Last Place Teams, Five Years Later: Group Performance

I hope that most have enjoyed our series tracking last place teams between 1995-96 and 2005-06, and their performance five years out. As we’ve seen, performance has varied from team-to-team – from squads that went on to win the Stanley Cup, to teams that put in a competent performance, to the perpetual losers.

How did they fare, as a group? If we wanted an average base-line to give us an idea of what the Oilers might do if they follow the group’s curve, what would that look like? After the jump, the conclusion to this series.

Naturally, since we’re tracking aggregate performance, I’ve included a series of graphs, which tell the bulk of the story. The only alteration I’ve made to the numbers is to project all finishes over a 30-team league (the NHL only expanded to 30 teams in 2000-01, so some of these finishes came in a 26, 27 or 28-team league – adjusting the standings to a 30-team league makes the results more realistic for today).

What percentage of teams made the playoffs?

What percentage of teams finished in the top-10 during the regular season?

What was the average finish of the teams in question?


I have to admit that when I put these trends together, I was more than a little surprised. The third chart is particularly frightening – five years after hitting rock bottom, the average finish for these clubs is right on the playoff bubble. At first glance, that might seem to conflict with the top graph (which shows a 70% playoff attainment rate) but the explanation is simple: five years out, there are a lot of teams on the playoff bubble, a few teams at the very bottom of the league, and no teams near the top (Pittsburgh, the best performer of these 10 clubs in their fifth season, finished eighth in the league). That skews the overall average down to the playoff bubble.

The sad thing is that very few teams on this list ever managed to parley their top draft picks into lasting success – only two of the 10 teams (Pittsburgh and Ottawa) enjoyed a lengthy period of success as a result of their rebuilding, while the majority of teams were either one-and-done or never spent any time in the league’s upper echelon.

It’s a sobering set of facts, and one that points to the importance of augmenting top picks with managerial excellence. We know the Oilers both have and will have the former, but opinions vary on the latter.

  • Seriously....Gord?

    I wonder if all these other teams underwent an actual rebuild (as acknowledged by Tambi and Lowe) or just pee poor management.

    I mean was it ever acknowledged that NYI were in rebuild mode at that time? Milbury would likely have said no?

    • I don’t think there’s a rebuild in NHL history that hasn’t been sparked by poor management.

      Which is why I’m still more than a little confused that the two architects of the accidental – and it was accidental – 2009-10 collapse are the guys charged with righting the ship.

      • Sparky

        JW, I think the Oilers are atypical in this regard. Kevin Lowe wasn’t fired, so Tambellini couldn’t blame the dead guy for the mess. He likely would have had difficulty ripping apart the organization on day one of the job. He had to allow Lowe’s methods to fail before the restructuring could begin in earnest.

  • T.C.

    One (potential) difference for the Oilers, compared to some of the other teams mentioned, is that they’ll likely have more money to work with.

    Some of the teams that finished dead last probably didn’t have had the opportunity to spend to the cap once they started to turn things around, to help augment the roster.

    • John Chambers

      Indeed. Adding Washington and Chicago into the mix would’ve changed the look of the graphs.

      That said, Chicago never finished last. Only 3rd last twice and 5th last once.

  • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

    No question that inept management gets you the top picks. It’s what they do after that’s important.

    If the Oilers have committed to amateur scouting, and keeping and developing draft picks, they have committed to a recipe for success. And they don’t need to keep tanking to continue with that commitment.

    We don’t know enough about the teams you discussed, that have had success, to see what kind of cultural change they went through, if at all.

    Fixing problems as they arise is not the solution. Diagnosing how and why the problems arise in the first place and then reaching resolutions that way is the true solution. Sounds like the Oilers figured that out in the last few years, partly through inability to sign big name free agents.

    I’m afraid you’re not looking at it the right way, JW.

