What is a Rebuild? A Reset? A Retool? Know the Differences

NHL teams and their terms. We’re going through a complete rebuild. No wait… I think it’s a reset. No, no, we’re doing a retool. In the meantime, fans are debating amongst themselves and through the media, arguing what their favourite team is actually doing. The worst part is that we’re all describing pretty much the same thing. It’s just that we don’t have the same definition of those three often-used expressions. While a rebuild is pretty self-explanatory, the line between that, a reset and a retool can be quite blurry and depending on who you talk to, they will call it differently.

So why don’t we get rid of the confusion together? At least those reading this blog will understand the nuances between the three and hopefully, we will be able to speak the same language. No, not English, French, Russian or Finnish. The universal language of… Hockey. But first, let’s look at the definitions of the three words, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

REBUILDto build something again that has been damaged or destroyed
RESETto set again or anew
RETOOLto make changes to (something) in order to improve it

Now in hockey terms… Notwithstanding injuries, team depth and other similar factors, all three ultimately mean: making changes. It’s in the level or the types of changes that we can differentiate the three from one another. You will find that the main differences are in the objectives, the goals of such changes, and where the team is at with their core of players. Based on that, they will take different actions.

REBUILD– Draft almost entirely new team core– Trade all or most veterans for picks/prospects– Accept finishing in the basement for 4-5 years or more.
– Little to no team depth for years.
RESET– Remain competitive
– Get younger
– Develop your own
– Keeping some of the existing core
– Trade some of the veterans for younger veterans
– Keep your picks and develop them
– Try staying competitive by adding the needed free agents
– Goal is the playoffs. Failing to do so means better picks
– Little team depth, so injuries to key players will be felt more
RETOOL– Continue with the ‘win now’ goal by making some changes to the team core– Trade veterans for veterans, bad contract for bad contracts
– Keep trying to add UFAs
– Continue to trade prospects/picks for veterans, including at trade deadline
– Goal is not only playoffs, but win the Cup
– Sacrificing the future to win now
– Usually good NHL-ready depth

The Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators are currently rebuilding, as did the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins before their Cup runs. Accepting years of futility, knowing full well before the season even starts that your team will once again not only be out of the playoffs, but fighting for the best lottery pick possible, praying for a first overall pick. At trade deadline, they are definitely sellers. They will often take bad contracts to reach the salary cap floor.

The Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers are resetting. They are trading some of their older veterans, keeping some for leadership and performances, keeping their draft picks and developing them, while signing UFAs young enough to have a few years of good production ahead of them. Their goal is to make the playoffs but they know that there will be growing pains, particularly that their depth isn’t ready to take over. They often have several players on the verge of having breakthrough seasons or career best. At trade deadline, they can be either buyers or sellers, sometimes even both depending on how the season went!

Phillip Danault has become part of the
Canadiens’ young leadership group

The Nashville Predators have been retooling, as did the Calgary Flames, the Dallas Stars and even the St. Louis Blues. Working around tight cap space, trading picks and prospects for established NHL players, usually trying to unload bad contracts to get cap space to add more, sometimes for other bad contracts like Milan Lucic for James Neal. They want to win now, often at the expense of the future. At trade deadline, they are definitely buyers.

One way is not better than the other. It depends on the team’s philosophy, the mindset of their General Manager and the patience of their owners, and how deep their pockets are.

Marc Bergevin’s Reset

For starters, let me say that in my opinion, Bergevin’s job is safe for at least another year, if not more. Those lumping his soon to be eight years as ‘failure’ either have an axe to grind against him or they don’t understand hockey enough to recognise what teams are doing or trying to do. They’ll often lead you into circular discussions without answering specific points, or they’ll ignore what you will try to explain, choosing to focus on coming up with a reply instead. We’ve all seen it.

When he took over, the Canadiens’ GM had no prospect pool to speak off. He had a core of players he inherited in Carey Price, P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty. Later noticing that there was a bit of a rift between Pacioretty and Subban, Bergevin made his choice and brought in one of the best leaders in the NHL in Shea Weber.

Marc Bergevin and Geoff Molson are on the same page.

Later, he realised that he wasn’t going to win with this core and that’s when, in the summer of 2018, he sat down with team President and owner Geoff Molson to lay out his new plan: do a Reset, go younger while trying to remain relevant and competitive. After much discussion, Molson made the decision to go along with his GM’s plan, knowing full well that it would take time and that fans would grow impatient. That’s when the clock was reset to zero. As it stands today, Bergevin is less than two years into his reset and that’s why, folks, I believe that Bergevin’s job is safe. Height years of futility they say? They don’t understand then, or want to make things look worse than they are. Long time GMs like Lou Lamoriello, David Poile or Ken Holland have gone through several plans depending on their team’s position and timeline.

So now, Pacioretty is gone and in are young veteran Phillip Danault, Max Domi, Jonathan Drouin, Joel Armia, all through trades. Suzuki, Kotkaniemi, Poehling, Caufield, Fleury, Brook, Norlinder, Ylönen, Romanov… those are just a few names of very high ceiling prospects in the Canadiens’ organisation, with only Suzuki starting to have an impact at the NHL level.

While doing this, Bergevin tried signing John Tavares as a UFA, who wanted nothing to do with playing in Montreal. He tried signing Matt Duchene and Jake Gardiner last summer, both chose another destination but acknowledged the Canadiens’ offer. Bergevin then signed Sebastian Aho to an offer-sheet which as we know, the Hurricanes matched a week later. So it’s clear that he’s trying to remain competitive but has to face reality, one that not everyone wants to play in the pressure cooker that is Montreal.

Also notice that Bergevin didn’t ‘waste’ his draft picks or good prospects for short term fixes, as he said he wouldn’t do all along. Whether we agree with the strategy or not, it’s a voluntary non-move in his part. He’s still sticking to his Reset plan when it would be so easy to deviate from it to appease the masses. But when your job is safe, when you have an open line of discussion with your President, you can afford to do so. And it is my hope and my expectation that before long, the Canadiens will turn it around and start adding in order to become a serious Stanley Cup contender for years to come. Go Habs Go!