a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

Welcome to Oil Acumen. All Oilers, all the time... Occasionally other stuff.

Friday, 29 July 2011

07/29/11 53.5 Rebuilding Conclusions

We've looked at five rebuilt NHL teams now, and each one is unique. They are varyingly similiar and dissimilar to what the Oilers are doing, and they have also had varying degrees of success. In the final part of this series, it's time to look at what conclusions can be drawn from these five teams, and what those conclusions may mean for Edmonton.

Overall success in relation to draft position:

Pittsburgh: Probably the most successful team; has appeared in two Stanley Cup Finals, winning once; every chance that they will return in the next few years. 5 lottery picks: 5th, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 2nd

Chicago: Second most successful; one Conference Final, one Championship; had to blow up team because of the cap but could return one day. 3 lottery picks*, 1st, 3rd, 3rd

Washington: Two Semi-Final appearances, perennial contender. 3 lottery picks: 1st, 4th, 5th

Los Angeles: No playoff rounds won, but a solid core in place that could see them contend for a long time. 3 lottery picks: 4th, 2nd, 5th

Phoenix: No playoff rounds won, questionable core of young players and disintigrating veteran leadership. 2 lottery picks: 3rd, 5th

The relationship between top-5 selections and success in the NHL seems self evident. Naturally there are plenty of other factors that can be the difference between success and failure, but a base of picks in the top 5 is a great place to start. The interesting thing is not only how the number of lottery picks effects a team, but also where those picks are. If we take the average draft position of each of these teams when they are in the top five, it breaks down like this:

Pittsburgh: 2.2 overall
Chicago: 2.3 overall
Washington: 3.3 overall
Los Angeles: 3.7 overall
Phoenix: 4 overall

That said, this does not mean that the Oilers are going to be better than Pittsburgh because they drafted first overall both times they were in lottery range, and therefore have an average position of 1 overall. The fairest way to judge the Oilers at this point might be to include Sam Gagner, who falls just outside the top five as a 6th overall selection. In that case the Oilers would have an average position of 2.7.

* Chicago picked Cam Barker 3rd overall in 2004 but neither he nor the players he was traded for had any impact on Chicago's eventual championship. Time will tell how Nick Leddy helps the Hawks going forward.

The "culture of losing" idea is overblown.

It may seem at times like losing begets losing and that if the Oilers aren't careful, they'll never know how to win. All of these other teams have shown to some degree that this simply isn't the case. A winning attitude must come from within the players themselves and not from being in an environment where winning is all that goes on. If anything, losing breeds a hatred for it in players that are driven to win. Since when has having everything go your way been the best way to grow as a person or professional?

Time spent out of the playoffs:

Pittsburgh: Finished 29th in 2005-06 with Crosby, Fluery and Whitney all in the lineup.
Washington: Finished 27th in 2005-06 and 2006-07 with Ovechkin on the team.
Chicago: Missed the playoffs in the first three years of Byfuglien, Keith and Seabrook's careers, coming in 28th, 26th, and 20th in the NHL. Kane, Toews and Hjalmarsson missed as rookies.
Los Angeles: Dustin Brown played 5 years before making the playoffs, Kopitar played 3, Bernier and Doughty played one. Each was present for Kings' 26th place finish in 2008-09.
Phoenix: Yandle played parts of two seasons before the Coyotes made it, and so did Turris, but this team is obviously much further behind the 8 ball than the others.

Obviously winning isn't a bad thing, but to suggest that losing will ruin prospects is taking it a little too far.

Breakdown of players selected in top five:

All told, these five teams made sixteen picks inside the top five. Of those picks, ten were forwards, five were defensemen and one was a goalie. 7 of the 10 forwards were centers.

5 of the 7 centers have panned out so far, while Schenn and Turris have work to do to join that list. Schenn looks like a player, so that leaves only Turris to figure it out.

The Oilers and their fans are hoping that Cam Barker doesn't become the first bust of the 5 defensemen. So far, Doughty, Whitney and Alzner have worked out; while the jury is still out on Hickey and Barker.

Only Pittsburgh selected more than one center, and only they have a Stanley Cup. Take from that what you will.

The Oilers are most similar to...

Washington. At least so far.

The Oilers don't quite have the caliber of talent or the number of high draft picks to be considered the next Pittsburgh, but the quality of the Oilers' picks is far superior to that of Phoenix. Edmonton would love it if they had selected a future Norris Trophy winner outside of the first round, but as yet there is no Duncan Keith on this team. And the Los Angeles Kings have simply traded for too much of their roster to be called the most similar to the Oilers. That, and they also have Doughty which is something the Oilers simply lack.

Like Edmonton, the Capitals drafted their first line left winger in Ovechkin and their number one center in Backstrom. If the Oilers were to have another lottery pick next year, it would almost certainly be used on a defenseman - which is similar to what Washington did with Alzner.

The Oilers drafted Dubnyk, who is potentially their future starting goaltender and they also have Tyler Bunz coming. This is similar to Washington's Neuvirth and Holtby.

On defense, the Oilers will hope that Ryan Whitney continues to be an offensive force for the team, but he'll be hard pressed to match Mike Green's production over the last several years. Otherwise, both teams have drafted some good defensemen, but no Doughty or Keith. Right now the Capitals have the edge in terms of the quality of D they have selected at the draft, but the Oilers' defensive prospects still need time to catch up developmentally.


The Oilers may be most similar to the Caps, but as we have seen, each rebuild is unique. Washington's progress and whether or not they ever win a Stanley Cup has nothing to do with the Oilers. Therefore, Oilers fans shouldn't put too much stock in Washington's future when deciding how their own team will be.

What these comparisons do show is how rebuilt teams are constructed. The comparisons confirm what we already know in that the Oilers are following the same path that other rebuilt squads have taken before them. Not only that, but the Oilers have recently pulled closer to some of the stronger rebuilt teams in the league by selecting first overall twice in a row. Based on the data (and accounting for a potential top-5 pick next year), it appears that the Oilers will end up as a better team than Phoenix and as good or better than LA, Washington and Chicago - but only because Chicago was forced to blow up a lot of their core and have been scrambling to replace it.

If that does end up being the case, the Oilers will be in a very good position for a very long time. Either way, the fans have a lot to look forward to.

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