  • This was awesome the first 2 graphs!! Then the final and im sad

    So I set out to take a different angle, awhile back I did a comparison of teams with Top 2 picks in a short period, because we know that one player cant win you a cup (see: Iginla, Ovechkin). In the top 2 you generally have PURE STUDS. If you were to check what teams had multiple top 2 picks its OTT, Pitt and Chi and now EDM. While the NYI, CLB, ATL and WSH all only had a single top 2 and other fill ins. Not saying it can’t be done but I bet the graph changes alot if it were 2 bottom 3 finishes, 5 years outto be more accurate of the Oilers situation

    Great article though, gives a good picture

  • T.C.

    All you have to do Jon is draw a set of antlers on Tambellini for that total ‘deer in the headlights look’ in the pic above.

    Management at all levels is the Oilers biggest deficiency. Canuck GM Gillis inherited a better core but he has made consistently good moves and signings. As a former player and agent it appears he has developed the ability to get along with players and other player agents. Unfortunately the Oil managment has never demonstrated any such skill in team/organization building to date. Kevin Lowe’s history of fighting with players/agents in public has brought down his reputation as a manager and made it even harder to get players to come to Edmonton and stay. Maybe he should check his ego at the door in aid of getting the job done that needs to be done.

    Tambellini lost the battle and the war with the handling of the Souray matter. It was a ham-handed blunder that was basically an exercise in cutting off your nose to spite your face.

    Tambellini and Lowe seem to only excel at pissing off players and agents. Maybe Lowe’s stunning move with Comrie ( demanding money from his contract and then lost Corey Perry in the process) was a classic move. A truly cunning stunt.

    • T.C.

      Yea, many of Lowes moves are not defensible. Just wondering how many of them were EIG?

      I hope that is a big part of the culture ST promised to change.

      P.S. Skip the personal attacks next time re: “drawing antlers…” or post pics of yourself we can mock.

    • Mantastic

      Gillis traded for alberts last season, traded for ballard last off-season, traded off grabner and a first rounder, signed luongo to that 10m a season contract, signed manny and hammer which wasn’t hard to do when you’re a contending team and a team in vancouver. manny wanted to play for a contending team, hammer wanted to play for his home province. alberts and ballard were both flops, really and seriously would you sign a goalie for 10 seasons?

      i would hardly give Gillis a thumbs up.

        • Mantastic

          how am i a tambillini supporter?

          would you give any of those moves a thumbs up? gillis didn’t trade for luongo, draft the sedins or kesler. he also signed mats sundin to a 10 mill a year contract, is that good too?

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            Alberts has played well.

            I’d give his work as a whole 2 thumbs up.

            I’d also encourage you to see what Luongo actually makes per years (more importantly his cap hit)

          • Mantastic

            lol alberts was a GOAT last year, he’s been OK this year. last year he couldn’t even make the hurricane’s roster and they were god awful. he traded a 3rd rounder thinking it would fill the void that willie left, LOL

            i would also like you to know luongo this season is the highest paid player. yes i know his cap hit is 5 a season but would you have signed a goalie for TEN seasons? lol

            i also like the fact that you only mentioned those 2 things out of the list i gave as supporting gillis

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            lol yes I would sign an elite goaltender for 10 seasons at 5.3 hit…. especially when it’s structured the way it is for easy buouts after 7 years. lol

            lol I could care less that he’s the highest paid player, he’s elite and Vancouver has piles of $$$… his salary is essentially irrelavant. lol

            lol I mentioned to because they were both fine transactions, sure the Ballard trade has been poor so far, but who cares. lol

            lol They are an elite team and he’s done a heck of a job getting them there. lol

          • Mantastic

            7 years… are you listening to yourself? luongo has proven nothing until this season. and regular season means jack sh*t. last year when he sh*t the bed against chicago, would you have said the same thing?

            yeah, piles of money that they are over the cap and taking a cap penalty for 2 straight years. and it means that they can’t resign both beiska and ehrhoff

            if you said tambilini did the same transactions you would be the one running the mob to burn him alive at rx1.

            the canucks are an elite team in no part of what he has done. again i mention, sedins, kesler, luongo have not been because of him, and those are the players which really make that team elite.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            Yes Mantastic, 7 years. What is your issue with that?

