The Tampa Bay Lightning, Colorado Avalanche, and Edmonton Oilers have all advanced to the NHL's final four.
All three teams are designed a bit differently, but offer a blueprint for non-playoff teams, like the Columbus Blue Jackets, to follow. Here are three lessons learned from these three teams:
The Top Of The Draft Matters
What do Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, and Steven Stamkos have in common? All three leaders were picked first overall in their respective drafts. But that's not where the talent on their respective team ends.
The Avalanche are flush with top-10 overall talent, with Cale Makar, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Nazem Kadri (Note: Kadri, as well as many others listed in this paragraph, were drafted in the first round by teams other than these three. The same point remains), Alex Newhook, and even defensive depth players like Bowen Byram, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, and Ryan Murray. Meanwhile, the Lightning boasts Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev as additional top-10 picks and hit on players like Andrei Vasilevskiy, Ryan McDonagh, and Corey Perry later in the first round. The same story of stockpiling first-round talent applies to the Oilers, who drafted Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Darnell Nurse, Leon Draisaitl, McDavid, Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, and Evan Bouchard in the first round within just eight years, missing only on Nail Yakupov, who was ironically taken first overall in his own right. That consistency of adding contributing players in the first round has given them a huge boost, as the consequences of missing on a player can set the franchise back years.
Clearly, nailing your first-round pick and stockpiling high-pedigree players goes a long way in ensuring future success.
Supplementing With Veterans
After winning back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, the Lightning famously lost their entire third line of Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman, and Barclay Goodrow. That line was invaluable in helping them win both championships, but they replaced them effectively with players like Perry, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Brandon Hagel, and Nick Paul.
The Avalanche also supplemented their top players by adding veteran depth players like Josh Manson, Artturi Lehkonen, Andrew Cogliano, and Darren Helm. The Oilers added Zach Hyman, Derek Ryan, and Codi Cece. None of them are thought of as flashy players, but all are what the doctor ordered in terms of playoff-caliber players who can add an element that is lacking to the top of their respective team's lineup.
Trust The Process
While the Lightning have been the most dominant team of the past decade, they have had to undergo their fair share of heartache to get to their current state. Since 2013-14, the Lightning have made the playoffs all but one season, but have lost twice in the first round, twice in the Conference Finals, and once in the Stanley Cup Final. Perhaps it's not a coincidence that losing in a sweep to the Blue Jackets catapulted the Lightning to unprecedented levels of success
The Avalanche had been eliminated in the second round in three consecutive years and were knocked out in the first round in 2017-18. They finally got over the hump last week, advancing to the Conference Finals for the first time in 20 years. While they weren't a juggernaut until the past few seasons, their management kept the band together, adding pieces when appropriate while resisting blowing up the core of the roster. The Oilers are a less successful version of the Avalanche, but they too decided against trading their core players. And while I don't agree with much of their roster-building strategy, I give them credit for staying the course.
Patience, as they say, is a virtue.