Looking over the Bruins’ roster after last night, I was struck by how few of them were players drafted and developed by the Bruins, which inspired me to create a chart of the percentage of minutes played by non-draftees on Stanley Cup champions since the NHL started tracking ice time in 1997-98. It is, I think, pretty interesting.
Before the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004, the previous six champions were all pretty heavily home grown. Both Devils’ champions in the sample check in at under 50% of time on ice being played by players who weren’t drafted by the Devils. The Avalanche and both Red Wings teams check in at between 50 and 54%. Only the Stars put up a really big number – they gave 66.9% of their minutes to players who they didn’t draft. Looking back through history from that point, it’s hard to find a Cup winner that didn’t build through the draft, at the very least in the sense of having obtained its elite players that way. The 1993-94 Rangers might be an exception, although Brian Leetch won the Conn Smythe that year and the Rangers benefitted from the curious circumstances of Peter Pocklington. Other than that…I don’t see a lot.
In 2004, the Lightning had very few players who they drafted appear in the playoffs – Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier, Pavel Kubina, Dmitri Afansenkov and Martin Cibak. 73.6% of the playoff ice time went to players who they had acquired in other ways. The story was similar with Carolina in 2006 and Anaheim in 2007. It wasn’t until Detroit, Pittsburgh and Chicago won in 2008-10 that we saw a bit of a return to the old way of building teams, with those teams being built heavily on draft picks who were grown internally. There’s a bit a caveat to this though. In Detroit’s case, they’re still living off of Lidstrom, Zetterberg and Datsyuk – drafting them and keeping them at contracts that are probably below what they would have obtained on the open market.
Pittsburgh and Chicago are the first two teams we’ve seen post-lockout that are based on the old way of building a team: sucking for a while, accumulating draft picks and then being really good. It’s paid off for those teams, in that they won Stanley Cups, but both teams promptly had to start dumping players because it was time to start paying the high draft picks and others who won the Cup. Chicago has a number of “cheater” contracts that mitigated the damage but they still fell to eighth in the West this year, even if they were a really strong team. Pittsburgh is an awfully thin team outside of the stars, who are still phenomenal.
Then we come to Boston. Boston jumps out at me not only for the high percentage of minutes that went to players who they acquired other than through the draft but also in that not a lot of guys who they drafted are the stars of the team. Of the 21 players who the Bruins iced in the playoffs, only Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin were drafted by the Bruins. Fine players to be sure, but they aren’t quite up to the calibre of the past groups of players who were drafted by Stanley Cup champions. This Boston team was a great team not because they sucked and assembled a group of stars but because they did a great job of finding players through other routes.
This has some obvious implications for the Oilers, who are going the Pittsburgh/Chicago route. I understand that Edmonton isn’t quite the same as Boston in terms of being a draw for players – Boston’s a sexy city, Edmonton isn’t. It might be hard to get a defender the quality of Zdeno Chara on the free agent market to come to Edmonton. I can, to an extent, understand the desire to get some players who are forced to learn some of Edmonton’s secret delights during seven years of bonded servitude.
With that said, the Oilers are going to add at least one more elite prospect to the pile in this draft. Their 2012-13 roster could quite conceivably see them icing seven or eight young first round draft picks. I would suggest that it’s time to start getting back in the business of looking for hockey players in places other than the draft because even the teams that were built through the draft that have won lately have had 50% of the minutes eaten by players who were acquired by other means. This isn’t necessarily glamourous work – there’s a lot of sifting that has to be done to find guys.
One thing that helps though is cutting loose the guys who aren’t going to make the grade. I’ve been mildly encouraged by the Oilers’ rumoured interest in a couple of older European goalies; it suggests that Khabibulin’s spot isn’t necessarily safe and that they might be ready to start competing now. I saw the Jones’ resigning as a bit of a downer because he’s a guy who just kills everyone who plays with him. There’s a reason a much better run club than the Oilers was willing to give him away, I suspect.
(Aside: I’ve got some data, which I’ll get around to posting at some point, which kind of implies that the Oilers top six forwards (Hall, Eberle, Gagner, Horcoff, Hemsky, MPS) aren’t that far below league average for top six forwards at evens. The bottom six is a disaster. Jones is a part of that.)
A number of the disaster parts need new contracts – Cogliano, Jacques and MacIntyre. The Oilers are stuck with Jones, Brule and Fraser, barring buyouts. It would be a really hopeful sign if the team, rather than re-upping or keeping all of these guys, admitted that they aren’t parts of the puzzle moving forward and started looking for other hockey players. It’s time to start doing that and it’s not at all inconsistent with the idea of building through the draft and eventually having a Stanley Cup champion in Edmonton.