            Yes I would have said the same thing last year, he’s been an elite goaltender for years.

            I’m also guessing you don’t know this but Luongo carried a massive underdog to the SCF a few years ago. Even that aside you’re making some ridiculous claims. Are Ryan Miller or Henrick Lunquivist elite goalies? Because they haven’t done much in the PO either.

            You think Gillis has nothing to do with Sedins+Kesler+Luongo? Do you realize he’s got all four locked up for 22 million cap hit?

            I’ll let that sink in for a minute, 22 million for four ELITE players, that my friend is excellent managment.

            Oh and no I wouldn’t be running to burn RX1 if Tambillini did that I’d be estatic that he’s got a 30 year old elite goaltender for 7 years at 1.5 million more per then the 36 year old goalie who happens to be one of the worst in the league that Tambs originally signed.

          • Mantastic

            if you think 7 years is ok to lock up a goalie.. ok then, if that’s what you think is good GMing, and lol’ing at thinking luongo carried the panthers to the finals

            how hard is it to resign players with a pay increase before they hit their career highs? the hardest part for GM’s is actually getting the elite talent to begin with, not resigning organizational players with pay increases.

            you would be estatic for trading a first rounder, a calder candidate for ballard, third rounder for alberts, 10m for sundin?

            gillis and tambs both inherited their teams, one inherited a team with elite players, the other NONE.

          • Chris.

            One GM inherited a team everyone at Oilersnation thought was in sharp decline… A few years later that GM has his President Trophy winning team in the finals: and even if they lose; they will likely be super competative for years to come.

            The other GM inherited a team that everyone at Oilersnation thought was on the rise (remember challenging for the division and all that)… A few years later that GM is throwing multi-million dollar contracts at marginal players picked up on waivers to prop up a lineup that just completed consecutive last place seasons.

            Yeah: it’s probably okay to concede that Gillis has done a better job than Tambellini… (Or that all of us good people at Oilersnation don’t necessarily have a good bead on things)

          • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

            You are so wrong in so many ways:

            The Sedins initially wanted retirement contracts in the 10-12 year range. Gillis flew to Sweden and convinced them to take a huge hometown discount for a much shorter contract length. √

            Gillis signed a 35 goal scorer to a $2M/year contract √

            Gillis got an elite goaltender under contract for a cap hit of $5.3M. The contract has TWO outclauses √

            Gillis identified defensive depth as the key to winning a cup and signed Hamhuis √

            See above and he traded spare parts for Keith Ballard √

            See above and went out and signed Chris Tanev √

            Gillis realized his bottom six was lacking in size and depth and obtained Malthotra, Torres, Higgins, Orescovitch, Tambellini and Lapierre. √

            It should be noted that Gillis and Tambellini have both been on the job for exactly the same period of time and while one has led his team to two consecutive 30th place finishes, the other is about to win a cup.

          • Peterborough

            Co mparing the Oilers situation to that of the canucks is LUDACRIS. A team with 2 elite players at the C — the hardest thing to come by in the NHL plus an elite winger and some great spare parts and an excellent starting goal tender. Shame on you all for wasting everyones time!

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            Fact is, the year before Gillis and Tambillini took over both team finished with 88 points (Oilers had more wins).

            If their isn’t a more even starting point to give competing GM’s a fair comparison, I don’t know what is.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            Just shows you how far the Oilers have to go to even become competitive.

            Need two elite centres, an elite winger, 5 defensemen and an elite goaltender.

            Should be easy 🙂

  • Quicksilver ballet

    One more reason to sell our souls to get a second shot in that top 6 this summer. If there’s an elite player to be had in this summers draft why not increase our chances by grabbing 2 of the top 6 rated kids.

    Paajarvi, the 19th and the 31st to Florida for Erik Gudbranson and the third selection this summer. Could Gudbranson be the next Shea Weber?

