Has “Build from the net out” become and antiquated hockey thinking?

Build from the net out, and your team will be primed for success.

That’s a mantra my dad taught me, and it’s something I’ve been told at every level of –albeit fairly non-competitive– hockey I’ve played. Strong goaltending is the rock of a team. A strong defense is the next most important aspect of a team. Finally at third is forward depth, specifically center depth.

But in the year 2019, we see a movement towards frugal spending on goaltenders. They don’t age well, and the Henrik Lundqvist’s are becoming rarer and rarer. Think of how much Montreal is going to regret that Carey Price deal. Or what happened to Braden Holtby this year. Or Sergei Bobrovsky. Goalies are voodoo when it comes to predicting actual and sustained success.

In the cap world, goalies were the first position to feel the cap crunch. Very few teams spend big on goalies. Only five teams have goalies with a cap hit of $7 million or greater, and only one (Nashville) can be considered a true Cup contender. The last time a goalie was moved for a top pick was Cory Schneider, and he fell off a cliff this year. Chris Osgood has many Cups as Martin Brodeur (3), and more Cups than Dominik Hasek (2). But you will never be able to sell any argument that Osgood was better than Hasek, or as good as Brodeur. He was good, and that’s what the team needed.

I liken the need for an elite goalie to the need for an elite running back in football. Quick, name the last elite level running back to win the Super Bowl. You need to go back to Terrell Davis (1998 Broncos) or Emmitt Smith (Cowboys) as the last running backs to lead the league in rushing and then win a Super Bowl. The Patriots have done it without a legitimate running back until this year. An elite goalie, like an elite running back, is a nice to have, but not something absolutely needed to win.

As an aside, this does not take away from everything Henrik Lundqvist has done for this team. He’s a generational talent that the Rangers have been lucky to have for the past 15 years.

Defense is even harder to predict. We still struggle to evaluate defensemen properly, and while we want to focus on the individual player on the blue line, it’s easy to forget that the entire defensive strategy is changing before our eyes. The old way, when aA defender must defend, block shots, and hit people” is becoming a rare breed. Remember when Anton Volchenkov got a ton of money from the Devils? If Marc Staal or Dan Girardi are the Rangers comparables, then let’s look at how the public opinion of both of their games has evolved.

Nowadays defense is less about defense and more about keeping the puck away from the opposition –don’t read too much into this, as obviously defending is still a key aspect to the game, but the most successful teams are the ones that have the puck more often than their opponents– to limit their opportunities. Instead of the big body who’s slower and isn’t as good with the puck, the smaller, more agile defenseman is getting more praise. If you can’t skate and pass the puck, then you aren’t going to make it in the NHL. The days of the Hatchers are gone.

But the one thing all the most recent Stanley Cup champions have? Center depth.

Let’s look at the most recent list of Cup champs and their center depth (yes, some played wing as well):

  • 2018 – Washington: Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller
  • 2017 – Pittsburgh: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen
  • 2016 – Pittsburgh
  • 2015 – Chicago: Jonathan Toews, Brad Richards, Andrew Shaw, Antoine Vermette, Marcus Kruger
  • 2014 – LA: Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Tyler Toffoli, Trevor Lewis

They all had tremendous center depth. Pittsburgh’s 2017 run was done with a make shift blue line without Kris Letang. Chicago won with three defensemen playing 30 minutes a night. Only Washington and LA had great blue lines in their runs. The one thing they had was center depth.

Even the “hot goalie” theory goes down the tubes. Corey Crawford (Chicago) was good with a .924 SV%, but not spectacular. Marc-Andre Fleury (Penguins) lost his starting job to Matt Murray in 2016, then the won with goalie by committee in 2017. Braden Holtby (Washington) was average at best last year with a .918 SV%. Even Jonathan Quick had just a .911 SV% in the playoffs in 2014.

So what’s the point of all this?

As we move away from antiquated statistics like plus/minus and goal differential, we should also move away from old fashioned saying like build from the net out. Perhaps “Depth down the middle and hope your goalie gets hot” works? Or just the first part? Either way, center depth is the key linking these teams.

