(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)
When teams make the Stanley Cup Final, other teams take notice.
This is due in part to a paucity of original thinking among NHL GMs and a difficulty in understanding exactly what made successful teams successful in the first place. Remember when the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup? People thought it was because they had multiple guys who were willing to fight; multiple teams ignored all the elite players on the roster and said, “Well we gotta find some face-punchers.”
Shockingly, this did not result in those teams winning Stanley Cups of their own, as Los Angeles and Chicago traded off the next four championships.
So the questions a lot of front offices are now asking themselves is, “How do you build a team like the Predators or Penguins?”
One imagines that doing so would be difficult, if not impossible.
You can look at the kind of players they have — skilled, fast, good at all the little things — and try to approach it that way, but in terms of actual roster-building? Very difficult to pull off.
Let’s start with the Predators, whose roster is a marvel. They drafted a good chunk of their players, of course. Any team in the NHL will be in the same boat. But it’s where they drafted some of their biggest contributors in their playoffs that impresses. Pekka Rinne was famously a pick so late they don’t let teams pick that late any more, but Mattias Ekholm (half of the league’s best shutdown tandem in this postseason) and Viktor Arvidsson were both taken after the 100th selection in their respective drafts.
Yeah, at that point you’re mostly just throwing darts at a dartboard, but to fish two players of this caliber and your long-time starting goalie (as well as depth forward Craig Smith) out of rounds 4-9 isn’t something other teams can “rip off.”
Of course, the Preds targeted and got the bulk of their drafted players in the first two rounds (oddly, they have no third-round selections on the roster). The Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi pairing, the now-injured Kevin Fiala, Colin Wilson, Colton Sissons, Pontus Aberg, Austin Watson and Miikka Salomaki were all taken in the first 60 picks as well.
Their free-agent signings? Just their bottom pairing of Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber, as well as part-timers Freddie Gaudreau and Harry Zolnierczyk.
But what differentiates the Preds from the majority of other teams to make the Cup Final in the past several years is the number of high-end, relied-upon guys they got via trade (with all due respect to last year’s San Jose Sharks, who got Brent Burns and Joe Thornton in lopsided trades as well).
The big trades were pretty famous: P.K. Subban, Filip Forsberg, and Ryan Johansen. Less talked-about at this point are the trades for Calle Jarnkrok, Mike Fisher, and James Neal, mostly because those trades were a few years ago now. They also traded for Vern Fiddler, Cody McLeod and P.A. Parenteau.
The Penguins are actually kind of in the same boat. They didn’t pull off major coups for superstars in their early and mid-20s like the Predators did, but the number of big contributors this postseason they acquired via trade is nonetheless impressive. Phil Kessel we know. Patric Hornqvist came back in the Neal trade (this series is a referendum on that trade, absolutely). It’s easy to forget they traded for both Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino. And it was a long time ago now, but they also snagged Game 7 hero Chris Kunitz via trade, and that’s worked out pretty well.
What’s amazing is that they traded for a huge chunk of their current D-corps as well. Brian Dumoulin was one of the big prizes in the Jordan Staal trade all those years ago, and now he leads them in playoff ice time. Ron Hainsey was also acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes. Trevor Daley? Trade. Ian Cole? Trade. Justin Schultz, another Game 7 hero? Trade. Even Mark Streit came via trade.
Of course, the Pens also have four players drafted first or second overall, two of whom just happen to be among the best to ever play the game, and all of whom play one of the two most important positions on the ice. Getting Crosby, Malkin and Fleury in three consecutive drafts has been a kind of important bit of fortunate happenstance for the Penguins, historically speaking. That they’re the only three first-round picks on the roster potentially speaks more to the success getting those three guys brought them; they’ve picked late in the first round a whole lot in the years since.
The third round has also been a bit of a boon for the Pens as it brought them Kris Letang (in the Crosby draft!), Matt Murray, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust. Later rounds also netted them Scott Wilson, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Josh Archibald.
The only UFA signings on the roster are Matt Cullen, Conor Sheary, Chad Ruhwedel, and Carter Rowney.
These are effectively rosters built through means you mostly can’t copy, but there is some wiggle room here. The absolute key to good GMing is something these two clubs put to good use: Find a sucker and take him for all he’s worth. There is no way on earth David Poile should have been able to get a trio of Subban, Forsberg, and Johansen from other teams, let alone for the relatively meager cost for which he acquired them. The same is true, albeit to a lesser extent, of the Kessel trade.
But even beyond the heists, the ability of these teams to identify difference-makers on the trade market is virtually unparalleled in recent GMing history. Of the 51 guys to have played for either team in this postseason, 20 were acquired in trades (two in a trade for each other).
Only a handful of guys from the most recent Chicago Cup winner came aboard that way — that team drafted 12 of its players. The previous season’s Kings drafted 11 of its players.
One imagines that will still be the model going forward. When the Leafs and Oilers start competing for Cups on a regular basis in the next few years, you’ll know they were built largely through the draft, but with trades still playing an important role.
But the idea that you’d ever be able to do what Pittsburgh or Nashville (especially Nashville) has done here, getting this many important players from other GMs who didn’t want them any more?
You have to be a special GM in the first place to finesse that.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Well this is the big thing with the Ducks, isn’t it? They’re going to lose one of their very good defensemen, and if it’s not via trade that’s a huge problem. Absolutely can’t lose one for nothin’ in the expansion draft. And you can’t lose Jacob Silfverberg either.
Arizona Coyotes: Dylan Strome will be a Coyote next season. I think this is maybe the least surprising news item coming out of this Memorial Cup.
Carolina Hurricanes: I’m very curious to see how the Hurricanes play the trade market. They could move defense to get a better forward, but that blue line is so good and young, and with average goaltending behind them they get a lot closer to the playoffs. Does adding, say, Jordan Eberle get them over the hump offensively? I dunno.
Florida Panthers: … Alright, sure.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Any time you can refer to someone as a “merry prankster,” I am all the way onboard. Remember the time Chris Kunitz pranked Hockey Canada into letting him be on an Olympic team? This freakin’ guy!!!
St. Louis Blues: Hoo boy, I dunno about this take.
Tampa Bay Lightning: I would beat JT Brown at Battlefield 1. No question. He would lose to me.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Wait, is this a thing people are still talking about? No way, right? Not a chance?
Vegas Golden Knights: In like a month, the Golden Knights’ equipment manager is gonna have the busiest day of his entire life.
Play of the Weekend
This is the goal that lifted Guy Boucher’s curse on the playoffs. Thank you Chris Kunitz.
Gold Star Award
Chris Kunitz two goals him so nice!!!
Minus of the Weekend
Eugene Melnyk, still very bad.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year
User “Jerrico” made me laugh out loud.
That’s right! Dead serious about going to Itchy and Scratchy Land.
(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)