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The success of a rebuild

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There is a lot of excitement for the Sabres given their youth movement and free agent/trade additions such as Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo and Evander Kane. The Sabres, in many analysts’ eyes, are a team that could reach third in the Atlantic Division this year.

The rebuild is modeled like many other teams’ tear-downs, but how can one define the success of a rebuild? Is it a Stanley Cup, or more? What about winning the division several times and making it to the final, but never winning?

Given the salary cap and contracts that teams deal with, most teams who rebuild like Buffalo have about seven or eight years before massive contracts eat up the cap, forcing talent out. Starting at the 2005-06 season when the cap was put in, five teams stick out as doing a major rebuild that are similar to Buffalo for this comparison: Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago. Edmonton is an outlier. The teams above all broke their rosters down, traded veterans, and loaded up with high draft picks.

Pittsburgh Penguins
Cups Won: 2
Cup Appearances: 3
Conference Final Appearances: 4
Playoff Series Won: 15
Division Crowns: 3
Playoff Appearances: 10 in 11 Seasons
Years to reach Cup: 2 (based off last playoff miss)

Pittsburgh’s recent cup win helps to greatly redefine them with Chicago as the true rebuild model to follow. The Penguins probably would have another Cup win on here had it not been for injuries to Crosby and Malkin. They had hiccups in recent years, but the shrewd general manager work of Jim Rutherford helped to reopen their window for three to four more years. Any rebuilding team would love to do what Pittsburgh did.

Los Angeles Kings:
Cups Won: 2
Cup Appearances: 2
Conference Final Appearances: 3
Playoff Series Won: 10
Division Crowns: 0
Playoff Appearances: 6 in 11 Seasons
Years to reach Cup: 3 (based off last playoff miss)

Los Angeles has become one of the best clubs in the NHL and their puck possession numbers are always top in the league, but it took the Kings some years to clear the deck and get talent in. They didn’t start off with 1st overall picks like Pittsburgh, but they did get Anze Kopitar in the 2005 draft (fifth overall) and Doughty (second overall) in 2008, which was the real turning point. They have some cap issues and regular season’s success is just okay, but they are still a team to envy given their success.

Boston Bruins:
Cups Won: 1
Cup Appearances: 2
Conference Final Appearances: 2
Playoff Series Won: 10
Division Crowns: 4
Playoff Appearances: 7 in 11 Seasons
Years to reach Cup: 4 (based off last playoff miss)

Boston started their rebuild in the 2005-06 season when they traded Joe Thornton and other veterans away. While semi-controversial, this trade laid the roots for the future and the 2006 offseason when they signed Zdeno Chara, Marc Savard and Tim Thomas.

Add in Phil Kessel who was drafted fifth overall, Patrice Bergeron in his third season and their foundation was set. The Bruins found success very quickly, winning the Cup and two division crowns in their first four years after the 2006-07 season.

However, Marc Savard’s career-ending injury and the terrible trade of Tyler Seguin have the Bruins viewed now as what could’ve been and a warning about making too many moves for short-term success.

Chicago Blackhawks:
Cups Won: 3
Cup Appearances: 3
Conference Final Appearances: 5
Playoff Series Won: 16
Division Crowns: 2
Playoff Appearances: 8 in 11 Seasons
Years to reach Cup: 2 (based off last playoff miss)

Hello, Pittsburgh 2.0. The Hawks started the major changes and lifting in 2006 drafting Jonathan Toews third overall. After one more poor season, they won the lottery and drafted Patrick Kane with the first overall selection.

 Similar to the 2015-16 Sabres, the Blackhawks jumped from 71 points (25th) to 88 points (20th). Since the 2008-09 season, the path to the Cup Final resides through Chicago out West. General managers Stan Bowman has rebuilt his team twice after winning the Cup, finding gems like Artemi Panarin despite heavy cap casualties that cost them Dustin Byfuglien, Brandon Saad, Andrew Ladd, and Patrick Sharp. Even with cap constraints, Chicago has one of the strongest rosters today and is the gold standard in the NHL.

Philadelphia Flyers:

Cups Won: 0
Cup Appearances: 1
Conference Final Appearances: 2
Playoff Series Won: 7
Division Crowns: 1
Playoff Appearances: 8 in 11 Seasons
Years to reach Cup: 3 (based off last playoff miss)

The Flyers are the forgotten NHL rebuild that was pretty successful without winning the Cup. After making the playoffs in 2005-06 the Flyers imploded in 2006-07 finishing dead last. The low point early on that Sabres fans gleefully remember was a 9-1 loss in Buffalo resulted in Ken Hitchcock’s firing soon after.

Paul Homgren took over the GM duties and craftily let the Flyers implosion continue while gutting the roster of veterans like Peter Forsberg, Michal Handzus and Kyle Calder. But by trade or free agent signing, the Flyers pulled off in less than a year one of the most incredible rebuilds to date adding Danny Briere, Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, Joffrey Lopul, Martin Biron, Brayden Coburn and Jason Smith.

Add in Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, who were now in their second year, plus recent draftees Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk. One year after finishing dead last, the Flyers made the playoffs and two years later, the Cup Final.

The Flyers made some impulsive trades years after with Carter and Richards both leaving and ironically winning the cup that next season in Los Angeles. The Flyers are the ultimate reminder that using patience, despite winning no championship, is the way to make sure a rebuild works effectively.

Final Numbers

Taking all of these teams’ numbers and averaging them together, here is how an average full rebuild turns out.

Cups Won: 1.6
Cup Appearances: 2
Conference Final Appearances: 3
Playoff Series Won: 11.6
Division Crowns: 2
Playoff Appearances: 7.8
Years to reach Cup: 2.8

The numbers show reason for real optimism. Obviously a Stanley Cup isn’t guaranteed, but the numbers say you could expect one with over a coins flip at winning another.

The numbers also say you should make two Cup appearances and three Conference Finals while most years making the playoffs.

Outside of the Bruins who took four years to finally reach the Cup, the rest of the teams saw growth quickly and a Cup appearance in two or three years. Chicago and Pittsburgh are the real models given their longevity of success and not missing the playoffs since they began their ascent.

The Sabres are quickly on the rise, and this season could be the start of something great. 

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NHL Standings

DIVTEAMGPRECPTS
Atlantic Division Leaders:
A6141-17-385
A5837-13-882
A6338-20-581
Metropolitan Division Leaders:
M6236-22-476
M6134-20-775
M6132-19-1074
Wild Card leaders:
M6131-22-870
M6130-26-565
-----------------------------------------
M6229-26-765
M6127-24-1064
A5827-25-660
M6227-30-559
A6024-26-1058
A6023-29-854
A6021-29-1052
A6118-32-1147
DIVTEAMGPRECPTS
Central Division Leaders:
C6037-14-983
C6035-16-979
C6134-20-775
Pacific Division Leaders:
P6141-16-486
P6233-21-874
P6231-20-1173
Wild Card leaders:
C6135-22-474
C6234-24-472
-----------------------------------------
P6133-23-571
P6231-22-971
C6032-23-569
C6227-27-862
P6025-31-454
P6123-31-753
P6017-33-1044
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