The Winning Blueprint
Ask many fans these days who think they know more than NHL executives themselves and most of them will tell you that the blueprint to build a winning team is through the draft. Well looking at these remaining eight teams, I'd say that there is no blueprint, as the evidence is inconclusive.
Now of course every team needs players that they've drafted on their teams. I haven't really seen a team built completely through acquisitions, at least not since the days before the lockout.
But looking at teams throughout the league, I've come up with three strategies that are used to build teams:
Through The Draft: These are teams where the main core and the majority of the supporting players were drafted by the respective team.
Draft Weighted Hybrid: These are teams where the majority of the team was drafted by the respective team, but quite a few of the key and supporting roles were filled through acquisitions.
Acquisition Weighted Hybrid: These are teams where the majority of the key players were acquired either by trade or free agency. There is still however a strong presence of drafted players on the team.
*Undrafted free agents will be classified as having been drafted by the respective team.
So where do the remaining playoff teams fall given these categories?
Boston Bruins: The captain of the Bruins and cornerstone of the Bruins defense was acquired through free agency in the summer of 2006. The team's goaltender, Tuukka Rask was acquired in a trade with the Maple Leafs. The team leaders in points were Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci who tied with 52 points each. They were also both drafted by the Bruins. However, if he hadn't been injured, Marc Savard very likely would have led the team in points and he was also acquired through free agency. Lucic is another important role player that was drafted by the Bruins. But given that other important pieces of this team including Ryder, Recchi, Wheeler, Sturm and quite a few others were acquired and not drafted, I'm going to classify the Bruins as an Acquisition Weighted Hybrid
Chicago Blackhawks: The captain of the Blackhawks is Jonathan Toews who was drafted by the Blackhawks 3rd overall in 2006. Their goaltender is Antti Niemi who was signed as an undrafted free agent. The team's leading scorer is Patrick Kane who was drafted 1st overall in 2007. The second leading scorer was actually a defenceman in Ducan Keith who is also a Norris Trophy candidate. He too was a Blackhawks draft pick. Almost all of the Blackhawks' key players and supporting players were drafted by the team. Notable acquisitions are Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Brian Campbell. Yes they are big name players, but the top 4 Blackhawks leading scorers this season were Blackhawks draft picks and it isn't hard to argue that the Blackhawks would have been in their current position with or without the likes of Hossa and Campbell. For that reason, I'm going to classify this Blackhawks as Built Through The Draft.
Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings have been known for their ability to build through the draft with draft picks that many other teams couldn't build a minor league team with, let alone a championship professional team. The captain of the Red Wings is Nicklas Lidstrom who was drafted by the Red Wings way back in 1989. The leading scorers this season were Datsyuk and Zetterberg who tied with 70 points each. They were both drafted by the Wings. The rookie goaltender, Jim Howard who surprised many this season was also drafted by the Red Wings. Two other of the Wings top scorers are Holmstrom and Franzen and they too were both drafted by the Wings. It's pretty safe to say that the Red Wings can be classified as Built Through The Draft.
Montreal Canadiens: There is no captain for this storied franchise this season, and so I'm going to go with Andrei Markov as their leader. He was of course drafted by the team in 1998. The goaltender this season or goaltenders if you include Price with Halak were both drafted by the Habs, albeit on completely opposite sides of the draft board. Looking at where they were each drafted it's very surprising to see Halak as the one with the reigns, but regardless, he's been one of the best in the NHL since he took those reigns. The leading scorer this season was Tomas Plekanec with 70 points who was drafted by the team in 2001. Just when you think this team has built through the draft written all over them, the next four leading scorers in Gomez, Cammalleri, Gionta and Bergeron were all acquisitions. Given this, I'm going to classify the Canadiens as a Draft Weighted Hybrid.
Philadelphia Flyers: The captain of the Flyers is Mike Richards who was drafted by the Flyers in 2003. The goaltender, Brian Boucher was actually drafted by the Flyers, but he doesn't count as a draft pick because he was drafted in 1995 and then hopped around to five other teams before returning to the Flyers and so he counts as an acquisition. The team's top scorer was Mike Richards and then after him was Jeff Carter who was also drafted by the Flyers. There are however quite a few players that played important roles on this team that were acquired and not drafted by the Flyers including Briere, Pronger, Timonen and Hartnell. They do have other notable draft picks though in Gagne, Giroux and van Riemsdyk. Therefore, I'm going to classify the Flyers as a Draft Weighted Hybrid.
Pittsburgh Penguins There isn't much to say here because this one really is quite obvious. The Penguins captain is Sidney Crosby who was drafted by the Penguins first overall in 2005. The teams goaltender is Marc-Andre Fleury who was drafted 1st overall in 2003. The teams second leading scorer after Crosby is Evgeni Malkin who was drafted 2nd overall in 2004. The only notable acquisition is Sergei Gonchar. The other top player on this team is Jordan Staal who was drafted by the Pens 2nd overall in 2006. There are quite a few acquisitions on this team, but it doesn't matter because the group of Crosby, Malkin, Fleury and Staal would get the job done no matter who the other acquisitions on the team are. The Penguins are classified as Built Through The Draft.
San Jose Sharks: The captain of the Sharks is Rob Blake who was signed as an unrestricted free agent in 2008. The goaltender is Evgeni Nabokov who was drafted by the Sharks in 1994. The team's top scorer was Joe Thornton who was acquired in a trade with the Boston Bruins. After Thornton is Marleau who was drafted by Sharks and then Heatley who was acquired in a trade with the Senators. The team's top defenceman is Dan Boyle who was acquired in a trade with the Lightning. They do have other notable draft picks though in Pavelski and Setoguchi. But this team wouldn't be where it is without those key trades. Therefore I'm going to classify the Sharks as an Acquisition Weighted Hybrid.
Vancouver Canucks: The captain and goaltender of the Canucks is Roberto Luongo who was acquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers. The team's top scorer was Henrik Sedin who was drafted by the Canucks in 1999. After him is his twin brother Daniel who was also drafted by the Canucks in 1999. After the Sedins is Ryan Kesler who was drafted by the Canucks and then Alex Burrows who signed with the Canucks as an undrafted free agent. The team's notable acquisitions include Samuelsson and Ehrhoff. This team wouldn't be where it is without solid drafting, but given that their captain and goaltender was an acquisition, I'm going to classify the Canucks as a Draft Weighted Hybrid.
So what can we take from all of this? Well firstly that drafting is not overrated at all, as you can see. But only three of these teams were classified as having being entirely built through the draft. Most of these teams have a good mix of drafting and acquisitions as three of the teams were classified as a draft weighted hybrid. But as you can also see from the Sharks and Bruins, building a team mostly from draft picks is not the only way to go.
It's interesting to note that only the Sharks and Bruins have strange holds on their opponents in their respective series and they were the two teams I classified as acquisitions based hybrids.
The draft is very important, but as you can see, it's not a guarantee to win you anything. At the end of the day, the best team wins, whether those players were drafted or acquired.
The Stanley Cup doesn't care how you got on the team you won it with, only that you contributed to winning it.