Thursday, June 10, 2010

THE WORST-TO-FIRST FORMULA FOR NHL SUCCESS

It never seems like it at the time, but there's a lot to be said for being one of the worst teams in the NHL. Ask the last two league champions, who've parlayed inadequacy into Stanley Cup titles, each within three years of bottoming out in the standings. Of course, it's one thing to finish low enough to qualify for the draft lottery, and something else to actually pick the right players to lay the foundation for success. Pittsburgh did it by taking Evgeny Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal with the numbers 1 or 2 selections in 2004 through 2006; Chicago built its championship team around Jonathan Toews, who went third overall in 2006, and 2007 number one pick Patrick Kane. Which brings us to the Montreal Canadiens, who've qualified for the playoffs more often than not over the past decade, but whose consistent middle-of-the-pack standing has deprived them of the opportunity to draft at the head of the class. The highest first round pick the Canadiens have had in the last 10 years was the fifth selection in 2005, which they used to take goaltender Carey Price, on whom the jury is still out five years later. This year, they'll pick 27th overall, by which time potential franchise players Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin will have tried on their Edmonton and Boston jerseys, held their first NHL news conferences and gone off to celebrate with family and friends. It's a sad state of affairs, but in the absence of a consistently productive scouting and player development program, the road to success begins in last place.

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