Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The best model for a rebuild is?

Reprinted with permission from

Plenty of attention has been paid to Pittsburgh and Chicago when it comes to a model for a rebuild. For them it started with picking high in the draft for consecutive years.

As Buffalo enters another phase of their rebuild, many associated theirs with the Penguins model, as the team has a few of Pittsburgh's architects on board.

Sabres President Ted Black was with Pittsburgh from 1999-2008 as a part of Mario Lemieux's senior management team. Black is Pegula's right-hand man and oversees the entire Sabres operation.

Senior Advisor Ken Sawyer was also with the Penguins. "Under his leadership," reads a portion of his Buffalo Sabres bio, "the Penguins adopted a strategic plan to ensure that the team would be successful on the ice, be successful as a business and thus be assured of a long future in Pittsburgh."

Craig Patrick was general manager in Pittsburgh from 1989 to 2006. He has a long list of accolades and is a Hall of Fame inductee who was brought to Buffalo as a Special Assistant/Advisor.

Black and Sawyer are part of owner Terry Pegula's inner circle while Patrick was brought on by former President of Hockey Operations, Pat LaFontaine.

The Pittsburgh model of multiple top picks proved formidable from 2007 to 2009 when they won the Stanley Cup. But since then they've tailed off a bit.

The Chicago Blackhawks followed a similar model beginning with the #3 overall pick Jonathan Toews in 2006. In 2007 the luck of the lottery draw landed them into the #1 overall pick from the 5th spot and they drafted Patrick Kane.

They won the Cup in 2010 and again in 2013.

Not much attention had been given to the Los Angeles Kings "model" for icing a Cup winner. But with their second Cup in three years, they're getting noticed now.

The Kings didn't have four consecutive top-three picks like the Penguins, nor did they have consecutive top-three picks like the Hawks. They finished in various places in the conference from 2005 onward with a second to last finish in the 2007-08 season. At the draft that year they selected defenseman Drew Doughty second overall.

What they did have was a deft scouting department and a shrewd talent evaluator in GM Dean Lombardi who began his tenure in 2006.

They also had some luck in that two exceptional forwards became available via trade--Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Those two former Philadelphia Flyer draft picks were essential in the Kings first ever Cup win.

Lombardi also brought in veterans with Cup rings like Rob Scuderi and 2014 Conn Smythe winner Justin Williams.

Despite how they got their players, Lombardi's prevailing theme was to build by bringing in hockey players.

Lead by captain Dustin Brown, this team left everything on the ice. Sure the Kings had Carter who wasn't known for his grit and they brought in Marion Gaborik who's more of a Euro-style sniper than anything else.

But the core of Doughty, Brown, goaltender Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar along with gritty d-man Willie Mitchell and former Pens draft pick Jake Muzzin, proved to be a very resilient bunch. They went toe-to-toe with every western conference heavyweight this year and came out on top historically winning three deciding Game-sevens on the road versus San Jose, cross-town rival Anaheim and defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago.

Said Doughty (via the LA Times,) after working their way through a five-game Finals against the NY Rangers, "This series was probably — I don’t want to say the easiest — but the least physically demanding, without a doubt. All the other series were more physical, they were tougher on the body.

“It was still a good series, but the other ones were tougher.”

It's never a bad idea to use a historically tried and true method of building a hockey team, one that's filled with real hockey players. Era-specific teams come and go, but certain aspects of the game will always stand the test of time.

The Sabres were the talk of the town in the "new NHL" but couldn't compete outside of those first two salary-cap years. A few years later the former regime still kept clinging to the thought that they had the right players to be a contender until it was painfully obvious that it wasn't working.

New Sabres GM Tim Murray and hold over AGM/Director of Amateur Scouting Kevin Devine seem more interested in building with players who could compete in any era. That they're on the same page despite being from different organizations is a good thing.

Devine was touting "bigger, stronger, faster" at the 2012 Draft. One year later sitting at #16 he asked the question "do you want to get tougher to play against?" before picking big, hard-hitting defenseman Nikita Zadorov.

Murray was director of player personnel when Anaheim was building towards their first Cup. He was part of the team that drafted the likes of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry--both big, strong, talented hockey players.

His first trade deadline after being hired in January, consisted of adding size, grit and skill with the likes of Chris Stewart, Hudson Fasching and Nicholas Deslauriers.

That's not to dismiss pure skill portion of the equation either as the Carter's and Gaborik's are a necessary skill-ingredient to a Cup-winning formula.

Sabres prospect Joel Armia is a wizard with the puck and has a wicked shot although he will never be confused with a John LeClaire, while Tyler Ennis is a smaller forward with quickness and a great set of wheels who has shown some finish. He has two 20-goal seasons under his belt at the age of 24.

Resiliency is another aspect that can be taken away from the Kings Stanley Cup win this year and you can also look at the 2011 Cup-winning Boston Bruins in that vein as well.

In Buffalo, Zemgus Girgensons was the only youngin to stick with the team this year and seems to have some pretty thick skin. His offensive upside is yet to be determined, but his maturity level and will have always preceded his skill.

When you look a the Kings' combination of size, speed, skill, grit and resiliency, it's hard to imagine any team from the east being able to take them down in a seven game series. One could argue that an eastern conference team would be hard-pressed to take down any of the western conference powerhouses.

Probably the only team that could match Los Angeles was Boston. Unfortunately they ran into a century old nemesis in the Montreal Canadians. Such can be the outcome of a rivalry that goes back for decades.

More than anything, though, is that the winner of the last five Stanley Cups--Los Angeles and Chicago twice and Boston once--all were built a little bit differently, yet all of them are built with hockey players that could play at a high level in any era. And regardless of the Pittsburgh-model connections, it would seem as if both Murray and Devine are leaning towards that style rebuild.

"Bigger, stronger, faster, tougher to play against." That's the mandate. Add in a Toews or Doughty-type this year and maybe a Crosby-type or Messier-type next year and a few years from now who knows? Perhaps the Sabres will have their own model that others will follow.

No comments:

Post a Comment