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What tanking teams can learn from NHL success stories

Winning the draft lottery isn't everything for rebuilding NHL teams, but it certainly helps. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, we broke down the assets and albatross contracts that are already in place for a hopeful Philadelphia Flyers rebuild. Short version: Daniel Briere has a lot of work to do (even beyond dealing with his wayward son).

On one hand, there isn’t some magic wand solution to rebuild an NHL team, or to pull off a sports rebuild in general. That said, learning from others is a key reason why humanity has thrived over the ages, so the Flyers might as well mix and match to use what generally works and try to avoid potential pitfalls.

Winning the draft lottery isn’t everything for rebuilding NHL teams, but it certainly helps. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

You need top draft picks

Break down the core of virtually every successful NHL team, and you’ll almost always find a handful of high first-round picks. You don’t need to look any further than the 2022 Stanley Cup Final. While the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning both deploy ingenuity to build around foundational pieces, each team leaned heavily on blue-chippers such as Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos.

There are occasional exceptions to this rule, but they are far and few between. Since the turn of the century, you could maybe point to two Stanley Cup winners who didn’t lean on at least one top draft pick: the 2011 Boston Bruins and the 2008 Detroit Red Wings. Boston’s core players (Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, Tim Thomas) were mid-to-late round picks, although Nathan Horton (third overall by Florida in 2003) was instrumental to their playoff success before getting injured in the Stanley Cup Final. The Red Wings are the best example, with only one (!) first-round pick on their playoff roster: Brad Stuart, taken third overall by the Sharks in 1998.

If there’s another message to comprehend, it’s also that the Flyers may indeed need to suffer through a few years of pain before making the gains needed to become relevant again. Even successful teams don’t necessarily ace every high draft pick. Chicago (Cam Barker, third overall), Tampa Bay (Jonathan Drouin, third overall) and L.A. (Thomas Hickey, fourth overall) all bungled top-five picks, but each team didn’t hinge its rebuild on a single player.

The Kings won two Cups in a span of three years after missing the playoffs for six straight seasons, during which they built a foundation by hitting on first-round picks like Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, Anze…

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