    This 5 yrs till even being a playoff bubble team is a sobering reality indeed. The Oilers have an opportunity to be more aggressive this summer and get something like this done to prevent this from becoming a reality.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        I’ll gamble and take my chances on that. Both Zetterberg and Forsberg were point a game players since day one. There was no adjustment year needed for those two guys, they both brought it since their arrival in the NHL.

        Couturier and Gubranson looks like a pretty good return on that package to me. Is this decent deal for Dale Tallon you figure?

        • NamelessNed

          Confused… Zetterberg’s first season in the NHL 79 GP 44 pts; second year 61GP 43 pts; then the following year a stint in SEL…

          However Forsberg was a point getter from day one

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            Sure, it all depends on what we are giving up and where exactly the pick falls.

            History tells me picks 4+ don’t typically produce elite NHL’ers, so I’d still gladly trade into those spots, but I wouldn’t give up a bunch.

            If we could get pick 2 or 3 then I’d be willing to “over-pay” for solid odds at grabing an elite player.

  • Or we could jettison the half dozen guys who helped us tank our way to the #1 pick, replace them with (probably slightly overpaid) quality vets and keep the less-than-ready kids in our AHL team until they’re ready to compete (versus inherit) for a spot on the big team’s roster. Then we demote Khabby to OKC and hook up Dubnyk with a half decent playing partner because there’s always goalies available during the summer.

    We set a goal of making the playoffs next season to savvy up our kids, then…

    *slaps self*…

    What was I thinking? Only six or so years of “the process” and we’re a lock for the cup. A much more realistic approach!

  • Milli

    Nice stuff: I am sure I am not the only one who suggested this type of analysis, but great to see it happen. A good analogy for this is the stock market While it is true that stock laggards, after years of underperformance can provide a good return over for a short time, only to fall back; Blue Chip, dividend yielding stocks outperform over long term because of commitment to excellence and consistency. Hopefully there will be the money and long term vision, or the OIL will continue to stay lousy. “Good stocks are expensive because the are quality” I think the last chart summarizes that in a hockey analogy: “Bad teams stay sucky becasue they aren’t good”. Basically our team has Hall, who has the potential to be an all-star (not ovie, crosby, etc though), Eberle who is a 2nd or 3rd liner on a really good team, and a bunch of guys who have injury histories or starting out with maybe 2nd line ceilings if max performance, or not impact players. Signed, NOT A HAPPY OIL FAN

  • Calgary deals Erixson(Larsson’s playing partner ) to Rangers for a fringe player and 2 second round picks this draft . Crap , we could have easily bested that deal and got him , and then used our first pick to pick Larsson . Man , that would have gone a long way to shoring up our backend woes !! Did Tams and company just blow another huge opportunity to get our club moving forward so easily ? Shocker that Flames let Erixson get away to be honest .

    I would assume Oilers are not interested in Larsson either , if they blew this opportunity to get Erixson .

    • ~Because the Flames really wanted to see one of their top prospects play for the Oilers~

      There was no “Let him get away”, he told them he wasnt going to be a Flame. I wouldnt be surprised if the Flames werent willing to offer enough in bonuses because of their Cap restrictions. They have about 3.5 million in space and still need to fill 5 or 6 spots. An incentive filled ELC can soak up a lot of that space.

  • VMR

    It’s an interesting series and it at least partially vindicates Kevin Lowe’s stance that they’re on a 4-6 year rebuilding plan. Your stats show that it’ll probably take that long to be a playoff bubble team.

    What really interests me is the longer term stuff. You get teams like the Islanders or Florida or Atlanta who get stuck in a rut and can never pull themselves up to respectability. How does that happen? I know I heard Keith Tkachuk hinting on 1260 yesterday that ownership in Atlanta was a pain to deal with, many other bad teams have had the same problem (Harold Ballard). Then there’s management, the Doug Maclean’s and Mike Milbury’s of the world have definitely set their teams back years.

