Building a winner: Babcock and Hendricks

We all have different theories or beliefs regarding what is necessary in building a winning team. Even when you build a strong, successful organization that doesn’t mean you will win, or be close to winning every season.

When we evaluate success, I think we put way too much focus on winning a championship. Only one team wins, but that doesn’t mean all the other 29 franchises were failures. The Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs 24 consecutive seasons, but they’ve “only” won the Stanley Cup four times in that period.

Are they a failure? Far from it. They are the model franchise in the NHL and throughout their 24-year run to the post-season they’ve done so by incorporating the single most important aspect needed for winning.

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They’ve always had a few elite superstars on their team.

The talk about leadership, development, grit, character, etc surrounding great teams are all secondary.

You win consistently by having great players.

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In 1990/1991, the beginning of their 24-year run, they were led by 25-year-old Steve Yzerman. They also added an outstanding 20-year-old rookie in Sergei Federov.

In 1991/1992 they welcomed Nick Lidstrom to the roster and those three played together for 12 seasons. The Red Wings success was built around those three. When they won the Cup in 1997 and 1998 they had added Brendan Shanahan and Igor Larionov and some other top players.

In 2002, they added veterans and future Hall of Famers in Brett Hull and Chris Chelios and Dominik Hasek and a young Pavel Datsyuk was playing on their third line. By 2008, the Wings elite core consisted of Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. The Wings had accomplished an extremely rare “passing of the torch” from one elite group to the next.

In today’s salary cap era, it will be extremely hard to emulate what the wings did, but Mike Babcock explained to Darren Dreger in his TSN interview the benefits of having great players in your organization.

“When you are a kid and you arrive at the Red Wings you get to sit beside Henrik Zetterberg, Nick Kronwall and Pavel Datsyuk. They do it right every day. They allow you (young player) to grow up.They teach you what a pro is. They are outstanding human beings, not just players, and that is a gift for a kid because you have someone showing you the way,” said Babcock

Babcock also added, “The young kids have to help the veterans. They have to contribute.”

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Detroit is an anomaly.

At his end of season press conference Babcock expressed concern Detroit’s great players, Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Kronwall were getting older, and the Wings likely don’t have anyone capable of replacing them. The Wings develop properly, but just because you allow a player more time in the AHL, they won’t magically become elite superstars. 

I’m sure that was part of the reason he went to Toronto; although $50 million was a good incentive as well. The Maple Leafs will have the 4th pick in this year’s draft and will likely pick higher than Detroit again next year. He must see the Leafs chances of drafting and developing an elite player better than Detroit’s.

Pittsburgh has two of the best players in the world, and they’ve made the playoffs nine years in a row, but some people view them as a “failure” because they haven’t been the Cup finals since winning it in 2009. It is interesting to me how some people view success.

The Blackhawks are the current dominant team in the NHL. They’ve made the playoffs seven consecutive seasons. They’ve won two Stanley Cups and have been to the Conference final on three other occasions. Unlike Detroit in the 1990s and early 2000s, the Blackhawks will be forced to lose one, maybe two, of their better players due to the salary cap. Will their playoff streak reach 10, 12 or 15 years? The odds say no.

Currently, only nine NHL teams have made the playoffs in consecutive years. The Wings, Penguins, Blackhawks, Rangers (5), Blues (4), Ducks, Wild and Canadiens (3) and the Lightning (2).

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The Kings had made it five years in a row, winning two Cups, but despite having Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar and Jonathon Quick, they still missed the playoffs this year.

Winning consistently in the NHL is extremely difficult. There is no guarantee the Oilers will become a consistent Cup contender, but they have a better chance than most because they will have great players in Connor McDavid and Taylor Hall. And they have other potential greats in Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oscar Klefbom, Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse.

It is important to have an experienced GM and head coach like Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan, but the foundation of a dominant team is built around having great players.


“As players it is our job to perform on the ice. We need to play better,” Matt Hendricks said on my radio show last week.

“Individually we need to be better, and as a group we need to be a better team in terms of playing as a group and not being individuals on the ice.”

So how will that improve?

“I think our locker room is in great shape in terms of the vibe and the things we talk about, but our on-ice performance is not where it needs to be. I think the big thing is we need to have a good start to the season and be a confident group moving forward. I think our players realized we need to play more consistent,” continued Hendricks.

I also asked Hendricks specifically about the forwards. As a group, what must they improve?

