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External Additions: How are Championship Teams Typically Built?

The Senators have relied heavily on drafting players, but how many external additions do championship teams typically make?

2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

Over the last few weeks, and this last week in particular, there has been a lot of discourse surrounding Pierre Dorion and how he has constructed this Ottawa Senators lineup. They are heavily influenced by players they have drafted or developed, with not many contributions coming from external additions via trades or free agency.

I’ve seen a lot of comments talking about how the Senators will be able to rely on Jake Sanderson, Lassi Thomson, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Ridly Greig, Roby Järventie, Egor Sokolov, Tyler Boucher, etc. in the future, so they won’t have to worry very much about adding established NHLers in the meantime. The problem with that is that many of these prospects will fail, that’s just how it goes. Furthermore, it’s almost impossible to win with a roster full of players under 25, you need at least a few older players to insulate them.

I have been advocating for acquiring a few useful pieces in the top-6 or top-4 so that Ottawa can transition to the next phase of their rebuild easier, but Dorion has hardly done anything to support the fantastic young cast of Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stützle, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, Artem Zub, and Filip Gustavsson. Building primarily through the draft is absolutely the best and easiest way to be successful, but it doesn’t mean it’s the only way to acquire players. In fact, a lack of good moves in free agency or trades will kill a team, and we’re seeing a small example of that right now.

Does this theory of mine actually track though? I looked at all of the Stanley Cup Champions in the salary cap era (16 winners) and found how many players were drafted by the team and how many were external additions via trades, free agency, or waiver claims. To make things simpler, if a player was acquired before they made their debut, that counts as a “drafted” player, since they didn’t necessarily go out and get that player to be an immediate help to their team that season. These additions don’t have to have occurred within the same season, but they are meant to represent the team adding to the core that they already have.

I wanted to measure which players had the most impact on these teams in the playoffs, so I simply picked the 12 forwards, 6 defensemen, and 1 goalie who played the most games in the playoffs that year. So there are a few players who barely missed the cut as the extra player, but I don’t think that changes too many things.

Here are the results:

Added Players on Cup Winning Teams

Year Team Drafted Players Additions (Trade, FA, waivers) Names of additions
Year Team Drafted Players Additions (Trade, FA, waivers) Names of additions
2021 Tampa Bay Lightning 12 7 Mikhail Sergachev, Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman, Ryan McDonagh, Pat Maroon, David Savard, Jan Rutta
2020 Tampa Bay Lightning 11 8 Mikhail Sergachev, Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman, Ryan McDonagh, Pat Maroon, Kevin Shattenkirk, Cedric Paquette, Zach Bogosian
2019 St. Louis Blues 11 8 Ryan O'Reilly, Brayden Schenn, Tyler Bozak, Oskar Sundqvist, Pat Maroon, Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Steen, Carl Gunnarsson
2018 Washington Capitals 11 8 TJ Oshie, Lars Eller, Brett Connolly, Matt Niskanen, Devante Smith-Pelly, Michal Kempny, Brooks Orpik, Alex Chiasson
2017 Pittsburgh Penguins 10 9 Phil Kessel, Justin Schultz, Matt Cullen, Chris Kunitz Patric Hornqvist, Ron Hainsey, Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley, Ian Cole
2016 Pittsburgh Penguins 10 9 Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin, Matt Cullen, Chris Kunitz, Patric Hornqvist, Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley, Ian Cole, Eric Fehr
2015 Chicago Blackhawks 11 8 Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Brad Richards, Johnny Oduya, Andrew Desjardins, Antoine Vermette, Kimmo Timonen, Michal Rozsival
2014 Los Angeles Kings 12 7 Jeff Carter, Justin Williams, Marian Gaborik, Mike Richards, Jarret Stoll, Matt Greene, Willie Mitchell
2013 Chicago Blackhawks 13 6 Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, Michal Handzus, Michael Frolik, Michal Rozsival
2012 Los Angeles Kings 9 10 Jeff Carter, Justin Williams, Mike Richards, Dustin Penner, Matt Greene, Jarret Stoll, Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi, Colin Fraser, Brad Richardson
2011 Boston Bruins 6 13 Zdeno Chara, Michael Ryder, Mark Rechhi, Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley, Dennis Seidenberg, Tomas Kaberle, Andrew Ference, Johnny Boychuk, Daniel Paille, Nathan Horton, Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton
2010 Chicago Blackhawks 11 8 Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Brian Campbell, Andrew Ladd, Brent Sopel, Tomas Kopecky, John Madden, Ben Eager
2009 Pittsburgh Penguins 8 11 Sergei Gonchar, Bill Guerin, Ruslan Fedotenko, Chris Kunitz, Mark Eaton, Matt Cooke, Brooks Orpik, Craig Adams, Hal Gill, Miroslav Satan, Pascal Dupuis
2008 Detroit Red Wings 11 8 Brian Rafalski, Mikael Samuelsson, Chris Osgood*, Dallas Drake*, Brad Stuart, Dan Cleary, Darren McCarty*, Kris Draper
2007 Anaheim Ducks 6 13 Teemu Selanne, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Rob Niedermayer, JS Giguere, Travis Moen, Samuel Pahlsson, Sean O'Donnell, Francois Beauchemin, Joe DiPenta, Brad May, Todd Marchant, Shawn Thornton
2006 Carolina Hurricanes 6 13 Rod Brind'Amour, Doug Weight, Cory Stillman, Justin Williams, Matt Cullen, Mark Rechhi, Frantisek Kaberle, Bret Hedican, Aaron Ward, Mike Commodore, Glen Wesley, Kevyn Adams, Ray Whitney

