Building a winning team in the new NHL...(LONG)

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Building a winning team in the new NHL...(LONG)

Postby nuxfanindallas » Thu Oct 12, 2006 5:56 am

The subject line could also be: "How Dave Nonis is a frigging genius."

I'm curious to see the input of all of you guys here, but I got to thinking. The way I see it, there are two ways to build a consistently competitive team in the salary cap era of the NHL:

1. By getting major contributions from young, underpaid players.

For the time being, the Canucks can't hope to contend in this way. Their only real blue-chip prospect maybe ready to contribute is Bourdon, and Kesler can't be classed now as underpaid in any way. If you compare the contributions of the Canucks' young players to that of other teams around the league, the Canucks would be near the bottom.

The reason for this, at least in recent years, is twofold. One, the team has been relatively good for the past 6 or so years, so they haven't really been able to draft top-10 prospects. Two, Burke traded away plenty of prospects during his tenure.

In summary, unless the Canucks want to totally commit to rebuilding (which they won't, nor shouldn't do), then this paradigm of winning doesn't seem to be the best route at the moment. Now this is obviously not to say that Vancouver should give up on its farm system or anything like that, but just that this isn't their best chance to contend in the near future.

So the second way to build, in my humble opinion is

2. Pay for the absolute best goalie money can buy and load up on defensive defenseman.

Before getting flamed for neglecting to mention scoring, hear me out. Not to oversimplify, but if a team with a bunch of scorers has a great season, it usually means that some, if not most, of their scorers had great years. Now most of these players will be free agents (both restricted and unrestricted) after the season and the team will have several players looking for big raises. If they were anywhere near the cap the year before, they simply won't be able to pay and keep everyone (as we've seen this past offseason). The key to all of this is that players are generally paid according to offensive statistics. You generally don't see Selke candidates getting max contracts; they may be respected and get good money, but not max money. Now who's to say that a forward who scores 50 goals is more valuable than a player who prevents 50? It all comes down to teams overpaying for offensive contributions to victories and underpaying for defensive ones. EXCEPT, in the case of goalies, but with a goalie you only have to pay one player. Am I making any sense here?

Anyway, I think that, in the long run, Nonis has it right. Play a defensive style and keep Luongo until he retires, paying him all of the money he wants. Put good defensive defenseman in front of him, pay up to the cap with a few players who can score goals. But the key here is that if you're playing a defensive style, the offensive players won't put up great numbers, even if they're great players. This reduces the money you'll have to pay for them.

I mean it makes sense. Don't you kind of ever hope when you're watching a game in which the Canucks are up a few goals late that one of the players whose contracts are coming up don't get the empty netters? It's okay if Ohlund does, for example, because he's locked up and not paid for his offense anyway, but not if Carter did last season.

Sorry for the length of the post, and I'm curious to hear what you all think....
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Postby MarkMM » Thu Oct 12, 2006 11:14 am

Insightful post, I liked what Nonis was doing for different reasons, but never really thought of the way defensive players are underpaid while offensive players are either at market value or overpaid (though I do agree that preventing a goal is as important as scoring one, and possibly easier to do).

I think some other things to consider are that if you pick up players that are "coachable", you can dramatically improve your goals against (which as you pointed out is equally part of winning as scoring is) by instituting solid systems, as these players will go along with it, and this prevents goals without really driving anyone's market value up. This is what I think Nonis is doing, guys like Burrows and Bieksa are now able to shut down multi-million dollar opponents by following Vigneault's system, now that is cap value!

I also think that some superstar offensive players with game-breaking ability are needed, and Naslund is in that realm, with the Sedins rapidly approaching that status. These guys can get you goals in make or break situations. At the same time, you don't need to load up on them, if you get third/fourth-line players and again, going back to basics with coaching, they can get goals, doing the dirty and the ugly, crashing nets and screening goalies, not rocket science. So the trick offensively would be to draft a bunch of high upside offensive guys, wait for a couple to pan out, and then lock them up long-term below market value (this will take time, but we've begun it with the Sedins), and the rest can be filled in with guys who've got more guts and heart than talent (Burrows, Rypien, etc.). The fact that we've traded away draft picks is why we're paying a guy like Chouinard $1.1 mil for the third/fourth line, and because we've gone with the "safe" players like Smith and Kesler (he's solid, but we passed up a potential scorer like Tambellini) is why we're going to have to wait for Grabner before we can confidently let go of even second-tier scorers like Morrison.

This will make us a contender, what makes us a champion will be adding seasoned vets, but I really have to emphasize that the whole system will come crashing down if you don't have buy-in, players with no quit in them, I loved Bert, but I don't think you build championships around him. His talent level, yes, the consistency of his work ethic, no. As much as I hate guys like Iginla or Forsberg, they are power forwards who don't disappear like Bert (yes, Iginla can have his bad days, but he'll try SOMETHING to be valuable).
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