Does that make San Jose a successful organization (because of all its regular-season successes), or a failed one? If you measure strictly by championships won, probably it’s the latter. The Sharks have been operating in the NHL since 1991-92 and are still looking for that first Stanley Cup.
Right now, the two NHL teams based in Alberta represent an interesting study in contrasts because they are using directly opposite blue prints to build. Edmonton followed Pittsburgh’s lead and went all scorched earth three years ago. Short term, the Oilers are paying the price for that decision too – another terrible year in which they’ll be rewarded with another high draft choice. By contrast, Calgary did its usual patch-and-pray job. Neither produced even a playoff spot, so no championship there this year - again. Will Edmonton’s approach ultimately prove beneficial?
They have good pieces in place; but the temptation to fast-track the maturation process will be there. It always seems to be in Canada. Maybe Leafs’ GM Brian Burke has something when he complains about how difficult it is to run a team in Toronto because of the 24/7 noise. Nobody is telling general manager David Poile in Nashville that the Predators would be better if only they played Colin Wilson more (Wilson was chosen seventh overall in 2008). Meanwhile, on Hockey Night In Canada, analyst Don Cherry figures everything would be well in Toronto if only they played Nazen Kadri (seventh overall in 2009) more. Just because Kadri has good shootout moves? Nashville sits Wilson until he’s ready; and nobody is telling them to do otherwise.
In Toronto (Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Montreal), everybody’s an expert. Does it affect performance/development/decision-making? It shouldn’t, but maybe it does. When Canadiens owner Geoff Molson announced his decision to fire general manager Pierre Gauthier Thursday, he spent a goodly portion of his press conference talking about fans – and the need to be responsive to fans. All well and good, except the popularity with the general public of an executive or a coach, who are often obliged to make hard and unpopular big-picture decisions, shouldn’t be a criteria when making a switch, or if it is, it should be way down the list.
The point is, it’s just easier to do the right thing when you operate in a vacuum; and nobody is questioning or second-guessing every little move you make.
About the only across-the-board threads that link the performance of Canadian-based NHL teams that I can see are 1) relatively poor player development and 2) the general feeling that you have to win RIGHT THIS MINUTE and you have to do it every year. That’s Burke’s theory and what you hear from management types in Calgary every year too.
Of course, that means Canadian teams operate with a business plan that includes a lot of imperfect reasoning.
Theoretically, rabid, knowledgeable Canadian hockey fans should be more sophisticated than their American hockey counterparts and thus understand that sometimes, you need to take one step backward to take two steps forward. Discounting Winnipeg because it’s too soon to evaluate their management team, every Canadian team (with the exception of Edmonton) seems to be in too much of a hurry to win.
Burke’s whole credo was fans in Toronto wouldn’t patiently wait for a turnaround. Sure they would have.
Burke has actually made some good ancillary moves, on the trade market and in signing college free agents. His blunder was the Phil Kessel deal. If they’d just drafted the two players that would have come to them in the draft, they’d have two more good young pieces coming through the system. Tyler Seguin will soon pass Kessel in terms of his overall impact (although in fairness, Kessel is still a top-10 NHL scorer). And of course, Burke’s blind unwillingness to fix the goaltending is the root cause of most of this last month’s angst.
Elsewhere: Montreal’s management has been an unmitigated disaster. They just understood they had to clean house and start over. Ottawa appears in good hands. Winnipeg’s group shows promise. Edmonton? Their young players are improving and they are fun to watch. In 36 months, they’ll be really good, and then the trick will be hang on to everybody that matters.
Calgary is a middle-of-the-road disaster, but a close look at the moves made by GM Jay Feaster in the past 12 months suggests he is still in the business of unravelling the Darryl Sutter years – in which Sutter, in the misguided view that the Flames were close to competing for a championship, kept trading off draft choices to get quick-fixes that never really worked. How many decades can a team go without developing or otherwise finding a true No. 1 centre? Calgary appears to be going for the record.