You’ve heard the phrase a million times…
It refers to the tendency of general managers and head coaches to emulate what has worked in the recent past.
Is this a good strategy? Is it worthwhile to copy successful teams, or should a team blaze its own trail and attempt to be the innovator?
The difference between a good and a bad management strategy can be the difference between riding the wave of evolution or chasing your tail while others point and laugh. To assess the efficacy of the copycat strategy, we need to take a look at past Stanley cup winners.
Let’s start in 2002-03.
The New Jersey Devils won the cup that year with a defence-oriented, team-effort game. Their top scorer was Patrik Elias with 57 points.
In 2003-04, the cup winner was Tampa Bay. The Lightning had five players meet or exceed Elias’ point total from the previous year. Their top point-getter was Martin St. Louis with a whopping 94 points.
These were the two teams that won the cup before the 2005 NHL lockout, and they could not have been more different.
The 2005-06 Stanley cup winners were the Carolina Hurricanes, who played up-tempo hockey with a team of veterans in front of an emerging star goaltender. The Hurricanes also dealt for veterans Doug Weight and Mark Recchi.
Interestingly, this team is held up as the exception to the rule that trade deadline deals never work out well.
The next year, the Anaheim Ducks won the cup with a big, tough, physical team that had two all-star defensemen and several young up-and-coming forwards who made big contributions.
Again, these teams could not be more different.
The next two years saw Detroit and Pittsburgh trade cup wins. No team except the Oilers can even attempt to replicate the Pittsburgh model. Detroit builds through the draft, particularly in the later rounds, and lets its prospects fully season in the minors before playing them at the NHL level.
Pittsburgh took several high first round picks and played them immediately, and then acquired veteran forwards to supplement that talent.
Again, these are very different approaches
Chicago continued the Pittsburgh model, in a sense, as it built upon a core including top draft picks Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The Bruins and Kings then departed from this model, instead employing big, tough, defensive teams with clutch goaltending.
The Kings are perhaps the most confounding team, since they were so mediocre in the regular season. They got hot at the right time, and this is not something that can be emulated.
Gillis claims that the direction he wishes to take the Vancouver Canucks is toward a bigger, tougher, younger team, perhaps like the 06-07 Ducks. Unlike the Ducks, however, the Canucks are not starting with several high draft picks and then adding veterans.
The Canucks now have to play rookies and young players to fill out their bottom six to get under a reduced salary cap.
If Gillis focuses on a clear vision for the team and specifically on infusing the Canucks with young talent, he may succeed. But if he attempts to merely lift a strategy from a previous winner, the Canucks will be passed by for the newest flavor of the month.
The Kings, Penguins and Red Wings are fools gold for prospecting general managers. There may be pay dirt with the 06-07 Ducks and another team Canucks fans may have reservations about imitating.
There is another team that felt a cap crunch, unloaded some core players and reloaded for another playoff run: The 2013 Chicago Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks also won the cup despite their best players having sub-standard playoff performances (I’m looking at you, Sedins).
Perhaps there is hope for the 2014 Vancouver Canucks.