Florida Panthers: There are many ways to rebuild a bad team

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 23: General manager Dale Tallon of the Florida Panthers looks on during Round One of the 2017 NHL Draft at United Center on June 23, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 23: General manager Dale Tallon of the Florida Panthers looks on during Round One of the 2017 NHL Draft at United Center on June 23, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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As the Florida Panthers trudge through another season in which missing the playoffs is an inevitability, it makes sense to look at how teams have found ways to build and rebuild to become perennial playoff and Stanley Cup contenders.

Contrary to popular belief, there are many ways to build a team that can dominate a salary capped NHL, and it goes beyond just the Entry Draft.

Can you build an entire team just with homegrown draft picks and young players? Certainly it’s possible, but an entire team can’t come solely from drafts. The odds of hitting on every draft pick is slim, and even the best teams at drafting don’t come close to getting every pick right.

The spine of this current Panthers team, and one that will make the playoffs again, has come through the draft. Barkov, Huberdeau, Trocheck, Matheson, Bjugstad, and Ekblad, are considered important pieces through the team going forward, and all except Trocheck were successful first round picks.

Vinnie Trocheck, Denis Malgin, Ian McCoshen, and MacKenzie Weegar, are examples of players the Panthers drafted in later rounds, and for every whiff as the draft goes on, these are players the Cats clearly hit on.

But it’s impossible to build a team just this way. Even teams that are largely built through the draft, such as perhaps Anaheim or Winnipeg, need to find ways to supplement a core group with other additions, and that is where good asset management comes in.

Assets include draft space, draft picks themselves, and young players who could be used as currency to accelerate rebuilds. The LA Kings showed that to win the Cup, you don’t just need a great homegrown development system, but you need to be able to pull the trigger to get players who can help to put yourself over the top.

They were a team built on the backs of Doughty, Kopitar, and Quick, but didn’t win until they made trades for Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Marian Gaborik, players who they acquired because they stockpiled assets in a smart way.

Today’s Pittsburgh Penguins have done largely the same. Their core is draft based, but players that put them over the top came from outside the organization. It isn’t just about drafting well to build the nucleus of a team, it’s about knowing when is the right time to pull the trigger on a move that could change the future of a franchise.

Nashville is the perfect example of this. A good chunk of their team came from good drafting and developing, but the moves that put them over the top came from blockbuster trades: Subban for Weber, Johansen for Jones, and Turris for a package of young players. Those are the moves that took Nashville from just a playoff team to a Cup contender.

New Jersey went from a laughing-stock to a potential playoff team not just because they won the lottery and drafted Nico Hischier, but because they used cap space and draft picks to acquire players in key positions when other teams were crunched. That is how they acquired Marcus Johansson, Sami Vatanen, and Taylor Hall. With smart signings in free agency, such as Brian Boyle and Kyle Palmieri, they are now no longer a joke.

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So how is the relevant to the Panthers, who are in the middle of an on-the-fly rebuild themselves? The core of a great team is present, and all are mostly under team friendly deals with term to go. These are players you build around for the future. Supplementing them with pieces either from the draft, or using a stockpile of assets acquired elsewhere can put the team over the top again.

Jared McCann is a third line center for this team projecting to the future, and he was acquired in exchange for Erik Gudbranson, a draft bust. Mark Pysyk was acquired in exchange for Dmitri Kulikov, which is a trade the Cats clearly won.

Those moves were made by an old regime that had plenty of huge swings and misses too, but Dale Tallon’s acquisition of Reilly Smith before 2015-16 took a team that needed scoring punch and got it, and they gave up Jimmy Hayes to get him, as well as taking on a dead contract from Marc Savard because they had cap space to do so.

Plenty of teams use the draft to build up their core group, and there is no disputing that. Some teams are way better at it than others, and it’s safe to say on recent evidence Florida is not one of those teams.

But as basically every Stanley Cup champion in the cap era proved, it takes more than drafting well to build a successful roster. It takes a bit of luck, good fortune, good ownership and the knack of knowing when is the right moment to pull the trigger on a move that could change the fortunes of a franchise for the better.

Plenty of teams get this wrong (hello Ottawa). Florida is in a position next season to get this right, beyond their draft table in Dallas. But getting Rasmus Dahlin doesn’t automatically mean Florida is going back to the playoffs, though it certainly helps.

If the Panthers manage the few assets they have well, acquire others and draft well on top of that, suddenly the Panthers could put themselves in a position to succeed.

Not all rebuilds are equal, see the Coyotes team Florida just beat for evidence of this. But the NHL’s best teams right now are not exclusively built through the draft, because that is impossible. Good drafting builds the foundation, but asset management is needed on top of that for success not just once, but for it to be sustainable.

Next: Interview with defenseman Aaron Ekblad

That is the next step for Dale Tallon and the Florida Panthers.