Don’t get me wrong, a strong supporting cast and a well built team will always be needed, and that includes a good goaltender and a good blue line. But the key component that seems to link these Cup winners isn’t building from the net out, it’s depth down the middle. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but it’s the biggest need as teams build their rosters.

Something to keep in mind as the Rangers look to rebuild.

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  • Timely article David.

    I was a staunch believer that the back end (goalie and D men) determined how good the team was. I do not believe that anymore.

    Puck possession is the best defense a team can have. Putting the puck in the net is the best defense a team can have.

    So to that end goal, I have lobbied for the Rangers to sell off all the high contracts on the back end, save for Henrik. Clear almost $30M in cap space, and then sign the likes of Panarin, Stone, and even Hayes, if there is enough room. Forming a tremendous top 12 forwards, which would include Krav next year, and of course the young players like Chytil, Howden, and Andersson.


    Then put cheaper, younger, better skating players on D. Who says no?

    • I say no. Panarin and Stone will just be more of the same quick fix-style of team building. Hockey free agents rarely live up to their contracts: for every success like John Tavares there are ten signings like Kevin Shattenkirk, where age and physical wear catch up quickly to the player, and the player’s production usually doesn’t match salary. Panarin will be 29 years old next year—that’s already too old to invest in a contract of 5-8 years. While Stone is younger, he’ll cost too much money and term. I’d spend the money on retaining Hayes if you really want Stone. The Rangers have done this type of thing unsuccessfully way too many times in the past.

      • MC

        On most occasions I agree with Tony, but in this case I’m on your side. I ran a list of some twenty five retreads that we signed over our history in the quest of the cup, only to come up empty. I may be perceived as being cold, but I would run like hell from these old farts, who will never live up to the hype. There are some on this site that thought I was nuts to say stay away from Shatty, well low and behold, he turns into a disaster, as predicted.

        I love the speed of the current game, and the guys in their late 20’s, early 30’s will wake up one morning and their speed will be gone. The toll taken on the body, and mind as well, is too much to bare. Remember everyone saying sign Callahan to the four year deal, and $4 mil, well Tampa wants to rid themselves of that contract in a big way. I wouldn’t sign anyone over 26-27 to a contract over 5 years, it’s too unpredictable to do so.

        This coming draft, and by all indications the next as well, will be deep, get as many picks to build that team with this young talent, and be the Montreal of the 60-70’s under Sam Pollock, a perennial cup contender, and winner. Stay away from the Breadman, he will be shot in two years, three max, and go with the kids. We went that other route for too many years, and won a mare one cup in over 70 years, what a bull sh*t record that is!!!!!

        • Agreed 100%. To your point about free agency, Walt—check this horror show out, a team composed of bad Ranger free agent signings:


          Wade Redden-Dan Boyle
          Darius Kasparaitis-Kevin Shattenkirk
          Igor Ulanov-Dave Karpa

          extra D pair: Sylvain Lefevbre-Stephane Quintal

          Wow. Just a heck of a case made for Glen Sather and Neil Smith being little more than lazy, drunken oafs while here.

          • MC

            Here is a better list for your review:

            Dionne, Dan Boyle, Barry Beck, Pavel Bure, Johnny Bower, P Esposito, T Flurry, B Holik, M Gaborik, M Gartner, BB Geoggeion, W Gretzky, D Harvey, T Horton, C Drury, J Jgar, J Kurri, M Nylander, G Lafluer, E Lindros, R Nash, W Redden, J Plante, B Rousseau, L Robitalle, B Shanahan, MSL, B Richards, E Staal, M Nasland, Shattenkirk, K Yandle.

            How many are HOFers? Plenty, but were washed up when we signed them, or they played a few years before the wheels fell off of them. Bottom line, draft well, develop them, get rid of them after they have out lived their usefulness.

          • Indeed, we’re of the same mind here. What’s really cracking me up are the 3 thumbs down my free agent horror team post garnered, I guess there’s 3 people here dumb enough to like those players as NY Rangers!

          • Leather

            True, but he also failed to get us the cup, while we gave away the shop to acquire him!!!!!!!