(*Osgood and Drake were re-acquired so they still had to technically move assets to get them back)

As you can see, the low end of things has the Chicago Blackhawks adding six players to their 2013 run. But even then, that still includes Hall-of-Famer Marian Hossa plus Patrick Sharp, who were both extremely important pieces in all three Cup wins. But then on the high end of things, you have the Carolina Hurricanes, Anaheim Ducks, and Boston Bruins with 13/19 players acquired outside of the draft. For Anaheim in particular, almost all of their best players were not drafted by them.

A common thread with every single one of these teams is that there are impact players throughout. Names like Marian Hossa, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Rod Brind’Amour, Doug Weight, Brian Rafalski, Zdeno Chara, Marian Gaborik, Phil Kessel, and Ryan O’Reilly are stars who transformed those team’s lineups. Then even names on the next tier such as Justin Williams, Jeff Carter, Mikhail Sergachev, TJ Oshie, Ryan McDonagh, Brayden Schenn, etc. are top players in their own right who made big impacts. The only addition for Ottawa that would be close to fitting in that second category is Connor Brown.

I’d say the two teams with the “least” impactful external additions would be Washington and Tampa Bay, but even Washington was still able to get a lot of value from Oshie, Eller, Connolly, Niskanen, and Kempny. The Lightning also benefitted greatly from having incredible depth with Sergachev, Coleman, Goodrow, McDonagh, Shattenkirk, and Savard. So some teams added stars to their core to get them to that next level, while some added so much solid depth around their existing elite core that it was hard to beat any of their lines.

What is the point of all this? It’s simple: Ottawa can’t just sit back and wait for their prospects to develop.

You probably know this, but it’s a good reminder that at some point they will need to add better players via trades or free agency, and if they keep saying “we’re not ready, we’re not ready,” the core will be getting older and more expensive. No, you don’t want Ottawa to be giving away this year’s first-round pick or Jake Sanderson, but there are always trades to be made out there that can help in the present and in the future.

The Pavel Buchnevich deal to St. Louis is a great example of that. All the Blues gave up was Sammy Blais (essentially a Nick Paul) and a 2nd round pick, and the 26-year-old is on pace for 69 points. Not every free agent will be willing to sign in Ottawa, but that certainly doesn’t exclude them from making trades to get them out of the basement.

You might be saying to yourself, “well duh, every team has a similar number of players that were acquired externally,” and you’re right, which is essentially the point. There has been too much talk about letting all of their prospects develop, which just isn’t realistic. It’s fun to dream, but it’s never happened. Furthermore, players that Ottawa has acquired from other teams have not been good at all, whereas Cup winners are able to identify who is worth going after.

This isn’t meant to be an argument that acquiring these top players is easy and that it will be easy for the Senators, but if they want to take that next step to at least be a playoff team (and hopefully a Cup contender), they can’t rely solely on who they have drafted. Prospects are nice, but they serve two purposes: to rejuvenate your lineup and to be used as trade assets. I just hope they will figure out which ones are worth keeping around.