This is an introduction to what might be a series of posts about NHL teams trying to manage their window of opportunity. If you like it I’ll keep posting about this.
The sports world often talks about teams having a “window of opportunity” to win a championship. “It’s their time” you’ll hear; marked by a team having the right pieces, depth, chemistry, luck, and karma to win it all.
It’s easy to argue that the window for the Winnipeg Jets is now. Mark Scheifele and Connor Hellebuyck are in their prime now. Bucky won the Vezina last year. Scheifele sent his notice to the league during that playoff series versus the Predators back in 2017-18 when he just dominated the Presidents Trophy winners. He’s a star player now. Younger stars Ehlers, Connor, Pionk are having excellent seasons. All of those players except Pionk are signed for the next few years.
Copp and Lowry are having career years. Veterans Wheeler, Stastny, Lewis and Perrault seem to still have enough left physically to contribute and the desire to compete at a high level.
So this is it. This might be the best chance they’ve got. Every year there are older players getting slower and more injured. Every year there are contract situations that eventually lead to player exchanges. You never know what you get from one year to the next, especially in the salary cap era.
In some sports you see franchises recognizing this window and just going “all in”. They’ll trade their prospects, picks and role players for a star or two to get that chance to win it all. This is very prevalent in basketball where the addition of one or two players makes a huge impact in (what can be) a very individualistic game where one player can account for well over half of his team’s points in a game.
But hockey is not like that, at least not in the salary cap era. It’s very difficult for one player to single-handedly affect the outcome. The one exception might be the goaltender. I remember watching Dominik Hasek drag a mediocre Buffalo Sabres team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998-99. But despite his heroics, he did not contribute to his team’s offence at all… (OK, he had one assist in the playoffs. But you know what I mean).
So how do some teams do it? I could only think of one NHL team that went for broke and tried buying playoff success at the trade deadline (I’ll tell you in part 2).
But the majority of good teams strive for something else. They try to manage that window and prolong it for as long as they can. Sometimes through a combination of drafting, succession planning, filling in gaps, and a lot of luck and magic, they are able to remain playoff contenders for years.
If this intro has you hooked, I’m going to try to explore this concept of “window management”. I hope you like it.