Saturday, October 18, 2008

Dynasty Building

The Dream and The Reality

Thanks to Four Habs Fans attack on mediocre reporters, blogs and hockey management, I was lucky enough to fall onto this quote from Pierre Boivin:
"Today, if you recruit and operate well, are well-managed and well-coached, and have strong fan support, there's no reason you can't have a team that's going to contend ... forever."

Is this PR at its very finest, or what?

I'll tell you what Pierre, although it sounds nice, your notion that good management is enough to contend forever is a falsehood through and through. Ask the Ottawa Senators or the New jersey Devils fans if they believe that tripe. Both those teams are very well managed and both face the inevitable fall due to the cyclical nature of NHL player development. New Jersey are a goaltender retirement away from being the Islanders and Ottawa are a goaltender meltdown away from the pinnacle they reached.

The cycle of success

The cycle of success in the NHL is dependent on two very important and unchangeable facts (at least for the time being):

1) Players get older, and apart from Chelios can't play forever
2) The worst teams get first choice from the 10 sure shot young players coming through

It would be a mistake to think otherwise.

Now, I anticipate hearing a heck of a lot about Detroit in the case that anyone decides to respond. Probably because they represent the singular example of a team that has succeeded consistently over the past 15 years. I will cut that argument off at the pass.

While I truly believe Detroit has done a nice job at maintaining a contender over the years, it must not be overlooked that over the years they largely did so with sending power, money and some of the highest free agent offers in the history of the league.

No one would withhold that Detroit signed free agents more intelligently than did their peers in the overspending club (Philly, Toronto and NYR), but spend they did. History will show that Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Brendan Shanahan, Dominik Hasek and Chris Chelios all helped the Red Wings bridge the period when youngsters Datsyuk and Zetterberg were not yet ready to carry the team and Steve Yzerman was probably no longer up to hauling 20 guys on his back anymore.

We didn't notice the Wings cycle here because they buffered it with pure spending. Sure, it was good management, but a bit looser on the purse strings in Montreal and we could have seen the same. Take away the free agents and I don't think Detroit walks away with a Stanley Cup at all between 1999 and 2004.

Detroit's latest trick

Times have changed a lot in the New NHL, and Detroit can no longer rely on their pull to make teams of any 35 year-olds they choose. As far as I can glean, there is really only one trick to help a team overstay its time at the top: get your stars signed under their market value. This has been Detroit's latest boon.

In the world of salary cap hockey, Zetterberg at under $3 million a year seems like cheating. Even Datsyuk making less than both Mike and Brad Richards is a major coup.
If and when Zetterberg and Datsyuk actually ask to be paid what they're worth, even mighty Detroit will have troubles. But, for the time being their generosity has allowed Detroit to indulge in the Rafalskis and Hossas (both the premier signings of their respective years) of this league.

The problem is, and where I think Boivin's theory falls apart is that all players will eventually want a nice big nest egg to finish off their days of earning a living before fishing and golf happily ever after. Even the modest Zetterberg is rumoured to want his worth ($7 million +), the same goes for their young defence and forwards. Hoping to replace Filppula or Holmstrom from within is optimistic, Zetterberg and Datsyuk - improbable.

Our cycle of success

Our time at the top seems to be well orchestrated, probably because it happened just when Gainey said it should. But I'll remember that though we won the conference, we only made the playoffs by 12 points and owe that first place to Ray Emery as much as anyone. This year is a truer test actually, because the players groomed to take us to the top are actually coming of age now (Andrei K, Plekanec, Markov, Higgins, Komisarek, and Price to an extent). This year is really the beginning of what should be our peaking and time in the top tier. It makes the best of administrators very optimistic indeed.

Montreal owes a lot of its current flexibility to sensible signings and players looking like bargains at the end of the year. The bargain group is topped by Plekanec and Higgins, but also includes Andrei Kostitsyn, Komisarek and even Kovalev. Having these players locked in at reasonable numbers has allowed the flexibility to retool with Hamrlik, Lang and Tanguay. But as we all know the honeymoon only lasts so long, and some of these guys will want to be paid.

I believe that Montreal will do their best to make hay this year. But I hope the team can see beyond Boivin's hype because who really knows how long the sun will be shining on Montreal.

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