I am not a fan of the Oilers rebuild. In fact, I haven't yet and likely never will accept that the only choice the team had in early 2010 was to burn the team to the ground and start fresh. Yes I like that the Oilers have acquired players like Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins through management's decision to rebuild but I still don't accept the rebuild as the only, or even the logical, course of action. If every rebuild ended as planned I'd be more accepting of it as a plan but as we know that's not the case. If it was Winnipeg probably wouldn't have a team today.
Being skeptical about the rebuild I really enjoyed the work Jonathan Willis did first in January and then added to yesterday at the Cult of Hockey looking at the various rebuilds, both successful and unsuccessful (there are links to some of Jonathan's earlier work on this subject at the end of the linked article). Looking at the timelines of the Penguins, Kings, and Blackhawks helps give us an idea of where the Oilers rebuild might be at and what reasonable expectations are going forward.
Personally I hope that the days of lottery picks will soon be behind us but for that to happen there will need to be some upgrades to the defence. Which led me to the question: How did successful rebuilds construct their defence, and what might this mean for the Oilers?
Earlier I identified the Penguins, Blackhawks, and Kings as successful rebuilds. The Kings rebuild can't yet be deemed as successful as those in Chicago or Pittsburgh but it's fair to say that it has been a lot more successful than a few others so I've chosen to include them here. The tables that follow show the top six defencemen in order of ice time on each of these teams team in their Stanley Cup winning season (for the Kings I've used this season), how/when the were acquired, and how long before their team's win that was.
Looking at those table a few things jump out at me.
First, there isn't a pattern of big free agent signings of trades to help the blue line that put a rebuilding team over the hump, at least not in the immediate term. Gill - who was acquired in a deadline deal the season before the Penguins Stanley Cup win - is the player acquired most closely to his team's ultimate success. This is bad news for anyone who might have thought the Oilers were just Ryan Suter away from a Stanley Cup.
Also interesting is the role that free agent signings play on these rebuilding teams. Only the Kings have acquired more than one of their top four defenceman through free agency and only the Penguins defence was led in ice time by a player acquired through free agency. These players certainly appear to be important additions but developing players within the organization has played a significant role in these team's successes as well.
Under the heading of good news/bad news is the number of drafted players on blue lines of these teams. Each team has at least three of their own draft picks playing on their defence; given the Oilers lack of success in bringing in NHL talent through free agency and the number of draft picks the team has stockpiled recently this is certainly good news. The bad news is the length of time it takes these players to go from draft pick to winner. Only Letang made that jump in under five years, although Doughty and Voynov have a chance to match him this year. If the Oilers follow a similar pattern they will be waiting a long time for players like Oscar Klefbom. Martin Marincin, and David Musil to join Jeff Petry.
Looking at the Oilers blue line today it's hard to imagine anyone other than Petry, Ladislav Smid, and Jeff Schultz playing a role on a contending Oilers team which means there is a lot of work that still needs to be done. But even with those hole the rapid transformation of the Kings blue line should at least give Oilers fans hope. With each player being with the Kings organization for less than four years on average there is certainly evidence that a team can rebuild rather quickly something that isn't working. The key is of course making the right moves. Whether or not the Oilers can do that remains to be seen.