NHL teams could learn from Super Bowl, Eagles, Penguins

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There are signs that NHL teams are going out with the old and in with the new, but it’s a relief to see that more and more evidence points to that being the right way to go.

With two straight Stanley Cup wins in tow under Mike Sullivan’s more attacking, modern style, the Pittsburgh Penguins stand as a testament to letting it rip. That aggressiveness can be fun to watch, and that success is pushing more teams to embrace a “live by the sword, die by the sword” mentality.

That said, those who cling to the old (often stale and boring) way will respond “Yeah, but just about anything can work when you have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin,” even ignoring the sludgy disaster that was the Mike Johnston era.

Well, fair enough. Maybe the spectacle that was Super Bowl 52 might nudge a few NHL teams and sports teams into taking a more aggressive, modern approach?

Deadspin’s Dom Cosentino did a great job breaking down how Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson’s courageous decisions turned the tide of that thrilling game, and as this New York Times feature shows, this wasn’t a one-time thing.

“My mentality coming into the game was to stay aggressive until the end and let [Foles’] playmakers make plays,” Pederson said, via Newsday. “I trust my instincts. In games like this against a great opponent, you have to make those tough decisions and keep yourself aggressive.”

That fourth down touchdown pass to QB Nick Foles encapsulated two tenets of the Eagles’ way of thinking, and ideally how smart NHL teams should think: a mixture of courage and calculation.

[PFT: Eagles, Patriots relied on analytics to reach the Super Bowl.]

As much as you might want to say that everything’s gone right for the Eagles and Penguins, it’s easy to counter that when considering injuries. Foles was in the huddle because of Carson Wentz’s injury. The Penguins defied the odds by winning a Stanley Cup without Kris Letang.

Contrast the success of the Penguins and ascent of, say, the New Jersey Devils with “old school” thinking teams, and the comparison can be ugly.

The Edmonton Oilers fashioned their roster as a bruising, gritty group around star Connor McDavid. They’ve seemingly ignored analytics at multiple turns, arguably burning out goalie Cam Talbot and making those disastrous trades. The Montreal Canadiens are suffering similar headaches for similar reasons as they watch P.K. Subban lap up well-deserved attention as a Norris frontrunner.

“Let your players make plays” is a refreshing thought, particularly when you hear about the death of “Safe is death.”

Now, this isn’t to say that playing an aggressive style and leaning on numbers will automatically make everything better.

Still, there’s increasing evidence that to win, you need to identify value and leverage your advantages. The Eagles and Penguins have done that in a masterful way lately, and the Golden State Warriors might be the greatest example of all.

Besides, if all things are equal, wouldn’t you rather roll the dice with a team that’s fun to watch rather than a plodding, bland mess?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.