    • I know we aren’t currently in cap hell Richter, but you might have just put us there with that lineup. 😉 In all honesty I think it’s Hayes plus Panarin OR Stone, not both — and we’ll need to find a way to dump some salary from the back end along with Namestnikov. Instead of Stone sign back Zucc to a modest 2 year deal, the team chemistry and cap will appreciate it. Keep the KZZ line together, add Panarin to Hayes and Buch (or Chytil if Buch is a bad bad boy again). 😉

    • I don’t think Vesey will be a Ranger much longer bud. I’d love to see a team like that. I just don’t think Gorton is ready to begin spending on players like Panarin yet. I could be wrong but I think Gorton is still trying to stockpile draft picks.
      As Ranger fans we should all be rooting for TB to win the Cup this season. The 2nd turns into a 1st round pick.

      • I can see Vesey being traded but what value does he have? Unless he’s part of a bigger trade for us to get a better package.

        • If JG is cool with sending him to a divisional rival than we could get a 2nd or 3rd for him. Philly, Isle, Pittsburgh and NJD might want him for various reasons.

    • we need to build a system. It starts in the minors and candidly Hartford is a disaster. We need to bring in good talent and start to move players through our system.(think Tampa, Nashville and Winnipeg) We would be far better suited to spend some good money hiring scouts and coaches and fixing things from the minors and in our scouting group than trying to sign veterans and hoping it works out. We have made some good picks the past few years and some question marks. But we need to build a system. Not a one hit wonder. No one wants to route for high draft picks every year, but they are a better and more functional source of elite talent than signing UFA’s to big contracts. There’s no quick fix to our problems. But we can get their; if we do it the right way.

      • “we need to build a system”

        I’m ok with that, but that’s not what’s going to happen. This method, ALL the vets get shipped out, the team piles up the losses, and picks in the top 3 for the next 3 years.

        Does ANY Ranger fan see them going that route?

        • You can be competitive and lose: the Rangers are shining examples of it this year.

          But when the team goes down, you make sure it can’t get up that season. So out goes Hayes and Zucc, retaining whatever salary necessary until you get to 3 retained contracts.

          You do the same with Kreider and Vesey *next* season. You can’t hit your depth all at once.

          So how do you paper over the cracks until the kids are ready? In season, take on short dated albatross contracts with picks coming with them. In the off season, go after thirty-somethings on front loaded bonus driven 2 year deals to populate the top 6 amongst the current roster, then move them out when the kids do what they needed to do in Hartford. Have internal candidates fill out the bottom 6 while occasionally trading for a replacement when you’re short of them.

          Of course, poor roster management means that players who could fill out a cheap 4th line like Nieves & Fogarty will be group 6 UFAs instead of locked in on cheap deals.

          • I just can’t see building through the draft, and getting franchise type players to build the team around, picking 10th.

          • That’s why when you lose, you lose hard. Take out 3F, 2D and bring folks up from Hartford. Gets the ready for the next level while the club racks up losses on a lost season.

            This way you get to see if Fast’s P60 hold up with better talent(it didn’t) or if Fogarty is serviceable as a 2 way C as a placeholder for Hayes’ role(I’m sure he wouldn’t match, but he could serve as 80% of it for 1/8 the cost for now.)

            If you’re losing, better to lose with who’s next vs who’s that.

        • With our Goal tending we will be competitive. For better or worse. Our forward group is ok. I am fine with signing Panarin, but have a hard time seeing us sign him and Kreider. Simply the age and contract length required are similar demographics. Although Panarin will get paid a lot more money. Kravtsov will come over next year and may start in Hartford which is fine but he should be with the big team next year. Then we don’t know who we will pick in the draft, but there should be some high skilled wingers available even in the 5-10 range. You also have Morgan Barron at Cornell who is looking like he may be an NHL in the next couple of years.
          You can assume we just trade Zucc and Hayes from the forward group: Move the bottom six around however you want, but that’s what your forward group would look like in 2019-20. Plus whatever prospects you got back and the players you draft with the picks from these trades.
          Krav-Zib-Pan(if you sign him)

          I would be fine with trading Hayes and bringing him back, But we’ll see. I also think they will move Namestnikov.