“I’m a strong believer in the defence-first mentality. If we defend first from our zone out we will be a much better team. We have a lot of skill in our lineup who can make a tremendous amount of plays, but we need to realize that when the opportunity is there to take it, but we don’t need to force things.

“We don’t need to score five goals a game to be successful, we need to score three goals. The goal is to not see as many great chances going back and forth, instead you see us limit chances and when we get our chances we strike gold,” said Hendricks.

He was also quick to mention he is has one thing in common with many of you.

“I get up in the morning and I’m excited to be an Oiler. I feel like a fan in Edmonton right now. There are many reasons to be optimistic that we will have a better team this year, but there is a lot of work to do to make that happen. 

“We need to be a better team first. You see how hard it is to get in the playoffs as it is. From where we were last season we are a long ways away. We have to start making steps in the right direction. Become a tough team to play against that is never out of a hockey game. That is what I want for next season,” said Hendricks.

I’m sure fans and his teammates will want the exact same thing.

Recently by Jason Gregor:    

  • freelancer

    Interesting in how you put McDavid and Hall as great players and Nuge and Eberle as potentially great. At the time of the trade for Hendricks, I wasn’t overly impressed with the return. Now, he’s become a favourite of mine. He’s a great leader and great role model for this team and we need more guys to put in the same effort that he does.

    • Jason Gregor

      Hall has been top-9 in NHL scoring twice. McDavid is compared to Crosby and other greats of greats.

      RNH has career-high 56 points twice. He has not been great yet.

      Eberle was one I thought about adding considering he’s scored 63+ points three times, but I don’t think he controls game like Hall just yet. Eberle is a very good player.

          • AJ88


            Just sitting in a boardroom with my agent, while he’s on the phone with Gregor getting advice on where I should be traded to.

            I just don’t fit in or have the potential to be on this elite Oiler squad. Draisatl will be way better than I ever was or could be, Nurse has Norris potential and I will never be a coaches, reporters, or fanbase pet like some of my teammates. Guess I just wasn’t meant for greatness, and only Eakins and Gregor could see that.

  • ThinkingOutLoud

    I hope McDavid is great – I mean of course he has the skills to be. Will he be the Oilers 1st Calder winner or will MS(Toronto) media snub him again for playing out west? We wait…

  • Jason Gregor

    Of course nobody considers Detroit a failure. 4 Cups in 24 years of playoff appearances is outstanding. 1 Cup in 30 years is the average (though that’s over a very long period of time).

    But San Jose? Yeah you can call them failures, or at least disappointments. They had a long window with a very skilled, physically gifted team and they failed to win. Nobody counts Finals appearances, much less making it to the second round. People only care about the playoffs inasmuch as it’s a chance to win. A long playoff streak is notable, but does anyone care that the Avs made the playoffs last season?


      Winning is all that matters when your in pro-sports. You can make it to the finals and have a great showing in the playoffs, but if you don’t win the top prize all it means is that out of all the teams that lost you were maybe one of the better ones.

      How many of us here in Canada would be happy with the Silver Olympic medal? Pretty much nobody. Would you be happy to get to the Stanley Cup final and then not win the cup? I doubt it. All that matters is the grande prize.

      If you progress all the way to the final and didn’t win, you LOST, plain and simple. You may as well have not made the playoffs IMO, except for the experience you may have gained, or what you could see as valued missing pieces. Other than that you still lost.

  • R U Kidding Me!

    Hendricks is a leader! The forwards need to start playing better defensively, but we also need an upgrade on defense. I was thinking andI haven’t seen it out there but what about a Berrat Jackman. Tough defensively with years of experience

    • Joy S. Lee

      Last time I saw him, he looked like he’d lost a step, and while he brings other qualities, I think we’re probably looking more for guys that are better capable of moving the puck, as well as protecting our end. That being said, I could patiently adopt a wait and see attitude to having Jackman on board if we were to sign him (not another long-term deal!), simply because of his warrior mentality.

  • Jason Gregor

    Right now, for fans of non-playoff teams, it’s sill season. We dream, pick new players and read anything we can about hockey in general. So, after reading on SN that the Pens want to trade for a first round pick, the cogs started turning in my brain.

