What Is the True Definition of a Rebuilding Hockey Team

The Edmonton Oilers are rebuilding. Of that there is no doubt. But, what defines a true rebuild?

Taking a closer look at our Jason Spezza poll, I got to thinking and immediately saw two things that jumped out at me. First, the reaction is mixed. Rumors that Spezza may be available by trade has created all sorts of responses from fans of the Oilers. Second, those against the idea of a true number one center by trade instead of a possible number one center by draft, site Spezza as an example of going against the "rebuilding model" the Oilers are following.

My question is this. Does picking up a 27 year old first line center in Jason Spezza really mean the Oilers would then no longer be rebuilding? It can't be the term of the contract. With five years left, Spezza would be around when the Oilers draft picks start to mature. It must be the price right?

I thought, to really know the definition of a rebuild, I'd need to look at a couple of teams who are known for and have successfully "rebuilt" their franchises. These are teams that were at rock bottom and then drafted well thanks to their placement near the low end of the totem pole. They are also now, among the most competitive teams in the NHL.

I assume most people would be in agreement that the Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburg Penguins and Washington Capitals lead the pack in teams that fit this description. These are all teams that are either on the cusp of being winners for a long time or are now among the favorites each year to compete for the Stanley Cup (Kings lesser so than the others). I would argue most might agree they got to this status thanks to a rebuild philosophy.

Teams like San Jose, New Jersey, and Detroit aren't included. Neither are Tampa and NYI. Not because they haven't drafted well (in fact they have), but because at no time in my recollection, was the team known for completely rebuilding itself and some of these teams still suck.

Taking a look at the recent transactions and draft picks of each team tells us something interesting.


Noteable Draft Picks:

Patrick Kane (2007 1st overall), Jonathan Toews (2006 3rd overall), Cam Barker (2004 3rd overall), David Bolland (2004 32nd overall), Brent Seabrook (2003 14th overall), Dustin Byfuglien (2003 245th overall), Duncan Keith (2002 54th overall)

Trades and Signings:

Chicago started by trading for Kris Versteeg on Feb 3, 2007. They moved Tuomo Ruttu for Andrew Ladd on Feb 2008 and later on July 1st that year signed Cristobal Huet to a four year $22.5 million dollar contract and Brian Campbell to an 8 yr $56.8 million dollar deal. The following summer, Chicago went after the biggest free agent available and signed Marian Hossa to a 12 yr $62.8 million dollar contract. In smaller deals Chicago also acquired Tomáš Kopecký, John Madden, and Richard Petiot. One of the biggest trades in my opinion was obtaining Patrick Sharp from Philadelphia. Chicago may be forced to move him due to cap issues, but he's an integral part of that franchise.

A Quick Glance

Chicago did extremely well at the draft(s). They had the luxury of drafting two of its franchise players in the top three, but did well with later first round picks and found some sleepers in Byfuglien and Duncan Keith.

There is no doubt the draft made up for most of Chicago's success, but signings like Marian Hossa, Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet can't be ignored thanks to their sheer size and dollar value. This is especially true as GM at the time Dale Tallon made an effort to outbid other teams for their services. Specifically, a player like Hossa will be a big part of the Blackhawks future for years to come and additional players who came from other trades represent some of Chicago's big salary assets.

Some of these non-draft selection signings and trades have paid dividends more than others, but it tells us that the Blackhawks didn't rely solely on their draft picks to ice a top notch team.

Los Angeles

The rebuild in LA essentially began on April 21, 2006 when current GM Dean Lombardi was hired. He revamped every aspect of the Kings from front office and coaching to player personell.

Despite being known mostly for drafting Drew Doughty (2nd overall in 2008), who is looking like a leading Norris Trophy candidate for the next decade or more, the Kings lack of an actual rebuild through draft selections might surprise a few people.

Trades and Signings:

The first thing Lombardi did, was sign players like center Michal Handzus, left wings Ladislav Nagy and Kyle Calder, and defensemen Tom Preissing, Brad Stuart and Jon Klemm. Lombardi actually traded his big name draft pick in Mike Cammalleri (49th overall in 2001) to Calgary.

Along the way, Lombardi added pieces like Matt Greene and Jarret Stoll from Edmonton, Jack Johnson and Justin Williams from Carolina and Ryan Smyth from Colorado.

Noteable Draft Picks:

Dustin Brown (13th overall 2003), Alexander Frolov (20th overall in 2000), Anze Kopitar (11th overall in 2005), Wayne Simmonds (61st overall in 2007).

Quick Glance:

While some might argue my inclusion of the Kings in this article, many would agree L.A. to be a team of the future. Los Angeles is often referred to as a well rebuilt team that is on the verge of being a great team for a long time. The thing is, only Brown, Kopitar and Simmonds are draft picks making a difference in terms of the Kings recent success (Frolov is likely on his way out).