    Or conversely the teams that stay contenders for long periods like Detroit. I was trying to think of other examples but most of them have started to fade like Jersey and Dallas, Philadelphia is pretty constant but they had a dry run in the early 90’s until they sold the farm for Lindros. Boston, always in the game but rarely a contender the Rangers are usually like that.

  • Mantastic

    Interesting stuff, Jonathan, but what are the numbers like in years 5 through 10 when the early high/top picks should conceivably be finally hitting their peak performing years? At that point most of these teams would have had the core pieces in place via the draft and then made trades using their assets (young non-core players and draft picks) or signed UFAs to put the missing pieces in place.

    In most cases it takes longer than that 5 years to build a winner as players take time to develop. Even the Pens had some decent depth talent in the system before landing a transcendent one in Crosby that put them over the top. Their rebuild really started in 2002 with the first top 5 pick (Ryan Whitney), then four straight top 2 picks (two #1s – Crosby in 2005 – and two #1s) in the 2003 – 2006 drafts, but they did not win the Cup until the 2008/2009 season (2009), basically 7 years after the rebuild started.

    You can look at the Avs, Red Wings, early 80s Islanders, the Mario Pens, and even the Hawks the same way. As Oilers fans we were spoiled in the 80s with the NHL results, but if you count the bitter end of the WHA as the starting point it still took 5 years or so to build a top team here even with the WHA roster advantage (i.e. they actually had talent coming into the NHL unlike an expansion franchise).

    I think that the other key point is that the successful bottom feeders that turned things around kept a lot of the talent together over the longer term as well. The two poster franchises for failed rebuilds are the Islanders and Panthers – how many of their top draft picks stay with the team into their prime? They had their duds like everyone else, but neither team has developed enough of a winning culture where players want to stick around. This is a key issue that Lowe/Tambi will need to address in the medium term as well to avoid the same fate.

    What does that mean for us fans? It is going to take time for the rebuild to pay off. The key is for the team to assemble talent now and develop it to form a core group of players that a winner can be built around. In 3 or so years when the results are better understood, the new GM (Tambi will likely be gone by then) can trade “prospects” and picks or sign UFAs for finishing pieces. If enough of them pan out then the Oilers will be a force for a number of years. If not, then we will be back at the rebuild stage sooner than later.

  • Chris.

    Does the 5 year countdown to bubble team status start after last years 30th place finish or from the year before?

    (I just want to know if this is going to be a 9 year playoff drought or a 10)… ~Yay Oiler management!~

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    @ Mantastic. Maybe you can actually give some rational as to why having an elite goalie under contract for a long time period is bad, because as far as I can tell keeping your best players on your team is a good thing.

    I think what you should be asking is: How hard is it to sign elite talent to below market contracts… I’m pretty sure the answer to that is: Very hard.

    Sure, the Ballard trade was poor, but the 1st rounder has about a 10 percent chance of being a player, Grabner was then waived by one of the worst teams in the leaugue

    3rd rounders are garbage, I’d gladly trade one for a proven 3rd pairing dman. And who cares about Sundin, they had the space and no one else to sign. Its not my fault that you don’t understand that unused cap space is worthless.

    Oh, and the funniest part of your post: you should check out where the Oil and the Canucks were the year before Tambilinni and gillis were hired.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Gillis had a hand in transforming the Sedins and Kesler into the players they are today.

    Sundin is constantly cited by all three as having had a huge effect on their development and maturity. It also told them how much management wanted to win.

    Gillis also re-defined the Vancouver team around the Sedins. Ehrhoff has greatly helped their speed through the neutral zone. Samuelsson and locking up Burrows has ended their linemate carousel.

    Not only that, but Gillis has had several very productive individual meetings with Kesler, which were covered in depth in a recent Sports Illustrated article. He convinced Kesler that he could be a superstar, if he dropped the sideshow stuff.

    Meanwhile Edmonton players continue to flounder without any support whatsoever. No wonder none of them are developing. Adding a year in age is what the Oilers and their fans consider “development”.