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How to Build a Winner?
Why You Just Never Know
7/14/15 - By Ryan Hall -

Well, here we are in the dog days of the offseason, where NHL news comes at a pace slightly slower than paint drying on a wall. Not only are there very few transactions to speak of, but even those that do occur tend to be for depth AHL players, marginal talent, or reclamation projects. In short: there isn't much to write about.

With that in mind, it is worth noting that just about half of the leagues teams are holding on to legitimate championship aspirations. Now, rather than go through a kitschy list of those clubs and their real odds of lifting the Cup, it might be more entertaining to think about how a championship roster is constructed. After all, right now the only thing we know for sure is what teams look like on paper!

First off, the main point of debate seems to center on… well the importance of centers. There are many advocates who claim the way to success is down the middle; find centers to build around and you'll be well on your way. In reality, there is something to be said for this school of thought, as each year the most successful clubs have strong centers anchoring their lines.

But is that really the secret to winning a championship? A quick look at recent Stanley Cup rosters shows that while centers have been important, they don't stand out as any more crucial than wingers. In fact, it seems that scoring wingers are just as important. If you don't believe me, as Anaheim who boasted solid center play but still couldn't bury enough pucks to get past the either Blackhawks this season, or the Kings last post-season.

So, if it isn't centers, then where should you start when constructing a Stanley Cup winning roster? Another prevailing idea is that you need to build from the backend out; in other words defense and goaltending. Once again, teams that excel at this tend to finish high in the standings, but if that was all it took than Nashville should have multiple championship banners hanging from the rafters of Bridgestone arena. Even more damning is that by any standards Corey Crawford is far from elite, and he's led the Hawks to 3 rings.

Maybe it's to build young? Nope, because lots of young teams fade in the playoffs due to inexperience. Should you go with veterans, or will they break down over the grind of a long schedule and post-season? Perhaps it depends on the coaching, but then again Ken Hitchcock can't get the Blues to the Promised Land.

Okay, by this point you've read a whole lot of nothing, and you're probably rightly asking what's this all got to do with anything?

The honest truth is that while we all like to critique the moves made by a General Manager, or we like to think we could do better, the exact recipe for winning in the NHL remains unknown. If it could be broken down formulaically, then don't you think everyone would be doing it? In fact, it's this vary vagueness that makes the game so much fun to watch, because it still has the ability to surprise you - even after hundreds and thousands of games. It isn't always the most talented roster that wins. The team with the best chemistry rarely hoists the cup. Predictions are often proven wrong, and when that happens we're reminded of how much hot air is spent trying to apply science to what is essentially art.

And that's exactly what hockey is: art.

Even with handfuls of advanced analytics, decades of stats, and access to countless hours of game tape the key ingredient remains something that cannot be measured, quantified, or otherwise predicted: luck. With a single bounce of the puck the entire fortune of a team can change. There's no accounting for it, and no amount of strategy, coaching, or film study can take luck out of the equation. And as long as there is one uncontrollable variable, then we really can't ever know for sure what is going to happen. It's this element of the unknown that makes underdogs believe they can come back. It's what turns the tide in a game that seemed to be over. Heck, it's why we keep watching - to see something we didn't expect.

So right now, while the weather is hot and hockey is a long way from our minds, let's just stop worrying about Corsi numbers, line juggling, and whether or not management should be fired or praised. By all means, keep the conversation flowing, but just remember that for all the insights we have no one, not even the best minds in the game, know what is going to happen. We might have opinions, but what you see, I see, and someone else sees are always going to be different; even if only slightly.

That's just the nature of art.

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