Rebuilding: Penguins vs. Oilers

Derek Zona wrote an excellent rebuttal to Daryl Katz's empty and meaningless letter to fans. The Katz letter got me thinking too. I went back and started watching the pilot of Oil Change, so I could hear what the Oilers' brain trust had to say at the beginning of this, the third iteration of getting this team back into a winning position.

As I watched the first 18 minutes, here are some quotes that jumped out at me:

  • Katz - "it's devastating to lose, finish last, not acceptable to myself, to our management to our fans. It shouldn't be acceptable"
  • Lowe - "you hate when people elsewhere in other cities make fun of us."
  • MacT - on losing Hemsky to injury - "it limits your ability offensively. The team loses their belief in their ability to win and then it's all over."
  • Lowe - "If I could do it all over again, I would have . . . not traded Chris Pronger, I would have made him sit, or I would have blown up the team back then."
  • Katz - "I like to think that maybe this is a blessing in disguise. Based on how the draft goes this year [2010]. I think drafting and development is how teams go quickly from bottom to the top and we're going to be a shining example of that."
  • Lowe - "all the good teams have had success through drafting and development. And I like to think that in recent years we're going a better job of that and that's going to bode well for the future of this team . . . That's the only formula to win."
  • Lowe on Paajarvi - "He's a guy when you saw as a junior, that you could say, that guy's got a chance to be a special player. Very few are like that unless you're picking 1, 2, 3, 4, sort of thing. You don't normally get those at 10 or beyond, so that's kind of the hopes there."
  • MacT. - "With the young players that are coming, the future is bright . . . when you boil it all down, it's playmaking ability that makes good players and those guys [Paajarvi and Omark] have it."

Now, since everyone seems to be pointing to the Pens and the Hawks as examples of successful rebuilds, I'm going to take a deeper look at what those franchises actually did. In each case, the teams drafted a number of talented, high draft picks over the course of a few years. My purpose is simply to see how similar or different those situations are from that of the Oilers.

Pittsburgh Penguins - this is basically chronological, but not entirely. I will reference a number of the significant moves the team made from 2001/02 on their way to the Stanley Cup finals in 2007/08 and the Stanley Cup victory in 2008/09. (information from

  • fired Ivan Hlinka and hired Rick Kehoe (2001/02)
  • fired Rick Kehoe and hired Ed Olczyk (2003)
  • developed Ryan Whitney at BU and Wilkes-Barre for 4 years before giving him an NHL game
  • paired Whitney with Gonchar when he eventually played NHL games
  • drafted Rob Scuderi in the 5th round and developed him for almost 5 years before his first NHL game
  • played their other first round D prospect (Orpik) in the 2nd/3rd pairing after 3 years of AHL development
  • Drafted Letang in the 3rd round and let him finish his time in the QMJHL, except for a 7-game NHL shot (where he averaged 11:33 TOI)
  • Played Letang in the 3rd pairing (+PP) in his first NHL season
  • had an amazing mentor for Crosby in Mario Lemieux (for 26 games anyway)
  • had a solid 3/4C (Max Talbot - 8th round pick) that they drafted in 2002 and developed for 3.5 years before his first NHL game
  • stuck with the goalie they drafted (Fleury)
  • drafted Malkin, who played two years in Russia before joining the Pens
  • knew where Staal would play (3C) when they drafted him
  • acquired Pascal Dupuis (undrafted) and Marian Hossa (age 29 - released as UFA after only 12 games) for Colby Armstrong (drafted 21st overall by PIT) and Erik Christensen (drafted 3rd round by PIT) and a first round pick
  • traded veteran 3rd-parining D-man, Dick Tarnstrom to EDM for Cory Cross and Jani Rita (no loss, no gain)
  • signed Mark Recchi as FA, traded him away (for no net gains), re-signed as FA and later waived
  • Fired Ed Olczyk and hired Michel Therrien (05-06)
  • drafted Ryan Malone in the 4th round and developed him for 4 years at St. Cloud State before his first NHL game
  • traded Noah Welch (who?) for Gary Roberts (age 40) to play 3rd line minutes
  • signed Jarko Ruutu (age 31) as FA to play 4th line
  • released Michel Ouellet (drafted 4th round by PIT) as a UFA
  • traded Libor Pivko (who?) and a 3rd for Dominic Moore to play 3rd line minutes
  • claimed Chris Thorburn off waivers to play 4th line minutes - later traded to ATL for a 3rd round pick
  • signed Mark Eaton as FA to play 2nd pairing minutes
  • signed Darryl Sydor as FA (age 35 , later traded to DAL for Phillippe Boucher (25 GP))
  • acquired Georges Laraque from Phoenix for Dan Carcillo (drafted 3rd round by PIT, never played for PIT) and a 3rd.
  • drafted Tyler Kennedy in the 4th round and developed him in the OHL and AHL for 3 seasons before playing an NHL game
  • signed Adam Hall as FA to play 3rd line minutes
  • signed Petr Sykora as FA to play 3rd line minutes
  • signed Matt Cooke as a FA to play 3rd line minutes
  • developed Alex Goligoski (drafted 2nd round by PIT) for 4 years at UMinn and Wilkes-Barre
  • signed Miroslav Satan (age 34)( as FA to play 3rd line minutes
  • Fired Michel Therrien and hired Dan Bylsma (2008/09)
  • signed Ruslan Fedotenko (age 30)(undrafted) as FA to play 3rd line minutes
  • acquired Bill Guerin (age 38) from NYI for a 3rd round pick
  • acquired Hal Gill from TOR for a 2nd and a 5th
  • acquired Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi from ANA for Ryan Whitney

So, regarding rebuilding, what I noticed from the Pens is this:

  • Consistent long-term development of every player drafted except for Crosby and Staal
  • Bottom-six players largely acquired as FAs (with a few exceptions), many of whom were over 30, some over 35
  • Seasoned, veteran D-men always mentoring rookie D-men
  • What appears to be excellent scouting, evidenced by later round picks becoming roster players
  • Easing of rookie D-men into the line-up, starting with the 3rd pairing (after 3-5 years of junior, college and/or AHL time)
  • Virtually no mistakes in trades, but two significant pieces added via trade (Dupuis & Kunitz)
  • Sticking with a drafted goalie who has a slightly above average career in the NHL (SV% of .910 and GAA of 2.62)

The only constants in the Pens from 2005/06 to 2008/09 were Crosby, Malkin (added in 2006), Talbot, Staal (added in 2006), Gonchar, Whitney, Scuderi, Orpik and Fleury. Eight players (four centres and four d-men) and a goalie. Virtually every other player during that period was acquired as a FA

Letang wasn't added until 2007

Ryan Malone was traded away in 2008

Mark Recchi was waived in 2007

Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen were traded away in 2008

Final analysis: The Oilers have not followed the Pittsburgh re-build model. They've basically drafted, signed and rushed a bunch of young players (mostly wingers) to the NHL with very little development, mentorship or tutelage from any experienced NHLers. They have basically done what the Pens did with Crosby and Staal, but lack the overall development plan and defensive constancy that the Pens had.

Next I'll look at Chicago.

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