Sunday, 21 June 2009

Rebuilds - Old School

The Process

Prior to the new CBA the General Manager's blueprint for the full rebuild of an NHL team was fairly straight forward:

Step 1 - Suck.

Be really, really bad for a very long time and wait for transformational players to make their way to the team via the draft and/or trade markets.

Step 2 - Stick with Step 1.

Players had to wait until they were 31 to become an unrestricted free agent so the time was available.

The Pitfalls

Given the wait (directly above), the only real pitfalls were these:

a. coming out of the rebuild too soon;
b. having really bad timing;
c. having really bad drafting*;
d. having really bad management; and
e. never being bad enough to make a difference

Of the pitfalls listed, the only debilitating ones were/are 'c' and 'd'; get those two in combination and the next Islanders dynasty (Milbury Edition) is locked and loaded.

The other three pitfalls can maim but the wounds should not be fatal; good management can overcome a lot of obstacles.

* A team can make good no-brainer picks in the 1st round and still have a bad drafting record (see also: Atlanta Thrashers).


A properly done rebuild has three distinct stages:

The Slide

So it begins. The team, as assembled, just doesn't have the horses. In all probability the horses are also: a) getting old and b) getting expensive.

The trick here was to maximize asset sales on the way down. Draft picks and prospects preferred (see also: Calgary Flames/Jarome Iginla) .

Balancing fan expectations vs. rebuild requirements plays a key role in the 'Slide'. Poor teams with big aspirations could spend a single year on the 'Slide' (they were just that bad anyways) while semi-good teams could spend a three or four years dismantling the old order of things.

The Wallow

Once the team is bad the next step is to wallow in it. There should be 2 to 4 years worth of top-5 draft picks in a good 'Wallow' and it is those picks that will make it all worth it.

Rule of Thumb: the more time is spent on the 'Slide', the less time should be spent on the 'Wallow'.

Given the need to field a roster, the idea here was to churn assets. One way to do this would be to bring in scoring wingers who can't defend air and let them gorge on 1st unit power-play time - then trade said point producer for more draft picks.

If the goal was/is to keep the team down in the rankings the very best method is just to get really bad goaltending.

The 'Wallow' doesn't last nearly as long as one might think. By year 2 the team will be 3 to 6 years into the ugliness and the fan base, even a patient one, will start to get restless.

The Build

This is where it all comes together.

Think about player development for a second. Your typical NHL player starts to hit their stride in their 3rd or 4th year in the NHL (see graphic). If your 'Slide' started 6 or 7 years ago your first batch of prospects and draft picks should now be 2+ yrs into their NHL career.

More importantly, those draft picks made during the 'Wallow' should be good enough that they skipped the minors and they should be hitting their sophomore years (NHL) right about the same time as the first batch.

So the 'Build' is about adding the right veterans in the skating ranks and making sure the goaltending is covered. A properly done 'Build' takes 2 to 3 years.

End Game

Thus, under the old NHL framework, a properly executed rebuild should take anywhere from 5 to 11 years (yikes!); after that it was just a matter of staying the course (exercising good management to remain competitive; see also: Detroit Red Wings).

Think of a three year 'Slide', a three year 'Wallow' and a 2 year 'Build'. Just from the draft picks (those originating with the team and those brought in via trade during the 'Slide' and 'Wallow'... hrmmm... great bar name) such a team SHOULD have:

- a certified all-star on the roster;
- another one just waiting to be certified;
- a 1st or 2nd line guy who is good-but-not-great;
- at least 1 stalwart for the 3rd/4th lines;
- two top-4 defensemen locked in;
- another who can play the 3rd pairing
- a few nice prospects on the farm team

Please note: that list doesn't figure for 'luck' (i.e. having the team's worst years coincide with great draft years; see also: Quebec Nordiques and Pittsburgh Penguins).

The list also doesn't figure in gains made from trades or unrestricted free agent signings - purely draft pick returns.

(And that 18 year old kid drafted in year 1... would then be 29 years old and still a restricted free agent... it really was to laugh wasn't it?)


And there you go - a basic primer for what an NHL rebuild would/should have looked like under the old CBA. It is important to remember, however, that history proves that rebuilds are harder than they look.

But, I'll write more on that another day. As with many other posts I write the purpose of this one has been to set up future ones.

For the record - this post was also about having fun AND establishing a theoretical process. Luckily, in both those respects it was successful: I had fun and the rebuild process (oft named but never quantified) is now baselined (hrmmm... I think baseline be the wrong word but nevertheless, ah well).


Have a great evening everyone.


Hemsky is a gangsta said...

Nice post.

Matt N said...

Does this come with a companion post on re- building with the new CBA?

Here is a cool article from Ted Leonsis (Capitals owner) about franchise building.

YKOil said...

Matt N: Yes

I have often, maybe on this blog and more probably in comments on others, talked about the new CBA requiring a 'Rebuild on Steroids' approach - or, at least, if you were that is the approach one would take.

Two things:

1. I have never actually told people what that approach is (though I have mentioned parts of it elsewhere), and

2. That approach makes less sense without the context of what the old-school approach would look like

Hence the post you just read (and, honestly said, thanks for reading).