Building a "Winner"

What’s the “winning” recipe for an NHL team?

Is it to focus on the draft? Introduce players to the organization at a young age, let them grow in the AHL or lower leagues for a while, and structure them to become power players in the NHL. Free agency, trades, and waivers are your other options.

So – how are teams built? For reference purposes, we’re going to look at two examples: the Buffalo Sabres (21-24-6, 12th place in the Eastern Conference) and the New York Rangers, who at 32-12-5 are at the top of the conference.

Breaking it down: an astounding 65.2 percent of the Sabres’ current roster was built via draft. Compare this to just 36 percent on the Rangers side, although their draft selections do include captain – and Rochester native – Ryan Callahan, as well as forward Brandon Dubinsky, who have both been raised through the organization in the past few years.

A combined 56 percent of the Rangers’ roster was built through either trade or free agency, bringing in players such as sniper Marian Gaborik and the undrafted Dan Girardi. Approximately 30 percent of the Buffalo team came from these sources, and that includes such recent additions as Robyn Regehr, Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff.

What does this tell us?

First of all, it’s clear that free agency isn’t a great strategy for the Sabres. Although Darcy has made some splashes in the pool of free agents each summer, not many stick around for too long. This leaves the team to focus on their drafted players, who are then brought up through the farm team or else – in rare cases – brought straight to the NHL.

Buffalo believes in its young players. That’s not to say the Rangers don’t – think of the likes of Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi to see that they definitely put stock in their youth; but the New York team also mixes in a healthy blend of free agents to spice things up, a strategy the Sabres can’t quite seem to grasp, or hold onto.

With free agency always on the fans’ minds – July is only five months away now! – one can’t help but wonder what it might bring. For Sabres fans, however – well… there’s one quote that can sum it up, and it was found on the Sabres Edge blog on the Buffalo News’ website several years ago:

“Being a Sabres fan at free agency time is like waking up on Christmas to find out that you’re Jewish.” You may get hyped up and excited about the idea of free agency, but in the end – you won’t be getting any presents. Focus on the draft, because as the infographic attached to this story proves, that’s where the power of the Sabres is to be found.

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