After a mediocre first half of the season, the Calgary Flames decided to shake things up by making a flurry of roster moves. They dealt goaltender Eddie Lack to the New Jersey Devils, moved top prospect Tyler Parsons to the AHL, and recalled centre Marek Hrivik to the NHL. Hrivik, who posted 29 points in 28 games for Stockton, joined Mark Jankowski, David Rittich, Garnet Hathaway, Rasmus Andersson, and Andrew Mangiapane as AHL call-ups this season. It’s been a long time since the Flames have boasted so many high performing prospects and, accordingly, homegrown depth to fill holes in the NHL roster. More often than not, the team has had to rely on trades and free agent signings to address shortcomings and weren’t able to reach into the system for help.
Now, the Flames’ roster includes 10 players who were drafted and developed by the team, and several others who were signed as undrafted prospects including captain Mark Giordano. Teams vary in their approaches on how to assemble a successful team. Big market teams like the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks are known for consistently signing high profile free agents. Other teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets have made several blockbuster trades to improve their teams. But most teams rely on the draft as the primary avenue for putting together their roster. With the infrequency of top end players switching teams, most recently highlighted by Steven Stamkos, the only surefire way to add true top talent is through the draft, and this is the acquisition method that most teams rely on.
The Detroit Red Wings and Los Angeles Kings lead the way in terms of roster players acquired through the draft with 16 each. Detroit is especially known for having an excellent draft history so this trend isn’t too surprising. Teams following include Columbus with 14; and Carolina, Nashville, NY Islanders, Ottawa, St. Louis, Washington, and Winnipeg with 13 each. This list features five of the top seven teams in the NHL.
The Buffalo Sabres have the least number of drafted roster players at just five, a curious statistic when considering that Buffalo is a rebuilding team that should be expected to have significantly more drafted talent. However, teams with the lowest number of drafted players include Arizona, Vancouver, Edmonton, Colorado, and Minnesota. This list includes four of the bottom six teams in the NHL.
Though not a sweeping fact, teams with better success in the draft tend to be among the better teams in the league.
An inverse relationship exists when considering roster players acquired via trade. More often than not, teams that rely on trades to build their roster tend to perform worse than those that don’t.
Contrary to above, the league’s worst teams lead in roster players acquired via trade. Arizona is the leader in this category with 11, closely followed by Buffalo and Pittsburgh with 10. Amazingly, Detroit’s roster contains zero players acquired through trade; the next lowest team is Washington with two players. Stay tuned for an in-depth analysis tomorrow on Detroit’s interesting roster.
Most trades in today’s NHL are for players low in teams’ rotations. It is rare for top players to switch teams via trade and when it does happen, it usually includes a top player from an bad team moving to a better team. However, teams that trade for these “top players” don’t do better than those that rely more heavily on the draft.
Players acquired through free agency don’t follow a trend similar to either drafted or traded players. UFA signings display a slightly downward linear trend but doesn’t really correlate to the performance of any one team or group of teams.
As expected, big market teams lead the way in UFA signings. Chicago is at the top with 11, followed by Boston with 10, and six other teams with 9. Columbus has the lowest number of roster players acquired through free agency with just one. The rest of the league is spread out between three and eight signings, with no real observable trends.
Teams towards the bottom of the standings tend to carry more players claimed off waivers. Whether this is a product of how waiver priority works or that these teams lack overall depth is unknown, but chances are that teams considering claiming players off waivers aren’t in the playoff picture.
A consolidated graph showing all teams broken down by each acquisition method is below.
An analysis that changes almost every day, the trends observed with drafted and traded players indicate a direct relationship between roster composition and team success. Teams that are more successful at drafting players with NHL ceilings tend to do better than those that target roster players in trades. As well, there is little correlation between UFA signings and team success.
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Edited: Vegas wasn’t included in this analysis because most of their roster players were obtained through selections in the expansion draft.