    Hmmm, I seem to recall a certain Pens player who centered Hall and Eberle very well at the recent worlds…..perhaps we could let them have our 2nd first round pick (courtesy of them originally) plus maybe a later 2nd round pick and a prospect………they would also have to retain some of his salary. I know I’m dreaming, but when it’s off season for the majority of us fans, we can sure conjure up some strange scenarios!

  • Jason Gregor

    I sure hope if Tkachev is around in the 3rd or 4th rounds the Oil grab him. He a highlight reel machine. Just watching him in this Memorial Cup reminds how slick and shifty he is. Plus now he’s up to 163 lbs? $hit Why not maybe he can be our Tyler Johnson 2.0

    • Jason Gregor

      I also hope they take Tkachev. If or nothing else but to pair up with Yakimov again. Those two were an insanely good duo last year, and it might be what Yakimov needs to move up the depth chart in Bakersfield. Plus, the NHL squad has good depth on the wings, great depth at centre if they sign a guy like Sodoburg, and they have some nice D prospects on the left side. But their prospect pool is severely lacking on the wings now. So Tkachev will help that.

  • Jason Gregor

    Great comments by Matt H. The team has been a chronic underperformer. Before we talk about how we should keep the average/below average players on this team we need to be honest with ourselves in our assessment of how good they are relative to the rest of the league. Yes, we have 4-6 players that would play very well on other teams but they are not phenoms (maybe Connor M.) If Hall is our best, would he be the best on Montreal, Chicago, LA, Tampa, New York, Anaheim etc. I don’t think so. Thats our best. What about those average/below average who are not either ready (Marincin) or able (Nikitin). If we play them next season we will lose. I hope that Peter C gets us a few better quality players (not a whole team, just 2 D and 1 G) an we should be willing to give up future capability/lower salary and drafts to get them. Craig M made a number of changes but, by and large, brought in lower quality players who likely would not play on playoff contender teams.

    I hope Todd M. can bring a greater level of compete and team play. Matt H talked about compete and defensive play – keeping the puck out is as important as scoring. He is excited because Peter C. and Todd M. are experienced, successful managers – something the Oil have not had in a long time. He sees positive change – finally.

    • Hall would be top 3 if not the best on any of those teams you listed. If you are only counting skaters and not goalies, then he would be pretty damn high for everyone of those teams. If you’re only counting LW, then hi is the best LW on that entire list as both Kane and Perry are RW.

        • R U Kidding Me!

          Meh, there were some incredibly significant names left off the Olympic list last time for both Canada and US teams. And Canada won. It’s tough to criticize decisions when the team won. Some of the names that got left off (at least before the stamkos injury) were: Giroux, Staal, St. Louis, Hall, Seguin, Thorton, Iginla, Lucic, Neal, and Coture. On defence Keith Seabrook seemed like a big omission. And though Subban was there, he only played one game I think.

          For the states for some hilarious reason they left off Carle, Dubinsky, Ryan, Yandle, both Erick and Jack Johnson, and Okoposo.

          Hell, even team Sweden left behind Jonis Brodin and Victor Headman. That is insane.

          Also Czech Republic left behind Vrbata and Hudler for some reason.

          Having said that, the whole reason they brought Chris Kunitz was to have a familiar player for Crosby, who really didn’t do too much that whole tournament, and who seems to play better with Hall.

      • STR8 SHOOTER

        I did not say best left wing nor top three. I said best. Time will tell as to how good he is as he young. If choosing between Ovey, Toews, Thornton, Kane, Stamkos, Crosby etc. and, dare I say it, Seguin, I am not sure Hall would be the best player on the team. In the last 4 seasons, Seguin has missed 14 games and scored 260 pts whereas Hall has missed 60 w 221 pts. He plays aggressively and is more prone to injury. Tough to score when you are injured. I am not slamming Hall. He is the best player we have – no question and I love to watch him play.

        My simple point was the better players we have, have to be better for the team to be competitive. The poorer regular players we have, would not be regulars on most playoff teams. If you want to make the playoffs, you need to change them out not replace them with the same.

  • Winning a cup cannot be the only way to judge a teams success. In reality, there is only one cup and there are 30 teams doing everything they can to pursue it.

    In theory, the Oilers have won 150 years worth of cups in the last 30 years. From a franchise standpoint, we have an outstanding cup record. So to use cups as a good/bad team indicator makes no sense, as there is not one fan in Oil Country that will say the team has been successful over the last 8 seasons.

    The ability to make playoffs is really the determining factor in my minds eye. The teams that make the playoffs are among the top 53.3% of teams for any given season.

