Mike Babcock understands the template as well as anyone.
When he won his only Stanley Cup a decade ago, his team was led by a Hall of Fame defenceman in Nicklas Lidstrom and two likely Hall of Fame forwards in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
Also part of the Cup winning template: A high-end coach and a high-end goaltender.
That’s a consistent pattern when studying the past 10 Cup champions.
When Joel Quenneville’s Chicago Blackhawks won three of the past eight Stanley Cups, they had the definite ‘A’ centre in Jonathan Toews that almost all champions require, a drive-the-line Hall of Fame winger in Patrick Kane, a Hall of Fame defenceman in Duncan Keith and, in two of those championships, high-end goaltending.
Boston won with coach Claude Julien, centre Patrice Bergeron, defenceman Zdeno Chara and goalie Tim Thomas.
Los Angeles won twice with Darryl Sutter coaching, Anze Kopitar as No. 1 centre, followed by Jeff Carter and with the incomparable pairing of Drew Doughty on defence and Jonathan Quick in goal.
Which brings us to Babcock’s current team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
If anything has changed or wavered in the first 45 games of the season, it has to be the belief in the Leafs on their way to a Stanley Cup template.
They are close. They have the coach. They have the centre in Auston Matthews. They have the goaltender in Frederik Andersen. They even have a defence, without a definitive No. 1, comparable to the Pittsburgh defence of a year ago that was good enough for the Penguins.
What they don’t know right now: Who is their No. 2 forward? And are the players they believed were on their way to stardom — Mitch Marner and William Nylander — really heading in that direction?
That has to be of great concern to Maple Leafs management. So much of the building of this hockey club was based on three young stars growing together, the way Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, as two young stars, grew together in Pittsburgh. The way Datsyuk and Zetterberg grew together in Detroit. The way Kane and Toews grew together in Chicago.
The Leafs have one definitive star in Matthews up front. The question now: Do they have another one?
At the break, Nylander has nine goals and 23 assists for 32 points. Through the weekend, that ranks him in a tie for 67th in league scoring. He is tied with Dustin Brown, Jason Zucker and Thomas Vanek — to name three players — and he’s one point ahead of the free-falling Toews with the free-falling Blackhawks.
Last season, he finished tied for 35th in NHL scoring. He’s dropped more than 30 positions on the scoring chart from a year ago and is on pace for fewer goals and fewer points than he scored in his first full season with the Leafs.