When looking at Stanley Cup championship teams, it is clear that there is not one way to build a roster, especially during the salary-cap era.
Unlike the New York Islanders dynasty in the early 1980s when Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, John Tonelli, Denis Potvin, Clark Gillies, and Bob Nystrom were all drafted by the Islanders in a span of six drafts, current teams have a harder time keeping their core group together.
Constructing a Winning Team Roster
With that in mind, this seems like the perfect time to see how the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche built their rosters as the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals are set to get underway. The NHL predictions might have been looking at Colorado and Tampa Bay as top candidates to be where they are right now coming into the season, but it took years of intelligent roster moves to get to this point.
Although Tampa Bay is the two-time defending champion, Colorado comes into the series as the favorite according to the sportsbook.
High picks Paying off Quite Well
There will be six players who were drafted by either Tampa Bay or Colorado in the top five of NHL Entry Drafts. They will have a definite impact on this series.
The Tampa Bay Lightning’s construction of the team that has won back-to-back Stanley Cup titles couldn’t have been done without the Lightning selecting center and team captain Steven Stamkos first overall in 2008. The next year, 6-foot-6 defenseman Victor Hedman was the second overall selection. It would be quite an understatement to say that they are key building blocks for this Tampa Bay powerhouse. Quite simply, the championship runs couldn’t have been done without the duo.
Colorado had more opportunities to make top-five picks.
One of them came as a result of the trade that sent Matt Duchene to Ottawa. Defenseman Bowen Byram was picked fourth overall in 2019.
The other early selections came as the Avalanche hit some tough times.
Colorado missed the playoffs seven times in nine years. Those struggles did help the Avalanche get to where they are now.
One more schedule.
Four more wins. #GoAvsGo pic.twitter.com/N124xI7XwF
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) June 12, 2022
Gabriel Landeskog was the second overall selection in 2011. Two years later, Nathan MacKinnon was chosen with the top pick by Colorado. Then in 2017, defenseman Cale Makar was picked fourth overall. Now those who bet online are putting in wagers on Makar to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Not all the first-round picks who are delivering went in the top five. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was the 19th overall selection by the Lightning in 2012 while Colorado drafted first-line winger Mikko Rantanen with the 10th pick in 2015.
Scouting Matters, Too
While it was pretty hard to miss on the selections of Stamkos, Hedman, Landeskog, MacKinnon, and Makar, both teams made some wise draft selections as well.
There were 35 forwards taken before Tampa Bay made Nikita Kucherov the 58th overall selection in 2011. The Lightning came back in the seventh round and scooped up Ondrej Palat. They have been key contributors to the title-winning teams. Kucherov is currently the leading scorer in the postseason for Tampa Bay while Palat has set a franchise record with 11 game-winning goals in the postseason.
Forwards Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli were third-round picks by Tampa Bay in 2014 and 2015 while underrated forward Alex Killorn was the first piece put in place when the Lightning used a seventh-round selection on him in 2007.
The best move by Colorado outside of the first round came when the Avalanche signed winger Logan O’Connor after he failed to be drafted in 2018. Backup goalie Pavel Francouz was also signed after not being drafted although that happened after years of success playing in Europe.
Wheeling and Dealing Pays Off
From 2017-to-2020, both teams made some trades that might have been underappreciated at the time but that is no longer the case.
Tampa Bay picked up two key defensemen in separate trades in 2017 as it acquired Erik Cernak as part of a deal for goalie Ben Bishop in 2017. Less than four months later, former No. 3 overall pick Jonathan Drouin was traded to Montreal for Mikhail Sergachev.
Although an injury will keep Samuel Girard out of this series, Colorado was part of a three-team deal in 2017 that brought the puck-moving defenseman to Denver.
The trade that probably made the most waves when it was announced was the 2018 deal that brought defenseman Ryan McDonagh in from the Rangers.
The next year, Colorado made three moves in a span of less than two months that continue to age well as time moves on.
It started with the Avalanche giving up a couple of picks in the 2020 draft as part of a deal that landed winger Andre Burakovsky a season after he helped the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup. Two days later, Nazem Kadri was acquired from Toronto and in one of the true bargain-basement deals, Valeri Nichushkin was signed to a one-year deal worth $850K. Just five days after that, Tampa Bay had a similar deal with forward Pat Maroon.
With the New York Islanders dealing with salary cap issues, Colorado gladly sent a pair of second-round draft picks to acquire defenseman Devon Toews.
Working The Phones at the Trade Deadline
Neither the Lightning nor the Avalanche were satisfied with their rosters so they added more pieces to the puzzle.
In a span of three days, Tampa Bay traded for forwards Brandon Hagel and Nick Paul. The first of those deals was rather costly as Tampa Bay surrendered two first-round selections.
Colorado dealt away a pair of second-round picks to acquire defenseman Josh Manson and forward Arturri Lehkonen. Lehkonen is fresh off helping Montreal make a surprising run to the 2021 Stanley Cup Finals.
Before the season, a 2022 first-round pick was part of the deal that brought goalie Darcy Kuemper to Colorado.