    Give us a playoff contender and fans will calm down. We’ll all feel like we are in the thick of it and the possibility of a cup run will be on the horizon. That’s all we can ask for at this point.

    Is it October yet?

  • Spoils

    There is an urban legend that the Oilers walked past the Islander dressing room after losing in the cup final and were surprised by the exhaustion of the Isles; realizing what it takes to win.

    Vets, size, role models, at least one murderously incredible #1D who plays half the game, a goalie capable of getting supernaturally hot… the will to win.

    Thank god I finally believe we are going to address this really long list.


      Yes, brought to light by Wayne Gretzky during an interview for the 30 for 30 episode chronicling the New York Islanders and their fall from grace.
      The Oilers don’t know what it takes yet, my hope is that they will soon.

  • Spoils

    If I got to rebuild a team i’d aquire as many drafts picks as I can and for the first 3 years I draft nothing but the best available dman. Once I have a solid deep prospect pool of dman developing then I’d start looking up front. I’d also never draft a goalie because you can pick one of them up for a 2nd rnd pick when you’re ready. All about the Dmen

  • Spoils

    i know our current team is going to be better, just due to aging… but i dread lists of our top 6 F and our top 4 D that resemble last year.

    Poul – RNH – Ebs
    Hall – McD – Purcell
    LD – Lander – Yak
    Hendricks – Gordon – Yakimov

    Klefbom – Jultz
    Marincin – Fayne
    Ference- Nikitin

    anything that looks like this is not going to end well for us. Sorry folks, put down the kool aid and start hoping for significant free agent signings, trades involving key core players and prospects, and buyouts…

    PC can take what he has now, shuffle the deck and be better. I hope he does.

      • Joy S. Lee

        What if the D looked like this:

        Klefbom – Nurse (all-purpose)
        Marincin- Schultz (offensive)
        Davidson- Fayne (shutdown)

        Never mind, you’re right, it’s weak. Unpredictable things would have to work out really well for this unit to be a success in the overall sense. They need help, but maybe not as much as we think. A UFA signing, or shrewd trade for the right guy without giving up the farm, and the draft might even help, you just never know. There are a lot of chips to play between now and October.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    Not a big fan of Mike Babcock’s end of season presser in which he expressed concern over the Red Wing’s future.

    He’s basically saying that the Red Wings younger players like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Danny DeKeyser, etc. are just “meh”. Not exactly what you’d like to hear from your coach after giving all you’ve got for him after a season.

    Nick Lidstrom was probably a little underrated. One of the greatest NHLers of all time. Much of Detroit and Mike Babcock’s success can be attributed to him.

  • S cottV

    Babcock is understating his role and role of leadership in general, when it comes to what it takes to make a team successful.

    Sure – great players are important but cohesive leadership throughout the organization, GM, Coach and amongst the player group – shouldn’t be under estimated.

    Detroit has always had strong leadership from the owner, through the management group, GM, Coach and player group. They seem to acquire and cultivate leadership because other teams seem to grab their guys, more than any other hockey club.

  • Harry2

    I know we are years away from problems like Chicago has but for conversation sake assuming all of the following develop how they should what 4 playera would you keep out of

    McDavid, RNH, Hall, Ebs, Yak, Nurse, Klefbom, LD ??

    I would keep McD, RNH, Klef, and Nurse

    • R U Kidding Me!

      You really think we will have cap issues so bad that we would have to get rid of 4 of our top 8 players?

      Also, remember that we actually have competent people in management now. Not the 3 stooges.

        • R U Kidding Me!

          Chicago’s not having any problems like that either. Any players they have to let go will not include their core players. Especially not 4 of them.

          Your question still makes no sense even in reference to Chicago.

  • Zarny

    The formula in the cap era is simple enough.

    Assemble an elite, highly skilled core and pile on the required depth that compliments the core.

    Some non-core players will be long serving, but many will change frequently. And for sustained success you need a pipeline of young players on value contracts.

    The Oilers need a pillar or two on D and G for the core and several depth players for support.

    And then as Hendricks highlights, they need to get down to business.

  • AJ88

    If only one team wins then how are the other 29 teams not failures? Anything less than a championship should absolutely be considered a failure. If your goal isn’t to win it all you have no business in the nhl. Ricky Bobby said it best…if you ain’t first, you’re last!