Can Canucks win Stanley Cup without a full-rebuild?

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Trevor Linden went on TSN 1040 radio with Matt Sekeres for an hour and a half on Thursday. 

For the most part, Linden was the calm, well-spoken guy we’ve come to expect. He answered numerous fan questions, ranging from jersey suggestions, to player trades, to organizational philosophy.

One question that kept reappearing, in one form or another, was the question of a rebuild. Why not trade off all (or most) of your older players and accumulate draft picks was the question of the day.

Here is where a lot of people will be divided. On one hand, what Linden is saying makes sense. Veteran leadership is great for the development of young players. On the other hand, is it better to have an elite prospect with mediocre mentors or a mediocre prospect with elite mentors? I lean towards the former.

Here’s what Linden had to say when he was pressed about a rebuild for the millionth time:

 

It’s unrealistic just to flush everyone out and try to lose. I don’t understand that, I have trouble with the realism of that question because it’s not possible. You have to look at where we are and what we have.

On the question of if it is realistic, I believe Linden is being too simplistic. Of course a full-rebuild is realistic.

The salary cap and no-trade clauses make “blowing it up” difficult, though not impossible. Kevin Bieksa and Jason Garrison were happy to stay in Vancouver, but agreed to waive their no-trade clauses, for instance.

The Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers are attempting a full-rebuild at the moment. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks have done it successfully. Many teams have done it, although to be fair, I don’t think anyone has ever gone into full-scale rebuild mode after a 101-point season.

It should also be said that full-scale rebuilds are not easy and they don’t always work. The Toronto Maple Leafs made mistakes in their last rebuild and are starting over again. Before the Blackhawks got Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, they were building around Kyle Calder, Tyler Arnason and Mark Bell. Try again.

 

The Stanley Cup Formula

 

The question that I am most interested in is: what is the most reliable way to build a championship team?

Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t one secret formula to winning a championship.

When the Anaheim Ducks won the 2007 Stanley Cup, while leading the league in penalties, many concluded that you needed a bunch of bullies to be successful. Better get rid of all your soft Europeans, right? Wrong. The next season, Detroit won the Cup with a lineup full of Europeans, including a Swedish captain (remember when that was the reason why Vancouver would never win it all?).

The NHL was clearly a young man’s speed and skill game when the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2009 and 2010. But then the Boston Bruins (ugh) won the Stanley Cup with elite goaltending, a menacing #1 defenceman and four gritty forward lines.

My point: there are many different ways to win the Stanley Cup. The key is to acquire the best players and build the best team (duh).

 

History Lesson

 

Let’s take a look back at the Stanley Cup winners since 2006 and where their top-end talent came from. This isn’t to uncover a magic formula, but rather to look at where top-end talent is most likely to come from.

Here is a list of the #1 goalie, #1 defenceman, #1 centre, plus four other notable difference makers on Stanley Cup winners since 2006.

 

Carolina Hurricanes (2006)

  Player Acquired
#1 Goalie Cam Ward 1st round pick (25th overall)
#1 Defenceman Bret Hedican Trade (Sandis Ozolinsh)
#1 Centre Eric Staal 1st round pick (2nd overall)
Rod Brind’Amour Trade (Keith Primeau)
Cory Stillman UFA
Justin Williams Trade (Danny Markov)
Doug Weight Trade (1st rounder)

 

Anaheim Ducks (2007)

Player Acquired
#1 Goalie J.S. Giguere Trade (2nd rounder)
#1 Defenceman Scott Niedermayer UFA
#1 Centre Ryan Getzlaf 1st round pick (19th overall)
Chris Pronger Trade (Lupul, Smid, two 1st rounders, one 2nd rounder)
Teemu Selanne UFA
Corey Perry 1st round pick (28th overall)
Andy McDonald UFA (undrafted)

 

Detroit Red Wings (2008)

Player Acquired
#1 Goalie Chris Osgood 3rd round pick
#1 Defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom 3rd round pick
#1 Centre Pavel Datsyuk 6th round pick
Henrik Zetterberg 7th round pick
Johan Franzen 3rd round pick
Niklas Kronwall 1st round pick (29th overall)
Brian Rafalski UFA

 

Pittsburgh Penguins (2009)

Player Acquired
#1 Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury 1st round pick (1st overall)
#1 Defenceman Sergei Gonchar UFA
#1 Centre Sidney Crosby 1st round pick (1st overall)
Evgeni Malkin 1st round pick (2nd overall)
Jordan Staal 1st round pick (2nd overall)
Chris Kunitz Trade (Ryan Whitney)
Kris Letang 3rd round pick

 

Chicago Blackhawks (2010, 2013, 2015)

Player Acquired
#1 Goalie (2010) Antti Niemi UFA (undrafted)
#1 Goalie (2013, 2015) Corey Crawford 2nd round pick
#1 Defenceman Duncan Keith 2nd round pick
#1 Centre Jonathan Toews 1st round pick (3rd overall)
Patrick Kane 1st round pick (1st overall)
Marian Hossa UFA
Patrick Sharp Trade (3rd rounder)
Brent Seabrook 1st round pick (14th overall)

 

Boston Bruins (2011)

Player Acquired
#1 Goalie Tim Thomas UFA (undrafted)
#1 Defenceman Zdeno Chara UFA
#1 Centre David Krejci 2nd round pick
Patrice Bergeron 2nd round pick
Brad Marchand 3rd round pick
Nathan Horton Trade (Dennis Wideman, 1st rounder, 3rd rounder)
Milan Lucic 2nd round pick

 

Los Angeles Kings (2012, 2014)

Player Acquired
#1 Goalie Jonathan Quick 3rd round pick
#1 Defenceman Drew Doughty 1st round pick (2nd overall)
#1 Centre Anze Kopitar 1st round pick (11th overall)
Dustin Brown 1st round pick (13th overall)
Jeff Carter Trade (Jack Johnson, 1st rounder)
Justin Williams Trade (Patrick O’Sullivan, 2nd rounder)
Mike Richards Trade (Brayden Schenn (5th overall pick), Simmonds (2nd rounder), 2nd rounder
Marian Gaborik (2014) Trade (Matt Frattin, 2nd rounder, 3rd rounder)

 

Though drafting was important for every Stanley Cup winner since 2006, picking high in the draft was not necessary for the Anaheim Ducks, Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins. The Ducks and Bruins benefited greatly from great UFA signings in 2005 and 2006. The Red Wings, as only they can, found a way to grab elite players in late rounds of the draft.

Picking up franchise cornerstones with a top-3 pick was vitally important for 7 of the last 10 Stanley Cup winners. That’s how Carolina acquired Eric Staal, how Pittsburgh got Crosby and Malkin, how Chicago landed Toews and Kane, and how Los Angeles found Drew Doughty.

Similarly, drafting at the top of the draft was how the Canucks acquired two of their building blocks, Henrik and Daniel Sedin. But what does Vancouver do when the Sedins become too old to be elite NHL players?

 

Can the Canucks’ plan work?

 

Full-scale rebuilds are long and painful, and they don’t guarantee success. But they greatly improve the odds of acquiring elite building blocks that championship teams need.

If the Canucks aren’t willing to do a blow-it-up rebuild, they will need to find elite players through uncommon sources. It may not be the most reliable way to do it, but it’s certainly possible.

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Rob Williams Sports Editor at Vancity Buzz covering all sports in Vancouver.
@robthehockeyguy

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