I found a really good article on ESPN Insider about player development and how teams other than the Wings are reaping the rewards of developing their players a little longer in the minors. I am in agreement that young players should be given more time in the minors to develop before coming up to the big club. Others think we are hurting ourselves for over-ripening our prospects.
The article brings up some great points on salary and overall development. Just thought I would post it here and see what people thought of it.
The Los Angeles Kings were on the ice practicing during their 2012 Stanley Cup run and Ron Hextall was sitting in the stands watching. It was clear at that point that he would run his own team someday. He’d paid his dues, put in the mileage as a scout, then worked his way up to his job at the time as Kings assistant general manager.P.K. Subban is a prime example of a player who was patiently developed at the AHL level. The New York Rangers started winning consistently when they stopped trying to buy stars and instead focused on player development through their own system. Their biggest mistakes came when they strayed from that plan. Even P.K. Subban, loaded with talent, put in 77 games with the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs before establishing himself as an NHL star.
This wasn’t some former star who expected to be handed the keys to a franchise one day because of his accomplishments on the ice. He was working, and in front of him, the labor was paying off. The Kings were dominant during that playoff run, and GM Dean Lombardi was quick to credit the assistance Hextall provided in building that powerhouse team. Bear in mind that this is a team that continues to win with essentially the same roster.
Hextall was chatting about his next step, why he chose management over coaching; to him, it was about vision. The coach has to think about lines and pairings that night. About winning in the moment.
He loved the idea of the big picture.
“I enjoy looking at pieces,” Hextall said that day. “As a manager, you want to win the next game, but you also can’t sacrifice the future. You have to have a vision.”
He went on to explain that it’s about balancing the future and the present. That every decision made, when he first started in Los Angeles, was through a lens that focused 90 percent on the future and 10 percent on the present.
At that moment, he estimated that the focus had shifted to 60 percent on the present and 40 percent on the future, a philosophical shift that meant the Kings were willing to give up draft picks and young talent to acquire Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, although still with one eye on the big picture. Neither players were rentals.
So it’s no surprise that one of the comments Hextall made during his introduction as GM of the Philadelphia Flyers that received the most praise was his call for patience with young players, the lifeblood of any organization during the salary-cap era. The Flyers need to upgrade their defense, and they have some young defensemen coming, led by 2013 first-round draft pick Samuel Morin. Considering Hextall’s big-picture approach, the focus will be on development and not filling roster holes for the 2014-15 season.
“We do have three good young defensemen coming right now that we’re real excited about,” he told Philadelphia media when his promotion was made public on May 7. “We also can’t rush the process with these guys. They’re young people, they’re young players. We can’t just throw them in the lineup and expect them to make us a better team.”
Then came a philosophical revelation that Flyers fans should be most excited about.
“The one thing I’m not in favor of is rushing young players,” he said. “Sometimes one step is better at a time than two.”
Just look at the players making contributions on the teams still remaining in the postseason. Colleague Pierre LeBrun wrote a great story detailing the decision by Lombardi to give Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson more development time in the AHL, even though their talent may have suggested they were ready to go.
With those two, Lombardi wanted them to prove that they had outgrown the AHL.
“That’s part of the test,” Lombardi told LeBrun. "Are you going to go down there and get better or are you going to pout? That’s part of the player’s growth.”
Anaheim has built its depth up front through player development, with Kyle Palmieri logging 146 AHL games, Devante Smith-Pelly 124 AHL games and Nick Bonino putting in three years at Boston University, then following it with another 69 games in the AHL. One of the secrets to Stan Bowman’s success in Chicago is his development of young players to fill roles on the team created when higher-priced veterans exit.
Lombardi credited the Detroit Red Wings as being the model and Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill, who was a big part of that success, said his opinion on player development hasn’t changed since his time in Detroit, even with the need for young players on your roster in today’s NHL.
“I think Ron Hextall is dead-on; his philosophy is my philosophy,” Nill said Wednesday afternoon, taking time to chat while the Stars' and Red Wings' AHL teams battle in the playoffs. “You’re going to have different people ready at different times. There are kids ready at 19 and some at 22 that are not. It’s more player by player. I still think players need that time in the American League, it might be half a year or a year.”
For Nill, the most important part about time in the AHL is that it allows young players to find their niche as professionals.
“First of all, you go from wherever you came from in Europe, college or junior where you’ve been the best player -- you’re getting put into a league where everybody else has been the best player,” Nill said. “Unfortunately, there’s only so much ice time. You can look at every team in the NHL -- their third-line forwards are 50-goal scorers in junior.”
There are only so many top-six-forward spots to go around, so the AHL is a great place to find other ways to contribute, to shape a prospect’s overall game for the NHL.
None of this is new. None of it is particularly revolutionary. So why is it a big deal when a GM makes it clear this is his philosophy? Why, even though we’ve seen it hurt the development of countless players, do teams still rush young players?
Sometimes, it’s the pressure to promote young stars and players to a market looking for any sign of hope. Or to get results from draft picks quickly to show they were the right picks. Teams that are patient with their young players are typically run by those who have the security of knowing they’ll be around when the patience pays off.
Ken Holland can be patient in Detroit because he has a track record that shows he knows what he’s doing, with Gustav Nyquist the latest example of many. Nill and Hextall can be patient because they’re just starting their tenure as general managers.
That Lombardi remained as patient as he did when pressure was building for success in L.A. a couple of years ago is a credit to a man sticking to his beliefs.
The other reason players are rushed? Economics. When every dollar counts under the cap, it’s so tempting to populate your third and fourth lines with young, energetic players on entry-level deals, even if it might stunt their development.
“The salary-cap world has changed it,” Nill said. “You can get a young player making $550,000, $650,000, $700,000 and you’ve got to fit them in. The player you might want to fit in is making $2.5 million.”
That affects how teams will address free agency this summer. Nill is scouting his AHL team hard right now and is impressed by some of the young defensemen coming in the Stars’ system. A long playoff run in the AHL can be huge for the development of young players; it's akin to an additional half-season of development. It also allows for more evaluation time.
“We’re all going to look at free agents, holes to fill in the third and fourth line,” Nill said. “Because of the salary cap, they’ve got to make $1 million.”
The problem? “They all want $2.5 million,” he said.
That’s why it’s so tempting to fill that slot with a kid. Right now, Hextall doesn’t sound like a guy who will give in to that temptation. But it’s only May, and at some point he’s going to have to deal with the realities of trying to find growth on a team with some bad contracts.
If a contract or two can’t be moved, the solution of plugging in a cheap, talented player to counter that expensive mistake will present itself. That’s when even the most noble philosophies are tested.