Friday, June 15, 2007

"The Remarkable Consistency" continues

Alex Ovechkin, whose remarkable consistency since having entered the NHL is chronicled here, added to that elite level of consistency with being named as a first-team all-star for the second year in a row.

He is the first player to be named a first-team all-star in each of his first two years in more than half a century. The last? Terry Sawchuk, goaltender for the Detroit Red Wings, in 1950-51 and 1951-52. Since the first NHL all-star team was named after the 1930-31 season, no skater had accomplished the feat.

Congratulations, Alex.

Legos, Tinker Toys, Erector Sets...

How does one build a winning team? Well, not having room to go into an entire dissertation on the subject, let’s look at two teams – the finalists for the Stanley Cup this year. How were the rosters for the final game built?

Ottawa (final game roster):

Daniel Alfredsson: drafted by Ottawa (1994/6th round)
Mike Fisher: Ottawa (1998/2nd)
Chris Philips: Ottawa (1996/1st)
Wade Redden: NY Islanders (1995/1st), obtained via trade (1996)
Oleg Saprykin: Calgary (1999/1st), trade (2007)
Peter Schafer: Vancouver (1995/3rd), trade (2002)
Mike Comrie: Edmonton (1999/3rd), trade (2007)
Dany Heatley: Atlanta (2000/1st), trade (2005)
Jason Spezza: Ottawa (2001/1st)
Chris Neil: Ottawa (1998/6th)
Joe Corvo: Los Angeles (1997/4th), UFA (2006)
Christoph Schubert: Ottawa (2001/4th)
Anton Volchenkov: Ottawa (2000/1st)
Chris Kelly: Ottawa (1999/3rd)
Antoine Vermette: Ottawa (2000/2nd)
Tom Preissing: San Jose (2003/undrafted free agent), trade (2006)
Patrick Eaves: Ottawa (2003/1st)
Andrej Meszaros: Ottawa (2004/1st)
Ray Emery: Ottawa (2001/4th)
Martin Gerber: Anaheim (2001/8th), UFA (2006)

Drafted by club: 12

Drafted by club, by year: 1994 (1), 1996 (1), 1998 (2), 1999 (1), 2000 (2), 2001 (3), 2003 (1), 2004 (1)

Drafted by others: 8

Others obtained: via trade (6); UFA (2)

Anaheim (final game roster):

Todd Marchant: NY Rangers (1993/7th), waivers (2005)
Brad May: Buffalo (1990/1st), trade (2007)
Andy McDonald: Anaheim (2000/undrafted free agent)
Rob Niedermayer: Florida (1993/1st), trade (2003)
Scott Niedermayer: New Jersey (1991/1st), UFA (2005)
Sean O'Donnell: Buffalo (1991/6th), trade (2006)
Samuel Pahlsson: Colorado (1996/7th), trade (2000)
Chris Pronger: Hartford (1993/1st), trade (2006)
Teemu Selanne: Winnipeg (1988/1st), UFA (2005)
Kent Huskins: Chicago (1998/6th), UFA (2005)
Francois Beauchemin: Montreal (1998/3rd), trade (2005)
Joe DiPenta: Florida (1998/3rd), UFA (2005)
Shawn Thornton: Toronto (1997/7th), UFA (2006)
Travis Moen: Calgary (2000/5th), trade (2005)
Chris Kunitz: Anaheim (2003/undrafted free agent)
Corey Perry: Anaheim (2003/1st)
Ryan Getzlaf: Anaheim (2003/1st)
Dustin Penner: Anaheim (2004/undrafted free agent)
Jean-Sebastien Giguere: Hartford (1st), trade (2000)
Ilya Bryzgalov: Anaheim (2000/2nd)

Drafted by club: 3

Drafted by club, by year: 2000 (1), 2003 (2)

Signed as undrafted free agent: 3

Drafted by others: 14

Others obtained: via trade (8), UFA (5), claimed off waivers (1)

Can you imagine any more different ways to build a team than these two? Ottawa is essentially “home grown,” with 12 of the 20 dressed players in the season’s last game drafted by the club over a period of 11 years. The club also does not have a very large free agent footprint, with only two of 20 players having been obtained via free agency. Neither of those players can be considered to have been “high end” signings, but while Martin Gerber has been somewhat disappointing, Joe Corvo was a useful cog on the Senator blue line.

On the other hand, Anaheim is the great melting pot of a team. Six players among the 20 who dressed in the last game against Ottawa are home grown – three via draft, three as undrafted free agent signings. 14 found their way to Anaheim from other places. While the Ducks are represented more heavily by unrestricted free agents (five, versus two for Ottawa), it is not a large group. Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer are, of course, the notables in this group.

What is common between these teams is the use of trades. 14 of the 22 players obtained from other organizations were acquired by this method. There is a logic in this that The Peerless can see. All other things equal, trades are, and almost always will be, cap-friendlier than signings via unrestricted free agency. The nature of bidding for UFAs creates far more upward pressure on contract prices than trades. Trades, conversely, permit clubs to use money saved to enter into the free-agent market more judiciously. Without long-term free agent contracts tying up money, the Ducks under Brian Burke could pursue a Teemu Selanne and a Scott Niedermayer in 2005 and could trade for a contract such as Chris Pronger’s in 2006. Those were the big final pieces of the puzzle, and the Ducks had room to accommodate them.

While Anaheim’s progress was stark (they went from 76 points in 2003-2004, to 98 points in 2005-2006, to 110 points and a Stanley Cup in 2006-2007), Ottawa’s has been more “nurturing.” Although the Senators have swapped out a lot of players over the years (only Daniel Alfredsson and Wade Redden remain from the Senators’ first playoff team in 1996-1997), it has been consistent for the most part in relying on development from within. It has made them a consistent contender – 10 consecutive years in the playoffs.

What the point of this is, is that as the old saying goes, “there is more than one way to skin a cat” (with apologies to cat-lovers). The trick is having a plan, sticking to it, and being good at it. Brian Burke, who snared the last pieces of the puzzle, is very good at what he does. John Muckler and Bryan Murray have done well with their method.

And that’s the issue here as the draft approaches for the Caps. It is nice to say, “we’ve got a plan,” but that goes only so far. Do the Capitals have in place the experience and the talent to execute that plan successfully?

We’re going to start finding out pretty soon.