Tuesday, May 06, 2008


Brad Goodman was right

Like most bloggers, I like to cherry-pick facts and situations that provide evidence that I know what I'm talking about and am really, really smart. In that spirit, I think it's rather fascinating to look at the NHL's final four and realize what distinctly different paths they took to get here.

Right now, it is as clear as it has ever been that there is no magic formula for How to Construct a Successful Hockey Team. Yes, there are absolutely things in common between these teams, but there is not a similar Step One-Two-Three-etc. plan that they have followed.

Pittsburgh: built what you might call the "old school" way, i.e. the patient rebuild. Be lousy for a few years, get some very high draft picks, and when they start to dominate, surround them with some decent role players. (Also: convert some depth into a high-impact rental once the vine is ripe.)

Philadelphia: the on-the-fly (RFN) rebuild. Last summer, Tyler had what I thought was a great line:
...building an elite club requires a long series of making smart bets and having some of them hit bigger than you’ve got any right to expect them too.

With the possible exception of the word long (I say "possible" because although the calendar says it hasn't been long, they have made a ton of roster decisions in the past 15 months), this describes the Holmgren Era to a tee, doesn't it? At least right now, Briere, Timonen, Hartnell, Lupul, Smith, Upshall, and more, are providing what the GM was hoping they would provide, and rather precisely. Umberger and Coburn (and Biron, last series at least) are providing much more. And when all these acquisitions were made, they were smart bets. (No hindsight is needed, they were lauded quite roundly when they happened.)

Detroit: geez, maybe you can stay at the top forever. Obviously, these guys are the epitome of "a long series of smart bets". Terrific scouting, especially in Europe, and good decisions at the draft table. Good free agent signings to address need. It goes on.

And to top it off, they obviously run a terrific organization where players like to be. This pays off most evidently in their ability to re-sign their own free agents to good-value contracts. The Cleary extension ($2.8M x 5 years) is an absolute coup, IMO. Getting a 20+ goal scorer who is less than 30 years old signed up for 5 years at <$3M/yr is a steal (just watch what Ryan Malone gets this summer).

Dallas: Flames fans probably ought to find these guys the most intriguing of all. What do you do with a team that seems to have a pretty good core of varying ages, and is able to qualify for the playoffs year after year, but doesn't look like they have much chance to take the next step? The answer, according to the Stars of the past several seasons: "Eh, not much."

The 2006/07 season, the Stars were T-21st in Goals For and T-26th in 5v5 Goals For. This past season, they were 9th and 10th in those categories. Because -- because why? A healthier Morrow hardly begins to explain that boost. The addition of Brad Winchester and Toby Petersen? Not so much. They're just... better. A lot better offensively, and not too much worse defensively. For whatever reason.

The Stars' philosophy would seem to be (a) having a good core and a coherent philosophy is a good place to start, (b) try to make smart bets, (c) don't react harshly to disappointing results, (d) hope that luck and opportunity coincide for a run at the big prize. [Important caveat: all this may be changing with the Jackson/Hull regime; the Richards trade, and perhaps the Ribeiro extension, say that it's quite possible.]

Can this work? Maybe! Pat had a nice post on the weekend reminding us that the Wings had 5 straight seasons of "yeah they're good, but they don't quite have what it takes" before winning 3 Cups in the next 6 seasons, and being excellent ever since.

I don't know if there is an underlying truth here, but at worst, it's some evidence that when you're good-but-not-good-enough, changing philosophies (or blowing it all up) is not necessarily the way to go.


Briere, Timonen ... when all these acquisitions were made, they were smart bets. (No hindsight is needed, they were lauded quite roundly when they happened.

I dunno about you, but I definitely don't remember anyone lauding dead-last Philly for paying Daniel Briere $10-million and essentially making Timonen the highest-paid defenseman in the league. I believe consensus was "it might, MIGHT, be OK for 2-3 years, but then there's going to be pain..."

I think that analysis is probably still true.

That might be right, but only insofar as it focused on the 1st-year salary rather than the average salary, i.e. the cap hit. Which I might add is the thing that does, and should, matter to a big dog like the Flyers.

Briere's cap hit is $6.5M, Timonen's is $6.33M. Both of those figures are quite appropriate for what they bring now and in the near future. In the distant future, if need be, the Flyers can waive them, ditch the cap hit in the process, and pay them their (at that point small) salaries to play in the minors.


Very nice post, MF.

It is probably also worth noting that the NHL, more than any other professional team sport, is less predictable in the playoffs -- for whatever reason, lower seeded teams regularly upset higher ranked seeds.

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Good post. I think the unifying thing with all four teams is that there was, quite clearly, some plan in place, a few good pieces were added and voila.

Dallas is the only team that really surprises me that they're in the final four, although if you would have told me that in February, when they were 1a to Detroit (and three points behind them), I wouldn't have believed you.

Dallas also put 3 rookie defencemen in their top six (Niskanen, Grossman, Fistric). What are the odds of that group, and another young guy in Trevor Daley, thriving in the post season?

it's some evidence that when you're good-but-not-good-enough, changing philosophies (or blowing it all up) is not necessarily the way to go.

Thats probably the hardest call to make if you're involved with the makeup of a team: when to do nothing. As an avowed procrastinator I know the wisdom of the strategy and I've been meaning to jot it down... ah, maybe later.

Just being there seems to be a pretty good strategy in the NHL playoffs.

Frankly, I thought Dallas got smoked by SJ in three of the first 4 games in that series and yet they were the ones up 3-1. If you keep making the playoffs, you have a chance to make a run and that's what Dallas is doing.

Frankly, I thought Dallas got smoked by SJ in three of the first 4 games in that series and yet they were the ones up 3-1.

The Sharks have made something of a science of losing games, and series, they "should" win. Take this year's season series against the home town heroes, where the Oilers somehow stole 3* of the 4 despite being outshot by a cumulative 149-75. (If that looks like a typo, it isn't.) It was my misfortune to attend the one game the Sharks did win, in a 3-0 score that disguised how thorough a shitkicking it was. The Sharks belonged in a higher league.

*- Yeah I know 2 of the "wins" were shootouts, the point is that the Sharks were unable to put those games away. SJ owned the puck, but the Oil hung in there with a combination of game plan, gumption and goaltending. Same formula that worked for us against the Sharks in 2006, and worked for the Stars in '08.

The Sharks have got the goaltending, and in 2008 at least they answered some lingering questions about gumption. As for game plan, let's just say this isn't the first time I thought San Jose had the second best coach in the series.




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