The past five Stanley Cup champions were all bad before they were good.
In each team’s victorious year, an important part was played by at least one player whom the team had chosen in the top three of the draft. It’s not a hard and fast rule but one way to get to the top is to fall to the bottom, because that brings you the premier draft choices who can make a franchise.
So the question is, which of the NHL’s bad teams is best positioned to reach the top?
There are four contenders: Calgary, Edmonton, Florida and the Islanders.
Calgary: The Flames are rebuilding under Brian Burke, interim general manager. They have some good pieces – Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie – but no star.
Monahan, chosen sixth overall last year, was the team’s highest draft pick since 1998. Too soon to say which way they’ll turn.
Edmonton: The Oilers are unable to turn top draft choices into a cohesive squad. They have three first-overall draft picks, all forwards, yet struggle on offence.
After the Olympics, Edmonton managed a stretch of 160:47 without a goal. In a March 2 post-game report, the blogger dawgbone98 wrote of the team: "Sometimes they just get pasted, most times the game is about as exciting as watching the hair grow in my grandfather's ear."
Florida: The team has drafted loads of young talent in Erik Gudbranson, defenceman, third overall in 2010; Jonathan Huberdeau, defenceman, third in 2011; Aleksander Barkov, centre, second in 2013.
The general manager, Dale Tallon, learned his craft in Chicago’s front office. One more high draft choice and the Panthers will have a dynamite nucleus.
New York Islanders: Unlike our other turnaround contenders, the Islanders have a star in John Tavares, the rangy centre chosen first overall in 2009. Check out this video of his stick-handling skills. There is also no reason to question his toughness.
Tavares is out for the season after ripping up his left knee in Sochi – but his absence improves the Islanders’ chance of finishing poorly, and so increases their chance of securing another high draft choice.
The Islanders play with spirit. Small samples are tricky but a four-games-in-six-nights stretch from January suggests what could be.
First, they came from behind to beat Tampa Bay 2-1 in a shoot-out. Then, perhaps unaccustomed to leading, they gave up the game’s last three goals and fell to Philadelphia 6-4, but two nights later turn the tables on the Flyers, rebounding from two down in the third to tie it up and win the shoot-out. Finally, they trailed the crosstown Rangers 3-1 before scoring four straight to win.
This is not a dull team; it is stirring. Griffin Reinhart, a 2012 draft choice, fourth overall, on track to make the Islanders next season, should shore up the defence. Check out this video.
Add a good goalie, and this is the team to watch.
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