Roster Turnover: It Takes Time

After discussions about the Jackets' 0-3 start, I decided to take a look at teams who made significant roster turnovers both this season and last, and to see how they're doing this season, or how long it took them to gel. 

This season, the biggest roster remakes have come in Columbus, Phoenix, Florida, Buffalo, New York, Minnesota, and San Jose.

Of those teams, only Buffalo has won two games. The Coyotes, Jackets, and Rangers still look for their first win, and the remainder have split their games or only played on opening night.

It's far too early to call any of these teams "successes" or "failures", but keep that in mind - it's unlikely that any of the teams who performed major shuffles will get through spotlessly. Even a team that kept its' core intact but added several younger prospects to the lineup like Carolina can go 0-3, but I don't hear them looking to burn down the RBC center yet.

So, if we accept that this club is a work in progress, maybe we can look at the way teams came together last year to help us set some expectations.

Case #1: Vancouver

The eventual Western Conference champs, the Canucks spent much of the 2010 offseason retooling their roster. On the blue line, Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard, and Sean Zimmerman came in, Shane O'Brien was reupped, and Sami Salo started the season on IR, pushing Kevin Bieksa up in the lineup. 

Meanwhile, the team added Mikael Samuelsson, Manny Malhotra, Raffi Torres, Victor Oreskovich, Joel Perrault, and Jeff Tambellini - almost an entirely new bottom six - and put guys like Bill Sweatt and Peter Schaefer into their prospect systems to shuttle between the Moose and the Canucks.

How'd they start the season? 4-3-2 in the month of October (2-3-1 in the first six games) In reality, the team really didn't get rolling until late October / Early November, when they were able to turn the rough start of the season into a springboard to a 9-4-1 performance, including a four game winstreak from November 1st - 9th.

Case #2: Phoenix

Another team with major turnover, they were expected to struggle, and did so, but clawed their way back to the playoffs in no small part due to Keith Yandle stepping up. Lost were Matthew Lombardi and Robert Lang up front, and almost half of their defense, including minute munchers Zbynek Michalek and Jim Vanderveer. Replacing them with Ray Whitney and Eric Belanger, they put their faith in Ilya Bryzgalov and hunkered down.

How'd they start the season? 3-4-3 in October (2-2-2 in the first six games), and continued to thrash a bit in the early part of November (2-1-2) before getting hot and tearing off 6 wins from November 12th until the 27th. 

Case #3: Anaheim

Another team with major roster turnover, especially on D, they lost hall of famer Scott Niedermayer, current Jacket James Wisniewski, and Steve Eminger, replacing them with Toni Lydman, Paul Mara, Andy Sutton, and rookie Cam Fowler.

With Jonas Hiller as the full time starter after J.S. Giguere was moved to Toronto and a powerhouse top line, much was expected of the Ducks (who did find themselves back in the playoffs eventually.)

How'd they start the season? 4-7-1 in October, 2-3-1 in the first six games, including starting the season (wait for it...) 0-3. After getting blasted, 5-2, by San Jose on October 30th, they ran off a 6 game winning streak to start November, and closed out the second month of the season 8-4-2.

Case #4: Boston

The eventual Stanley Cup Champions made serious overhauls up front after being dumped out of the playoffs by Philadelphia. Expecting Tuukka Rask to be their starting goalie, they sent d-man Dennis Wideman to Florida for Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell, offered Tyler Seguin a chance to step into the lineup after being selected #2 overall, and parted ways with forwards Miroslav Satan, Vladimir Sobotka, and Steve Begin to make room.

How'd they start the season? Actually, pretty well - 6-2-0 in October, but hitting a rough ride in November where the team went 6-7-2, including several mini-losing streaks, before bringing things around to a bit more stability in December.

Case #5: Buffalo

Contending year in and year out based on Ryan Miller's goaltending, the Sabres lost a pair of defensive stalwarts in Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman, hoping for Shaone Morrissonn and Jordan Leopold to take up the slack.

How'd they start the season? 2-8-1, including 0-5-1 in the first 6 games. The struggles would continue until early November, but the team began digging out with a 4-0-1 stretch from November 10th through the 15th, all of which went to OT or a shootout, then a 6-5-1 December before building up steam the rest of the year to claim the #7 seed.

While it's impossible to draw hard and fast rules because we're talking about the performance of individual human beings, there's at least a few trends we can take from this.

1) If you're going to turn over a significant portion of your defense, it is likely the team will struggle early on in the season as the new unit gets comfortable.

2) With very few exceptions, teams with major roster changes need at least a month to really start performing to expected levels - potentially longer if the defense is a large part of the restructuring

3) Despite the adage that you need to win games in October to make the playoffs, having a strong November seems to be far more important.

Keeping that in mind (and understanding that the Wisniewski suspension could throw our timetable back), I'd be a lot less concerned about how the team does in the first 8 games, but on finishing strong against the final four games in October and winning their November schedule, which not only features some good matchups (Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, St. Louis), but also gives the Jackets 7 out of their 12 games on home ice. If we see the team put together a 7-3-2 or better month, I'd expect them to be in good shape going forward.

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