The Kings made big trades for high priced veteran players like Ryan Smyth, moving young pieces and high draft picks made in years prior in the opposite direction and to other teams. Not exactly the philosphy of a "rebuild".

A perfect example would be the Kings moving someone like Mike Cammalleri. Had Cammalleri have been drafted by the Oilers, then traded in a quiet draft three way deal for a draft pick, Oilers fans would have stormed the gates! Yet the Kings essentially traded one of their best ever post lock-out draft picks in the middle of a rebuild time.


Noteable Draft Picks:

Sidney Crosby (1st overall in 2005), Evgeni Malkin (2nd overall 2004), March Andre Fleury (1st overall in 2003), Brooks Orpik (18th overall 2000), Jordan Staal (2nd overall in 2006), Kris Letang (62nd overall in 2005), Ryan Malone (115th overall in 1999).

Signings and Trades:

Sergei Gonchar signed a five year $25 million dollar deal with the Penguins on August 4, 2005. Marian Hossa, Hal Gill, Maxime Talbot, Ruslan Fedotenko, Bill Guerin, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Chris Kunitz were all additions that while not big ticket items (outside of Hossa) made a big difference in the depth of that organization.

Quick Glance:

Again, the Penguins did well to draft Crosby, Malkin, Staal and Fleury, who are undisputedly the backbone of that team. Pittsburg did however do its fair share of big game hunting, going after and obtaining Sergei Gonchar (arguably their top defenceman for the last five years), Marian Hossa and others who were brought in to put this team over the top.

Washington Capitals

Notable Draft Picks:

Nicklas Backstrom (4th overall 2006), Alexander Ovechkin (1st overall 2004), Mike Green (24th overall 2004), Alexander Semin (13th overall in 2002)

Trades and Signings:

Brooks Laich was picked up from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Peter Bondra, while Mike Knuble came from Philly and Jose Theodore and Tom Poti were big name UFA's. Washington also tried to hit a homerun with Michael Nylander, but Edmonton fans know how that one turned out.

Quick Glance:

Washington's potent offence is all related to good drafting in top spots. They made the most out of every first round selection and all are paying off and a big part of the Capitals success.

Where Washington did well in trades and signings was in their depth. They attempted to get over the hump with goaltending and other UFA's but many if not most turned out to be busts. Brooks Laich was a strong move, and Washington is known for making plays at big ticket items (ala Jagr), but their current roster was rebuit from terrible years at the bottom of the NHL standings between 2002 and 2006.

The Point of this Exercise?

This is a long drawn out way of suggesting that every team, even the ones known for drafting well at the top spots because they stunk so bad for so long, use trades and free agency to fill and improve their rosters. Not one team on this list of the most widely known "rebuilds" did it with draft picks alone.

This isn't limited to trades of depth or bottom line talent. Many are star players with big tickets brought in to change the face of the franchise in more than one respect. Some of these teams went so far as to pick up the biggest names on the UFA market or trade for veteran draft picks past their prime with big cap hits.

So, if the best examples one can find of successful rebuilds include big name players who aren't always young and not always draft selections, why should Oiler fans be so quick to dismiss adding a bigger name player by trade or free agency?

What would make someone think that a team like the Oilers who while holding the rights to MPS (10th overall in 2009), Jordan Eberle (22nd overall in 2008), Sam Gagner (6th overall in 2007), Linus Omark (97th overall in 2007), Andrew Cogliano (25th overall in 2005), Ales Hemsky (13th overall in 2001), Shawn Horcoff (99th overall in 1998); couldn't use a little extra help? None of the names listed are picks in the top five. Many of the teams we have to use as rebuild examples had that luxury.

The Oilers will have just one draft pick at a comparable level. The kicker is, that selection hasn't even happened yet. It makes sense to me that the Oilers should be looking at more than just draft picks to effectively "rebuild" this team.

Could Spezza be the Marian Hossa of the group? Could he be the Ryan Smyth to arguably put this team over the hump? Why not? People will argue semantics -- that Spezza isn't a leader, that he's paid too much. All of those arguments may be true. But those same people would likely find fault if the Oilers were to consider Patrick Marleau, Tomas Plekanec or Ilya Kovalchuk should any of those names become a possibility or a good opporunity. I use the word opportunity because I don't believe the Oilers give up the farm to get Spezza. They simply weigh the options of a good hockey trade and accept it if one is there.

To truly compare this Oilers rebuilding team to any of the rebuild success models we've used, the Oilers would either a) need two to three more years including this draft to make top five picks or b) pick up a few players outside of draft selections that make a big impact.

I'm not sold that Spezza is the answer. I also not sold that Spezza throws a rebuild out the window.


If there is a need to sign a free agent I would go with ones that have won a Stanley Cup and is older that does not mind playing sencond fiddle. Someone like Spaz is not likely a good role model backchecking and to lead by example. I would trade for some of Chicagos RFAs.

June 8, 2010 at 5:54 AM comment-delete

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