Thursday, November 14, 2013

How did the classic rebuild approach go so right for the Avs and so wrong for the Oilers?

How do you build a winner in the NHL?

Or, more specifically, how do you rebuild one? How do you take a team that has fallen out of contention today and doesn't have the assets to win tomorrow, and reshape it into a perennial contender?

There are plenty of approaches, but one stands out as the most common: You lose. You lose badly, lose often, finish last, and collect high draft picks. Then you draft elite talent and watch it grow into a strong core, eventually supplementing those young stars with veterans and depth guys. And then you win, and win a lot, and everyone forgets about the miserable years that came before. Call it tanking or call it patience. Part of the plan is that you never admit you're following a plan, but every fan knows it when they see it.

It sounds so simple, and for some teams, it is. The Penguins used the approach to win a Cup. The Blackhawks won two. Of course, teams like the Panthers and Islanders haven't had as much luck. Nobody said it was foolproof. And not everyone approves. But you can't argue with success, and a look back at the last decade of Cup winners shows that the plan often works.

Today, various NHL teams are in different stages of the plan, but two stand out as the archetypal examples: the Edmonton Oilers and the Colorado Avalanche. The two teams have followed remarkably similar roads. And yet, somehow, the destinations they've arrived at this year couldn't be more different.

Both the Oilers and Avs had spent much of their recent history finishing near the bottom of the league. Both had used the high draft picks earned in those lost seasons to assemble a roster packed with can't-miss forwards. Both brought in a former player from the franchise's past to make player personnel decisions. And both made a change behind the bench during the offseason, hiring a candidate without NHL coaching experience.

The Avalanche are the NHL's breakthrough story of the season, sitting at 14-3-0 for 28 points and first place in the Central. Even for the most optimistic Colorado homer, their success this year borders on the unimaginable. They have the league's best goal differential and have allowed the fewest goals.3 They've already had a pair of six-game win streaks. They're dominating.

And then there are the Oilers. Their season has been a disaster, with a 4-14-2 record that has left them last in the Western Conference. They've given up more goals than any other team by a mile,4 have won only once at home, and are already 14 points out of a playoff spot. We're not even halfway through November, and the Oilers are done.

How could this happen? Let's look through five critical factors in any rebuild, and see what we can learn from the Oilers and Avalanche.

>> Read the full post on Grantland


  1. The real problem with the Oilers is a culture, extending back to the Glen Sather days, of fire-wagon hockey with no regard for defensive play (tell me how many times they've been in the top 10 in goals against in 30 years). They've always been bad in their own end, with abysmal coverage and giveaways that even good goaltending can't paper over. The problem has been exacerbated in recent years with high picks of skill players with no interest in playing defence and no size to wear opposing teams down; these days, they can't even score. When a team is bad enough to get the first overall pick three years in a row, and maybe again this year, it's time to change the culture, starting at the top. Fire Kevin Lowe.

  2. Wide Right, No Goal, Forward Pass, No Goal 2. Welcome to Buffalo!November 17, 2013 at 10:30 PM

    More to the point this is useless for the Sabres!!! Drafting elite players and having elite coaches isn't exactly the easiest thing to do. I was hoping for a more in depth plan of action that didn't involve get Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri, and Randy Carlyle and everything will drop into place.