The Path to Success: Should the Habs Follow the Oilers?

By markdellaposta
The results from the 2011 NHL Draft Lottery are in, and for the second year in a row, the Edmonton Oilers came out with the first pick in the draft. 

The Oilers will have the chance to add yet another young dynamo to their young, up and coming team. Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi will likely be joined by either Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Adam Larsson.

Either way, the Oilers have won the opportunity to fill a major hole on their team. With Hopkins, they get a potential number one center to play between two of their talented young wingers, while with Larsson, the Oilers get a potential top pairing defenseman as well as the power play quarterback they desperately need.

No matter who they select in this year’s draft, it’s clear that the “City of Champions” may have themselves a very dangerous team within five years.

With all the hope surrounding Edmonton, some fanbases have to wonder whether or not their team should follow in Oilers footsteps. Habs fans in particular have to wonder whether they are on a better, more direct path towards success.

Recent history would lend some support to the idea that Edmonton is building its team towards perennial Stanley Cup contention.

The Chicago Blackhaws had to hit rock bottom in order to ensure a number of high draft picks. These picks landed the Hawks players such as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

The Pittsburgh Penguins occupied the league’s basement for nearly 10 years. This decade of suffering allowed them to select the likes of Fleury, Malkin and Staal.

The Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning benefited from years of sellar dwelling by drafting players such as Eric Staal and Vincent Lecavalier, players that would eventually lead them to glory.

Naturally, by looking at what these teams were able to do, many Habs fans are beginning to think that the team needs to be gutted before it can be great. Since the team’s last championship, in 1993, the Habs have wallowed in mediocraty. Only once, last year, the Habs were able to make it out of the first round.

The past 18 years have been filled with frustration. Canadiens fans have seen bottom feeding teams rise to prominance while their club has failed to make any significant in roads.

Fans should be weary of this “worst to first” strategy however. For every success story, there has been a failure of epic proportions.

Take the Atlanta Thrashers for example. From 1999 to 2010, the Thrashers had nine top 10 picks, five of which have been in the top three. Despite their plethora of high draft picks, the Thrashers are exactly where they were when they entered the league, outside the playoffs. Despite a number of high profile players to emerge from Atlanta, such as Ilya Kovalchuk and Danny Heatley, their draft history is riddled with players like Patrick Stephan and Boris Valabik.

The Florida Panthers went from having a solid looking future with Horton, Bouwmeester and Luongo, to once again beginning the rebuilding process with Dale Talon.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are another notable example of a colossal failure. Since entering the league in 2000, the Jackets have had top 10 picks in all but one year. Four of those picks were in the top five. They used those picks on players like Pascal Leclaire, Nikolai Zherdev, Gilbert Brule and Alexandre Picard. They have made only one playoff appearance, and were quickly swept by the Detroit Red Wings.

Speaking of those Red Wings, there is an alternative strategy in building a cup contending team. For every team that has built a contender by purposely tearing apart its roster and relying on high draft picks, there is a team that has maintained a level of excellence without needing to associate itself with the leagues most downtrodden squads.

The Red Wings have not drafted in the top 10 since 1991, when they drafted Martin Lapointe. Since then, they have gone on to win four Stanley Cups. The latter two cups were won on the backs of players like Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Lidstrom….all chosen outside the first round. They were complemented by players such as Brian Rafalski, Brad Stuart and Mikael Samuelsson…all acquired via free agency and trades.

The Philadelphis Flyers have also succeeded without relying on high draft picks. Since 1983, the Flyers have had only two top five draft picks; Joni Pitkanen and James Van Riemsdyk. Both these players have failed to leave a significant impact on the team, yet the Flyers have been Stanley Cup Contenders since the mid 1990s.

The Anaheim Ducks drafted Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry outside the top 10, they traded for Chris Pronger and they signed Scott Niedermeyer as a free agent.

Now we come to the Montreal Canadiens. Clearly, the Habs have chosen the latter of the two team building strategies. Whether it’s due to impatient owners or a demanding fan base, the Habs have been reluctant to completelty gutt their roster. Is this the right choice? Should they go the way of the Pittsburgh Penguins and sacrifice immediate success for long term dominance?

The fact is, there is no right way about it. The Thrashers have proven that no amount of valuable draft picks will yeild substantial results if the wrong person is making the picks. The Red Wings have shown that a combination of proper scouting, timely free agent signings, and advantageous trades can carry a team to the promise land. This formula can contribute to the type of annual success and perennial contention being enjoyed by the Philadelphia Flyers and San Jose Sharks.

It can also lead to constant mediocrity. The Habs seem to have been stuck in a rut for a while now and fans have been questioning the team’s most important personnel.

For every strong draft pick, signing or trade, there seems to be a questionable one. For every Andrei Markov, Thomas Plekanec and P.K. Subban, there has been a David Fischer, Kyle Chipchura or Chris Higgins. For every Brian Gionta, there’s been a Sergei Samsonov.

The Habs haven’t been stuck in mediocrity because they don’t draft high enough, or they don’t sign enough free agents. The single most important reason the Habs aren’t  a Cup contender is less than stellar management.

Rather than debate which building strategy to follow, Habs fans should debate whether or not they have the right personnel leading the ship.

Oilers nation is surely hoping they do.

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