The three-year turnaround

04Oct07

Since a lot of people are talking about how teams like Chicago, Phoenix, and Columbus are stuck in the middle of go-nowhere hell, here’s some food for thought. The last three Stanley Cup champions were able to turn things around in three years or less. What’s the formula for this success? Let’s take a look.

Tampa Bay Lightning
2001-02: 27-40-15, out of playoffs
2002-03: 36-25-21, lost in 2nd round
2003-04: 46-22-14, won Stanley Cup

The reason for the Bolts’ turnaround? A great power play, Nikolai Khabibulin providing stability in net, and the emergence of Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, and Dan Boyle, along with a John Tortorella-influenced commitment to team defense.

Carolina Hurricanes
2003-04: 28-34-20, out of playoffs
2005-06: 52-22-6, won Stanley Cup

How did the Hurricanes storm (pun intended) out of the lockout to win the Cup? A new, up-tempo system emphasizing speed, transition, and forecheck by Peter Laviolette, stability in goal by Martin Gerber (regular season) and Cam Ward (playoffs), and the emergence of Eric Staal, Erik Cole, and Justin Williams as legit and consistent scoring threats.

Anaheim Ducks
2003-04: 29-35-18, out of playoffs
2005-06: 43-27-12, lost in conference final
2006-07: 48-20-14, won Stanley Cup

Did dropping the word “Mighty” out of the name make the biggest difference for Anaheim? No, the Ducks’ ascension really came in four stages. First, shedding overpaid veterans like Sergei Fedorov and Vaclav Prospal. Second, Randy Carlyle and Brian Burke taking over the team and instilling a sandpaper mentality with the squad. Third, the addition of Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger, along with the return of Teemu Selanne. Finally, the emergence of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Dustin Penner to give the team secondary scoring depth to go with a monster defense and solid goaltending.

There are similarities and differences with each of these teams. In all cases, the emergence of young talent was part of the key, along with instilling a new system in the mold of the new coach. However, Tampa’s victory was focused on superstars meshing with a defensive system, Carolina was focused on an effective, relentless system, and Anaheim was focused on an unbeatable defense. Three different approaches, three championships, which goes to show that you really can’t copy the previous Cup champion since league parity is at an all-time high.

What does this mean for current bottom feeders? It takes the right combination of smart drafting, good coaching, and that special intangible to go from the zero to hero. That doesn’t mean that Chicago or Florida will necessarily be hoisting Lord Stanley in the coming years, but the old notion of a five-year rebuilding process doesn’t apply anymore, and that should give fans of those teams hope.

The key to all of this really is making sure that the team is focused in going the right direction. That’s why Columbus finally can see the light at the end of the tunnel by ditching Doug “Fast Fix” Maclean. This season, I think the team poised to make the first step in this turnaround is Florida. With young talent like Stephen Weiss, Nathan Horton, and Jay Bouwmeester ready to take center stage and Tomas Vokoun anchoring the crease, Olli Jokinen’s team seems to have the right ingredients for a turnaround. Whether that special spark will be there, however, only time will tell.

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2 Responses to “The three-year turnaround”

  1. 1 PB

    With all the bleak reports from others that the Coyotes are much less dead and buried, and that they should just give up right now to save themselves embarrassment later.

    It was refreshing to read a positive piece from a non-Coyotes blogger.

  2. 2 Mike Chen

    PB, I think with your defensive corps, a Coyote turnaround really is just a matter of time.


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