          It will take 2 to 3 years to get the D sorted out. And that will be our biggest problem. We have some solid pieces in Miller and Lundkvist, but they are 2 to 3 years away at best. Maybe Rykov comes over next year, but he will need some time in Hartford before he plays in NYC. Hajek and Lindgren will be better than what we have now, but we still lack the elite D man we need. We may also be able to get rid of Smith with Salary retention, but you’re not moving Staal until the trade deadline in the last year of his contract at best. And you have to decide what you want to do and what you can do with Shattenkirk. It’s not going to be a quick process getting back to being a contender.

          • We have a lot of nice players, both older and younger, but where is the franchise player or players coming from?

  • Agree with Tanto, with defensemen contracts those three signings are impossible. Even if they trade one contract and cut another it’s way too tight. Also not sure our young big defensemen are ready to fill the void. Plenty of offensive smurfs in the pipeline so expect us to ship one of the following with greatest value: DeAngelo, Pionk, Or Gilmour. I think it will be Pionk.

  • Richter – I think a combination of what you are seeking may be the fix. Dump salaries and older players for picks and prospects. Add an elite player on a shorter (albeit more expensive) contract and continue to build your pipeline of talent. Panarin or Stone would be great pickups – at the right price. We need to get 1, maybe 2 shutdown defensemen on this club. I do think we are at least 3 players away from making a run at the playoffs (not the Cup). Either Chytil or Kraftsov could be one of those players (I think it is unlikely both are). The rest need to be either groomed from traded prospects or bought. I have no problem buying an elite player, but I think if you try to buy 2 or more, you are going to get back in trouble in 2 to3 years.

    • If it was possible than adding two elites wingers with Kreider still here could be A1 sauce. We have the one two punch down the middle that compliments each other quite well in Hayes and Zib. I say take advantage of it support them while you still can. It would open up the window for another 5-6 years.

    • the issue is that Panarin and Stone will get long deals. With a new CBA coming, which usually includes compliance buyouts (or mulligans on contracts), there will be loads of teams lining up to give them at least 8 year contracts.

      it’s then up to the Rangers to say yay or nay on that.

      • Compliance buyouts were a function of the change in HRR percentages going down; something that won’t be happening the next time.

        Panarin’s and Stone’s windows are not ours, will be albatrosses by the time the Rangers window truly opens.

        The targets over the summer should be younger RFAs whose teams have cap issues or payroll parameters that can be exploited.

        Kasperi Kapanen & Jacob Trouba are two good examples.
        The former can be offered a little over $4mm (offer him years to get to UFA-1)and only a 2nd round pick is compensation. Toronto can match with the summer cap, but can’t deal him for a year and would have a hard time getting cap compliant.
        The latter can be had by front loading the deal with bonuses, but the Jets otherwise would have enough room to match.

        • Trust me, I have been on the Trouba bandwagon for 3 years now. I think the Rangers are always asking him about him too.

          I would love to have both them. From your lips to God’s ears.

          • 2 years ago was the time to try and steal Trouba, now it’s a calculated risk at best. Not really sure that Trouba fixes team issues before we have to give up a pick for him.

            Kapanen, OTOH, is worth going for. Can do a win/win deal have him for the window+ and still have a valuable asset to deal if the dream window doesn’t match up. I wouldn’t bid above that 2nd rd pick ceiling though.

    • I think we have all said this before. The talent level is here for 2 very capable lines. Just need execution of a calculated plan. I mean with just 1 line rolling we are at least competitive. We are not even a true cellar dweller. We played tampa to a 3-2 loss by just playing Zuc’s line for 25mins. We have Shatty, Staal, Smith and Skjei for the next 3 years. Therein lies this team’s whole problem. We have 4 defenders who are making 1st line d pairing money and are playing like they belong on AHL rosters at best. Now whether this is the coach, the defensive system, or just the players themselves…..we could debate this all day. But the coach has changed and so has the system, but things remained the same.

  • Rangers will never draft where they need to to get elite players they develop….we had a chance this year and are wasting it with meaningless points…Rangers will forever be mediocre winning 1 cup every 75 years…Alas it is what it is

    • I agree except for this franchise! Who decided with their only 2nd round pick to draft a goalie for a team that is packed with goalie prospects! Think that was Dave’s point. Which I thought was well rounded btw.

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