LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 11: Captain Dustin Brown #23 of the Los Angeles Kings holds up the Stanley Cup after the Kings defeated the New Jersey Devils 6-1 to win the Stanley Cup series 4-2 after Game Six of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center on June 11, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
You can't win the Stanley Cup without being efficient and lucky: Chicago and Pittsburgh had all of their high draft picks turn out great after a string of miserable seasons; Detroit rode the benefits of miraculously drafting Datsyuk and Zetterberg; Boston somehow kept Tim Thomas focused on stopping pucks throughout the Spring instead of his income taxes.
So how did LA win? I'd argue that they were just a little efficient across the board:
Dustin Brown - He makes $3.5M a year. And he draws almost 55 penalties a season. His salary pays for the first 30 penalties - the rest are pure profit for the Kings, as is everything else he does on the ice.
Jeff Carter and Mike Richards - even with massive contracts, it's still hard to pay the superstars you drafted (as Philly did with Carter and Richards) more than they're actually worth. LA reaps those benefits now.
Rob Scuderi and Willie Mitchell - Scuderi was Pittsburgh's top defensive defenseman the year they won the Stanley Cup; Mitchell played a similar role on some very good Vancouver teams. Guys like this are hugely undervalued compared to offense-first D.
Jarret Stoll - also a solid defensive player - he's one of the 20-best faceoff takers in the league too. Again, an undervalued player.
Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier - you could spend $7M a year forever on Ilya Bryzgalov or Pekka Rinne...Or you could spend less than $3M on your entire goaltending tandem and get better results. Don't overpay for goaltenders!
Simon Gagne, Justin Williams, Dustin Penner - I like to think of these three guys as justifiable risks. Williams and Gagne had injury histories and came relatively cheap. Penner was much-maligned in Edmonton. All three had good underlying numbers with the potential to pay off.
The bottom six on the roster - Colin Fraser, Dwight King, Trevor Lewis, Alec Martinez, Jordan Nolan, Slava Voynov - are somewhat unique in the NHL: they can all play. And they cost less than $4M between them. A better decision than stocking your fourth line with fighters.
There's only one player on this team who's arguably overpaid: Matt Greene. That's how you build one of the five-best teams in the league by any metric. (The Kings were right at the cap, but 20 playoff games brought in a significant amount of revenue!) If there are other teams out there wondering how to build their own winner, we can essentially summarize an effective strategy in a handful of bullet points:
1. Prioritize your young superstars and look to acquire them on the open market. This seems obvious, but is it? Philadelphia didn't buy into it. Boston traded Joe Thornton. Edmonton let Chris Pronger go. The list goes on and on.
2. Look for players with undervalued talents: faceoffs, defensive play vs tough competition, and particularly penalties drawn. This is definitely not obvious - Petr Prucha, with his extraordinary penalty-drawing talent, wouldn't be playing in the KHL if it was.
3. Do not overpay for goaltending! Here and elsewhere, we've hammered on this point while many GMs drop unconscionable sums of money on "big-game goalies" despite the great performances of low-cost goaltenders like Mike Smith and Craig Anderson and freely-available European goalies like Jonas Hiller and Niklas Backstrom.
4. Take short-term risks on players with good underlying numbers. There are players out there who are "known" to be undesirable - whether it's due to injuries or a bad attitude - yet consistently help their teams win. They don't demand 10-year contracts, so if they don't pan out (like Alexei Ponikarovsky did in LA last year), no harm, no foul.
5. Make sure your bottom six can play. No goons.
That's all I've ever really preached. You can take the free advice or ignore it...Congratulations to the Los Angeles Kings!