Most hockey fans fall into one of two camps: wait and see or do it now. It's a much more difficult decision for real GMs than it is for the armchair GMs though - real life is not NHL09. You can't fudge things to build a superteam that decimates the league to win the Cup in straight swept series. It just doesn't work that way... you have to barter, trade, have scouts and minor league coaches who can identify potential future stars and work with them. You have to grow talent.
Sometimes, though, the Miracle Gro that your team thought that they'd applied to the young kids isn't working as fast as it needs to. Or it isn't working at all. Your team is languishing at the middle to upper bottom of the Conference, and it's getting to wear on everyone. You need a quick, obvious fix to keep the frustration from the fans from being too much, because after all - fan frustration leads to lost attendance and lost revenue.
If there were a hockey club that was a living, breathing example of how to grow young talent, there is no better place to look than the St. Louis Blues. Hockey's Future ranked us the number one prospect system in the NHL recently, and if you look at the line up for Pro-Orientation Camp, it practically looks competent enough to probably outplay the Avs this year at the very least (ok, that says very little about our prospects - mea culpa). Pietrangelo. Cole. Eller. Palushaj. McRae. The points they put up with their respective junior teams are impressive, but the real challenge comes with some way to maintain that output at an NHL appropriate level (everyone knows that a kid with a 97 point year in the QMJHL is not going to have a 97 point year in the NHL). This is when the onus of responsibility falls to the coaching staffs of the teams that the kids play on, but also the staff at the Pro-Orientation Camp. A small pointer about stick handling at camp can plant a seed in that kids' mind about what they need to do.
How do we get these kids? With some of the best, well thought out drafting year in and year out. Jarmo Kekalainen is basically money in the bank. Disagree with some of his drafting choices if you want to, but chances are pretty good that these guys will work out. I'm not sure if he has some sort of Magic Scouting 8 Ball or if he is just capable of seeing things in these guys that others don't, but anyone responsible for drafting Johnson, Petro, Oshie, and Perron is someone that I really can't forsee myself fighting with him on anything. That, and he's a professional scout. I write on a blog. See the difference there?
Patience is hard, it is. But there's a lot of fun to be found in watching an 18 year old kid turn into the superstar of tomorrow. And a lot of pride to be found when you know that kid's been yours since the start.
You Sure This is a Beefstake? Because it Looks Like a Cherry.
Sometimes, just sometimes, things don't work out the way that you would like for them to. You have a bad season (or three). Questionable ownership comes to town. A GM who had a good record with another team has an atrocious record with yours. The drafters for your club fall prey to the hype of someone instead of trying to shore up what you need. Or, perhaps, years of drafting just sucked. Sometimes you can't afford to wait for your team to fix itself, because it's too far in the future. Your fans don't buy your promises of "you have a plan!" or "but these guys that we have playing for their junior clubs are great - just you wait and see in 3 years!". Losing isn't fun. The Cup is not won based on what your future potential is - it's based on winning that season.
If your team is built with a bunch of 3rd liners, old guys, one star that you absolutely can't trade, and an overhyped rookie or two, you have a problem that you need to fix (or you can just be in denial - looking at you, Tampa Bay). The absolute quickest way to do so is to buy. Be a seller at the trade deadline, stock up picks, and then turn those for a player. A well-offered 2nd and 3rd round pick might be enough to get you a veteran presence who has some gas left in the tank to guide your young guys without you having to lose any pieces that you might want to currently build around who are on the roster. You have potentially sold some of the future, but you don't have a face to attach to that firesale, If it works out for the team, no harm no foul. if it fails, no one can come back to yell at you for the players that you have lost.
The more drastic move is trying to sell the farm for a superstar to bring in fans, add excitement, and jump start a squad. This is only a viable move for a bubble team, because if you had the young guys who were playing well, you wouldn't be in last place. Those young guys could continue to improve and make your team a contender next season, or the season after that, but you'd rather bet on getting a high impact player to make your team that contender now.
Yes, you'd be selling 2 or 3 pieces of the puzzle to get one. But somehow, some way, it could work. More often than not it doesn't and then you're left wondering what could have been when you're stuck with a guy with a huge contract, or you've sold players for a pending RFA or UFA that you can't get to re-sign. For some GMs, that is well worth the risk. Other GMs would have loved to have sent Perron and Walt to Boston for Kessel. Or Perron and possibly Berglund to the Ducks for Pronger. Or Perron and... you get the idea. Occasionally it works, but it works for the team missing that piece - look at Hossa on the Pens 2 years ago. A lot of times it doesn't, and then you have an Antropov to NY Rangers deal that added more salary to an already bloated payroll and just sped up a first round exit.