With the Flames struggling to begin the season, talk of blowing up the team and the management group has started again, with the potential move of the captain as the beginning of that move. I have to question if people really get what a teardown looks like, though, and if their understandable desire to see the Flames improve isn’t blinding them to what has happened around the league as of late.
The last two Cup champs are routinely held up as exemplars of this approach. Chicago and Pittsburgh, as the tale now gets related, recognized their flaws as a team, then valiantly flung every old player in their midst off in an organized manner so that the race to the bottom could be achieved forthwith. Once at the bottom, it was a mere bagatelle to scoop up the young players at the core of their rebuild, and peace and happiness was achieved.
My answer to that can be summed up quite succinctly;
GIVE ME A GOD DAMNED BREAK
Chicago came out of the lockout signing Nikolai Khabibulin and Adrian Aucoin to big-money four year deals in order to add to their young core at the time, guys like Calder, Arnason, Tuomo Ruutu and Mark Bell. There was no master plan, unless you call misjudging the abilities of your young players and having those high profile UFA players be both hurt and not very good the mark of genius.
No team with an organized plan to rebuild signs a goalie to a 6.75M deal in a league with a 39M cap. DUI and Shinpad ate up more than a quarter of Chicago’s cap space that year. That’s planning? They did get a terrific player by trade that season, as they obtained Patrick Sharp from the Flyers, but he was traded for Eric Meloche and a third rounder, so it wasn’t as if he was a highly thought of young player cast aside for a good return. The Hawks got him for the price of a cast-off.
After a season where players fell like tenpins due to injury, the Hawks drafted their captain in 2006, but again, fate played a significant role. What if the Penguins took Toews instead of Jordan Staal with the second pick of that draft? Would the Hawk rebuild still have been as successful?
I have a lot of time for Staal as a player, and I’ve routinely noted that he’s done a lot of the heavy lifting in Pittsburgh over the last few seasons, allowing Crosby and Malkin easier circumstances. Is he as good as Toews, though? I’m not so sure about that.
Finally, the Hawks had a little drafting fortune come their way. Duncan Keith was the 16th defenseman drafted in 2002, going 54th overall. He might be selected a bit higher in a redraft, no? The same could be said for Hjalmarsson being selected as a 4th rounder or Byfuglien and Brouwer as late round picks in ’03 and ’04.
Other than the *cough* perfect *cough* Red Wings, no one actually knows if a late round pick has a hope in hell of ever playing in the NHL, and the Hawks sure didn’t know that about those gents.
WHAT I’M DRIVING AT
Is that luck is a much larger part of a successful team’s composition than we often choose to admit. Pittsburgh, the other team that gets this sort of treatment, obtained Sidney Crosby in 2005 via a weighted lottery that nine other teams had an equal chance of winning. If they get Bobby Ryan or even Anze Kopitar instead, do they win a Cup in 2009? I doubt it. If they draft Kopitar and Toews instead of Crosby and Staal, does that work? I don’t know about that either, but maybe it does.
That noted, the Pens did openly blow up their club once Jaromir Jagr decided he was done with Pittsburgh, and then proceeded to be dreadful for years running, drove most of their fan base off along the way and needed that stroke of fortune after the lockout to return the club to the top.
It certainly wasn’t pure planning, and as I noted, they might have slightly erred in the Staal choice and I’m not sure Marc-Andre Fleury would go in the top 20 of a 2003 redraft. Without lucking into Crosby, I doubt anyone is talking about the Penguins as a model.
Even if you draft highly year after year, you could be the Thrashers. Their four year run at the top of the draft netted them Stefan, Heatley, Kovalchuk and Lehtonen. One total bust, two very good forwards and one goalie that might be good if he can play a season or two with being hurt. None of them are in Atlanta, and they’ve started the rebuild again with one playoff berth to show for it, obtained in the worst division in the game.
If you want another example of what can go wrong when you blow things up, take a gander at the team up Highway 2. Again, they didn’t plan a teardown out of principle. Lauren Pronger made that decision for them around Christmas time of 2005, and the Oilers have been suffering for it ever since.
Even if their three highly touted young guys make the leap to be good NHLers, that team stands every chance of being bad for 6 or 7 years running. The Oilers are no more guaranteed long term success from their accumulation of kids than Atlanta was or the Islanders are. The Thrashers likely drafted better players in Heatley and Kovalchuk than Edmonton has, and as I mentioned, that franchise is nowhere.
I get the desire for a large portion of the fan base to see the organization start over. The Flames aren’t a team that appears to be close to elite at the moment, and they can’t sell hope via a crop of kids. What I hope people are willing to accept is that the teams that everyone wants to emulate really didn’t choose to suck out loud.
It just happened to them. Every last one of them was far worse off than the Flames currently are, and even if the Flames decide to unload every older player on the roster, there’s no assurance that the club will even be as good as the current team at any point down the line, whether it’s with Darryl Sutter in charge or someone else.
If the Flames go down the road of a teardown, just be prepared for the fact that it’s as likely the team will spend a good number of years in the wilderness as any other scenario you might imagine.