agent contract for Alex Pietrangelo.
Something else that often been commented on since Vegas hoisted the Cup is the size of their defensive corps. Teams have long prized big men on the blue line, but the group the Golden Knights put together stood out, as their top six defencemen averaged 6-foot-3, 212.333 pounds, with only Shea Theodore listed below 200.
The idea of prioritizing jumbo defenders is an intuitive one. Taller players tend to wield longer, more disruptive sticks — and increased bulk can translate into blocked shots and additional power to separate offensive players from the puck.
If you were building the perfect defenceman from scratch, you'd probably consider replicating Victor Hedman's 6-foot-7, 244 pound frame — but whether that is enough for teams to make a concerted effort to seek out big defenders is an open question.
That's something they clearly did in free agency, though.
The two most prominent big defenders received rich, long-term deals in an environment where very few players were getting term. Ryan Graves (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) landed a six-year, $27 million contract, while Scott Mayfield (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) earned a seven-year $24.5 million pact as part of the New York Islanders' extension spree.
Even Niko Mikkola — a defenceman coming off a six-point season with literally no offensive upside — found himself a three-year deal with the Florida Panthers in part due to his 6-foot-4, 209-pound frame.
While there's no denying that size has its utility on the blue line, beefing up at the position is also no guarantee of success.
Here's a look at the five biggest defence corps in the NHL last season by the average weight of the top six defencemen on each team by games played — and how they fared by shots and goals allowed.
The recent postseason success of the Golden Knights, Lightning, and even Kraken, provides some ammunition for those who champion back-end size, but it's tough to say there's a strong pattern here.
For comparison's sake, here's a look at 2022-23's five smallest blue lines:
Like with the biggest blue lines, the results here don't provide a strong and discernible pattern. The picture isn't as negative as it might look, either, as the sixth and seventh smallest defence corps belonged to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche, who were both above-average defensive teams in 2022-23.
The best teams in the NHL in terms of goal prevention — the Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars — all had groups relatively close to league average (73.8 inches and 203.7 pounds). None of the three defence groups were more than 0.8 inches or 2.3 pounds above the norm.
There are enough factors at play here that it's tough to make any definitive conclusions, but the fact that the correlation isn't clear is the point in and of itself. While there's no doubt that size can help a defenceman on an individual level, superstars like Cale Makar (5-foot-11, 187 pounds) and Adam Fox (5-foot-11, 182 pounds) are living proof that bigger isn't always better on the blue line. On a team level, clubs with massive defencemen didn't do much better than their opponents at preventing shots and goals.
Although the Golden Knights won the championship with a beefy group of defenders, prioritizing size above all else when building out that position group is unlikely to yield a similar result.