The way you build an NHL team has changed over the decades but now is the hardest era of a team build. There are many different ways to build a team now- you can go the route of drafting young talent by building through the draft, you could also use that draft capital to make trades for big-name players, or you could go and sign free agents that can quickly push your team into the playoffs. But what is the best way to build a team? Is it one of those or is it a mixture of them? I’ll be comparing the way 3 teams were built: the Tampa Bay Lightning, Vegas Golden Knights, and Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are currently the most successful team in the NHL. They have some homegrown talent on their roster with players like Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Andrei Vasilevskiy. A majority of their core players have been drafted and grown in Tampa Bay’s system and there are some significant upsides to building a team in this way. First, you can grow the players in your system and mold them into the kind of players you want them to be. Second, you can also keep many of these players on team-friendly contracts at the start of their career allowing you to bring in veterans to help those young guys make a run for the cup. Veterans are a key part of the Tampa Bay formula with players like Corey Perry, Pat Maroon, and Ryan McDonagh. All of these players help show the young superstars how to win in the playoffs.
The next team to look at is the Vegas Golden Knights. Their way of building a team is much different than other teams because of their situation. They started their existence by selling everything. Taking on plenty of bad contracts for additional picks in the draft was their initial strategy, but with their early success, this changed very quickly. They started to use the picks they got from the expansion draft plus the draft prospects in their system to trade for big names. For example, Alex Pietrangelo, Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, Jack Eichel, and Robin Lehner. After they traded for these players the draft picks and prospect pool dwindled to just about nothing. This is a high risk/high reward way to build a team. If you don’t win immediately after these trades it could blow up in your face and leave you with no future. This is starting to show for Vegas who missed the playoffs for the first time in their short existence. Something that should scare all Vegas fans since the Knights will have to win in the next 2 or 3 years with their current roster.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have an interesting mix between both of these systems. They have their homegrown stars; Austin Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, and Ilya Mikheyev. At the same time, the Leafs continue to go after big names in free agency and with trades. Bringing in guys like John Tavares, Ondrej Kase, Jake Muzzin, and Mark Giordano. All of these players help contribute to their current success while still giving the team a promising future. The veterans also help the team succeed while simultaneously helping to develop the young stars. This system has its pros and cons just like the ones used by the Knights and the Lightning.
All systems have their good and bad spots. The Lightning have all homegrown talent with some bottom-six veterans to help that talent. The Knights use their capital to get big names to win in the now. Whereas the Leafs seem to be doing a mix of what the other two teams are doing. Which system is the best though? That is still up for debate.