With the aim of writing and shelving a few Daily Cup of Joe posts for the week of Christmas, so I can post but mostly take a short break from writing, I hope to finish and post a multi-part series that looks at how some of the current success stories in the NHL were built. The idea is to learn a bit about works and might apply to Ron Francis’ in-process project to get the Carolina Hurricanes back to the playoffs and do it in a way that is more sustainable and consistent that past playoff entries.
Part 1 features the Tampa Bay Lightning and primarily Steve Yzerman’s work to build a team that is fairly young, was good enough to make the Stanley Cup Finals in 2015 and is deemed to be deep enough to stay in the upper echelon of the NHL. Yzerman joined Tampa before the 2010-11 season, so some of the work in building the Lightning happened before his time, but he is largely credited with (and I think mostly rightly) architecting the Lightning’s recent success.
The core is built from elite draft picks
As is often the case, the core of the Tampa Bay Lightning is a couple elite players won by virtue of rough seasons and the high-end draft picks that followed. Steven Stamkos was selected #1 overall in 2008, and Victor Hedman was selected #2 overall in 2009. Neither are quite there yet, but the next 2 players in this run could be Andrei Vasilevskiy who was drafted #19 overall in 2012 and Jonathan Drouin who was drafted #3 overall in 2013.
Yzerman is arguably best in the business at opportunistically buying low and selling high in trade market
There is also an element of developing other players from within the system, but I would argue that the core of Tampa’s rising is actually Steve Yzerman’s ability to sell high and buy low on trades and free agents.
Vincent Lecavalier: Rather than riding them until the bitter end, Yzerman made the (fairly easy) decision to cut ties with Vincent Lecavalier by buying him out.
Martin St. Louis/Ryan Callahan: Then borrowing some set of potions and wizardry from the Harry Potter stuff at Univeral Orlando, Yzerman capitalized on the Rangers’ contract negotiation impasse with Ryan Callahan and desperation to advance in the playoffs, Yzerman masterfully parlayed an aging Martin St. Louis into Ryan Callahan who was 10 years younger and picked up 2 first round picks to boot. (That is simply astounding!)
Cory Conacher/Ben Bishop: Per the formula, Yzerman used the combination of the Senators having issues at the goalie position (actually had too many) and a sell high mentality on his own player to pull off another trade that is brilliant in retrospect. Cory Conacher had stormed out to a strong start in 2013-14 at least partly by virtue of playing with a strong set of scoring line mates. At the same time, Ben Bishop was 1 goalie too many in Ottawa making for a nearly 1-for-1 trade that also saw Tampa include a mid-round draft pick. Ben Bishop quickly became Tampa’s starter and Cory Conacher has developed into a fringe NHL player who has come nowhere close to matching his scoring run in Tampa.
Yzerman built a blue line from scratch buying low on proven veterans who did not fit in previous situations
Straying a bit from the book of hording and using draft picks, Yzerman has fairly regularly spent futures to add current roster players with mixed results on individual deals but overall success in the standings and playoffs obviously. Especially on the blue line, Yzerman has built a blue line arguably overstocked with veterans.
Anton Stralman: Before the 2014-15 season, Yzerman signed Stralman for 5 years at $4.4 million. That move was arguably the single biggest move in terms of taking the Lightning to the next level.
Jason Garrison: Before the 2014-15 season, Yzerman traded second and seventh round draft picks and a mid-tier prospect to add veteran Jason Garrison. Garrison had not worked out in Vancouver which is what made a skating, offensively-capable top 4 defenseman available for a modest price.
Braydon Coburn: Then at the trade deadline, Yzerman paid pretty heavily with a first and third round pick to add veteran blue liner Coburn to the mix in time for the stretch run and playoffs.
When it was all said and done, Yzerman had built half of a blue line good enough to push the Stanley Cup Finals mostly on the cheap by again buying low on proven veteran defensemen.
More a mix of internal development and more external additions at forward
While the blue was built largely from additions from outside of the Tampa organization, the forward group features many more homegrown players. Steven Stamkos was a Tampa draftee obviously, but maybe more significantly the trio of Palat, Kucherov and Johnson were all developed internally. Johnson was not drafted by Tampa but did spend time in Syracuse. The other 2 were 2011 Lightning draftees. But the Lightning again relied on external additions at forward including key players Callahan, Boyle and Filppula.
Possible takeaway for Ron Francis
People are talking about the young depth that the Tampa Bay Lightning have in their system, but I think it is important to recognize how significant of a role external additions had in building the 2014-15 team. The list of players added from elsewhere includes Bishop, Filppula, Callahan, Stralman, Garrison, Boyle, Carle and Coburn. It is interesting to note that most of these players were added in good trades for Tampa that capitalized on circumstances that made good veteran players available for reasonable prices. While there is a need and a benefit from developing players internally, there is also something to be said for opportunistically filling a few gaps with trades.