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Building a Stanley Cup Champion: How far away are the Coyotes from a cup run?

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Comparing the Arizona Coyotes to this year’s Stanley Cup champion. 

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning won their second straight Stanley Cup Wednesday night in a 1-0 victory against the Montréal Canadiens.

After the Lightning took a commanding 3-0 series lead against the Canadiens, it seemed like nothing would stop the reigning cup champion from defending their title.

Despite the Canadiens winning one game, this year’s Stanley Cup Final was the most lopsided final in recent memory.

The Lightning’s dominance has initiated a discussion about if they are the NHL’s version of a modern dynasty. They have sustained success for the better part of a decade, but their path to success was full of turmoil.

As the Arizona Coyotes consider a rebuild, they should analyze how the Lightning built their roster to win the Stanley Cup. This will provide insight on how long Coyotes fans should expect to wait before they reap the benefits of a well-constructed team.

Roster Composition

The Lightning built much of their team through the draft. According to Cap Friendly’s depth chart, the Lightning drafted 14 of their 30 current roster players. More specifically, they drafted 58% of their talented forward group throughout the years.

The Coyotes have had issues with drafting in the past. They have suffered from poor lottery luck and an inability to make impactful late-round selections. Cap Friendly’s depth chart shows that the Coyotes only drafted nine of their players on their current 25-man roster. This primarily affects their forward group as the Coyotes have drafted only about 43% of their forwards.

Despite this, the numbers alone mean little. The past Stanley Cup champions were all composed in various ways with their own road that led them to the cup. Still, drafting and developing players has always been an integral part of any successful franchise.

The Coyotes have struggled to develop their prospects into cornerstone pieces that stay with the team across several seasons. This does not bode well for a team hoping to have the success teams like the Lightning have had.

Only three Coyotes players have been on the team or in the system since before 2015 (Christian Dvorak, Michael Bunting, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson). Comparatively, ten players on the Lightning were signed or drafted before 2015. It may be because, unlike the Coyotes, the Lightning have achieved plenty of regular season and playoff success since then.

As for how the players are paid, Cap Friendly shows that both teams have similar distributions. The Lightning are currently spending about 61% of their cap hit on forwards, 28% on defensemen, and 11% on goaltending. The Coyotes are spending about 62% of their cap hit on forwards, 28% on defensemen, and 9% on goaltending. However, this is all subject to change as both teams make trades or signings this offseason.

The Importance of Drafting

Although many Coyotes fans groan at the idea of another rebuild, it usually ensures a team drafts top-end talent.

When the Lightning finished last in the league in 2008, they drafted Steven Stamkos first overall. In 2009, they finished towards the bottom and drafted Victor Hedman second overall. These two players set up the future of the Lightning for years to come. Another notable draft was 2011 when they selected Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat.

The lottery rules have changed over the years, and finishing near the bottom of the standings no longer guarantees a top-3 pick. Also, teams do not win cups just by drafting at the top a few times. It takes several years and a well-balanced roster to form a winning team.

However, a big difference between the Coyotes and the Lightning is how they have drafted. The Coyotes will need to have high picks and develop their players to become stars if they want to win a championship. This means properly scouting prospects to find a Brayden Point or a Conor Garland in the draft’s later rounds.

The Lightning utilized their third and fourth lines to chip in offensively and shut it down defensively. However, most teams tend to trade or sign these players as they grow closer to going all in.

The Coyotes may have a star defenseman in Jakob Chychrun, but they still lack a number one center that almost all great teams have. However, they may have the opportunity to draft a promising young center in the coming years.

Timeline for Success

Unfortunately for Coyotes fans, any rebuild takes time. It took the Lightning over a decade to build the team that won back-to-back Stanley Cups. It takes a lot of patience but also a lot of luck.

Perhaps the most frustrating part is not knowing if these years of adversity will pay off in the end. After all, only one team wins the cup every year.

If a team is full of talent, then their window of opportunity spans multiple seasons where they have a decent chance to win every year. This is more consistent than relying on luck to go on a run every few seasons.

The Coyotes are currently very far from the Lightning or any top team in terms of talent and performance. However, as a new era begins in Arizona, there is no telling what the right group of people can achieve in the years to come.