Saturday, February 14, 2015

How Long Will It Take the Leafs to Rebuild?

With the Leafs set to embark on a full-scale rebuild, the most pressing question among Toronto fans is simple: How long until the Leafs can contend.

Re-building is not for the faint of heart. It takes plenty of years of being utterly terrible before the first signs of tangible progress, and sometimes plenty more after that before reaching the ultimate prize (just ask the St. Louis Blues).

To get a better understanding of just how long a rebuild might take in Toronto I looked at three of the past four Stanley Cup winners to see how they did it. I excluded the Boston Bruins because they didn't really rebuild, they succeeded in pulling off the magical re-tool on the fly, in large part because they made the greatest free agent singing ever (Zdeno Chara) and lucked into two franchise goalies (in one case the luck was having a team as stupid as the Leafs to trade with). Basically, the Bruins model is not easily replicable.

For the Kings, Blackhawks, and Penguins, I defined the start of the rebuild as the first season in which they flamed out after having been in the playoffs or at least in playoff contention for a number of years. If you're in the playoffs or at least close enough to have a shot late in the season (as the Kings were from 2003-2005) you aren't rebuilding. It's not until a team drops dramatically in the standings that they typically commit to a full rebuild.

So how did they do it?
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