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I’m taking a look at some of the other rebuilding teams and trying to see what’s working and what isn’t. Are there cautionary tales of asset mismanagement? Or, are there simply cases of the perfect storm of bad luck?
The Buffalo Sabres
were the focus of my last post. A team with enviable talent in high draft picks, but having difficulty transitioning. Looking at the unlucky 7, my eyes drifted toward the New Jersey Devils. A team that I thought was poised to make some waves after a big summer acquisition in P.K. Subban. Unfortunately, things seemed to falter.
Taylor Hall has faced a lot of scrutiny in his career. His first overall status was going to signal the turnaround in Edmonton. His trade, player for player, for Adam Larsson seemed lopsided, as though Hall was no longer seen as a top tier player. In 2017-2018 it seemed a return to form for Hall who scored 39 goals and gathered 54 assists. The next season saw him limited to 33 games and the numbers fell as well. After a trade to Arizona this past season, Hall scored 27 points (10+17) in 35 games. A fairly impressive pace after scoring only 25 points (6+19) in 30 games with the Devils. The man that management wanted to keep and made some big moves for is now heading to free agency.
P.K. Subban made a point to let everyone know how excited he was to be traded to New Jersey. The season was unkind, and saw him score a career low 18 points (7+11) and garner a career worst -21. Plus/minus is a fairly divisive stat, and many think it’s usefulness is long over. Still, players pay attention. This was not the year Subban would have wanted.
#76 is a bit of an anomaly. An exciting, explosive defenseman with a really good shot should be the envy of every team in the league. Initially, in his trade to Nashville, it seemed the Predators had “won” a trade that sent Shea Weber to Montreal. At one point, Subban had more points than Weber had games played due to injuries. Now, Weber looks to be an invaluable piece to the Canadiens and Subban could well be on his way to his 4th NHL team. At 31, he has one more year of his 9 million dollar contract (earned after taking a short term deal to prove himself). The dollars may be the roadblock for a contending team to grab up the defenseman.
Subban, for me, gives you so much of what you need in the modern game. He can be exciting, he doesn’t shy away from media, and he builds into whatever community he’s working in. His charitable work is through the roof, and when he’s on his game, his energy can be mesmerizing. There’s no part of me that thinks he can’t get back on track and be a boon to most of the teams in the league.
Even the first overall pick in Jack Hughes didn’t add the hoped for boost for the team. A team who, at the beginning of the season, had three players that were first overall drafts. Corey Schneider found himself on waivers at one point, and the once solid net minder has had more than his share of issues. His goals against have been above 3 for the past 2 seasons, and he put up a .887 SV%. When it rains, it pours.
I don’t fault management for approaching this year with an “all in” attitude. Things seemed to be building in the teams favor, but the setback was brutal. Another team that I monitor as a rebuild, with a bit more draft lottery luck than what Detroit has had. There are still good young players to build with, and in Blackwood they seem to have a good goalie moving forward. Something has to click for the club moving forward, or the work of rebuilding will continue to be difficult.
In Detroit’s case, there’s no reason to swing for the fences to impress any pending UFAs or try to make a splash bringing in a top tier player. The cautionary tale may be summed up by Shakespeare’s short quotation, “know thyself”. Understand your ceiling as well as any areas in which injuries could derail your season. It is a hard and painful process, but ultimately necessary in trying to build a true contender that is competitive year in and year out.