Now that the first month of the 2013-14 NHL season is in the books, I'm starting to see the competition League-wide take shape. It might be a little early to predict a Stanley Cup winner, but you can see which teams are emerging as legitimate contenders.
The way I usually identify top teams, especially this early in the season, is by looking at organizational depth. It's not just about which teams have the biggest stars scoring the most goals. You have to take a closer look at the NHL's top teams to distinguish the contenders from the pretenders.
In theory, the stars cancel each other out. I really believe that you can only go deep in the playoffs and have a chance to win or even play for a Stanley Cup if you have depth. That's why the smart teams do a good job of continuing that development of their depth players. They empower their depth players and help them get better. It's a big part of the organizational philosophy. You can't just lean on depth players under the white-hot lights of the playoffs. You can't all of a sudden say, "Hey, fourth line, we want you guys to go out and kill a penalty now."
It doesn't work like that. I think the Chicago Blackhawks are a great example of that.
Michael Frolik and those role players had huge playoffs. Marcus Kruger, Nick Leddy, Michal Rozsival. Each of those guys played a real impactful game. Did anyone project Bryan Bickell to be on the first line? Did anyone think Brandon Saad was going to develop the way he did, or that the Frolik line would be so key? Behind the scenes, they got leadership from veteran Jamal Mayers, whether he was in the lineup or not. A lot of those players who bring intangibles are needed to go deep.
Yes, it's early in the season, but you've got to start finding that early.
Look at the Anaheim Ducks right now. Is anyone demonstrating better organizational depth? Look at their goaltending. Last year, they had Viktor Fasth and Jonas Hiller. Now you have Fasth, Hiller and Frederik Andersen. Oh, and by the way, you also have John Gibson, who is awesome and was named the American Hockey League's goaltender of the month for October. The credit for all of that has to go to the Anaheim organization.