The Differences Between Building A 'Playoff Team' And A 'Team That Can Win The Stanley Cup'

By Dan Dukart on June 30, 2022 at 1:45 pm
Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog celebrates with the Stanley Cup
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In the aftermath of the Stanley Cup Final between the powerhouse Colorado Avalanche and quasi-dynastic Tampa Bay Lightning, I've done a lot of reflecting about NHL roster construction.

Both teams are littered with high-end, top-of-the-draft players, and both teams supplemented their depth over the course of many offseasons to fortify their already-strong rosters. Both teams endured years of heartache and hard-to-swallow losses, tinkered in the offseason and at the trade deadline, and came back stronger. Rinse, repeat. That's the template.

But the other concept that I've been unable to avoid is just how completely different the regular season is when compared with the playoffs. The regular season features an 82-game grind, but the level of intensity and desperation pales in comparison to its Stanley Cup counterpart. It's literally two different seasons, with different rules governing each. There are players that seem to thrive in one 'season', but struggle in the other, and vice versa.

Sportsnet host Jeff Marek likes to say, on his various podcasts, that there are "players that get you there" (to the playoffs) and "players that get you through" (to a championship). 

Just look at the Avalanche. Val Nichushkin. Artturi Lehkonen. Josh Manson. Darren Helm. Andrew Cogliano. None of these guys are "get you there" players. None of them are part of the organization's 'core' (although the first two may be, in the long run), and none were drafted and developed by Colorado. These are "get you through" players, guys whose values are intrinsically different in the playoffs than in the regular season.

Then there's the flip side of that. Think of the Florida Panthers, who were unceremoniously swept by the Lightning just weeks after winning the President's Trophy for obtaining the NHL's best record in the regular season. Clearly, the Panthers didn't lose due to a lack of talent. It's because, among other things, the players that they rely on haven't proven to be "playoff-type" performers. Yet. As the Lightning and Avalanche proved, it's basically become religion to have to overcome a terrible defeat (or several) before reaching postseason glory. The Panthers could be next.

At least they're a playoff team.

Which brings us to Columbus, a non-playoff team. The Blue Jackets' organization has been touted, basically since John Tortorella was hired as coach in October of 2015, as being a hard team to play against. A playoff-type team that, in most years, lacks the skill to truly compete in games in the late spring/early summer. And that's fascinating because if you look at the roster as it sits today, I see quite a few players that I would categorize as 'regular-season' players. Gone are players like Josh Anderson, David Savard, etc., who, despite their lack of gaudy offensive numbers, are the types of players that the Avalanche and Lightning brought in (in Savard's case, he literally was brought in) to get their team's over the hump. 

Is Patrik Laine a playoff-type player? Adam Boqvist? Jack Roslovic? Jake Bean? Even someone like Jakub Voracek, who goes from 0.76 points/game in the regular season to 0.57 in the playoffs? I like to think the answer is 'yes', but can we really say that with confidence?

Nobody really expects the Blue Jackets to compete for a Stanley Cup in 2022-23, as evidenced by their embarrassingly low odds coming from Las Vegas. But they should be more competitive, and at least take a step. They may not be a 100-point team, but perhaps 90 is doable. If they do take that step, the players I just mentioned will likely be among the catalysts.  

Let's say, just for argument's sake, that they're not the players that help get you through the playoffs. Can they help get you to the playoffs?

Boone Jenner, Gus Nyquist, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Sean Kuraly, Vladislav Gavrikov, Andrew Peeke... these are some of the guys on this roster that I think are "get you through" players. But you have to "get there" first.

An important offseason starts next week. I'm interested to see what moves GM Jarmo Kekalainen makes to improve 'both' teams.