Franchise building is something of a mad-science experiment. There's no one formula that yields 100 percent successful results, so it requires changing up the ingredients until, finally, one particular recipe does the trick.
Still, there are trends that can be identified as more effective than others, and look no further than the makeup of the Los Angeles Kings roster as a hallmark for team building in a salary cap era.
Heck, two-out-of-three Stanley Cup wins should be enough proof.
A quick run-through of Los Angeles' roster reveals one common thread: It wasn't built through free agency. Of the 23 active players for the Kings, 12 were draft selections made by the team, eight were acquired via trade, and only three were inked as free agents.
But there's even more to that.
Where the Kings' cap space is the most heavily distributed is not through those aforementioned free agents. That small group is comprised of Jake Muzzin, Willie Mitchell, and Martin Jones, players who have certainly impacted their playoff run, but weren't headline-grabbers when they put pen to paper and donned a purple sweater.
This philosophy begins at the top with general manager Dean Lombardi. The way the Kings evaluate players is somewhat mechanic. It begins with Lombardi's notion that character plays a big role in whether or not a player should become a King.
But from there, in this post-lockout, post-collective bargaining period, Lombardi has adapted. He's one of a handful of GM's that seem ahead of the curve: evaluate talent and draft smart, use a surplus of assets in trades to fill some holes, and don't rely on free agency to right the ship. This isn't the NBA. Championships can't be bought over the summer by acquiring a "Big 3."
"I've said it time and time again: build slowly with young players, and the thought of keeping them together," said Lombardi said last April, a few months after that new collective bargaining agreement was ratified and the lockout was lifted. "But this CBA really hurt in terms of us having to adjust, because we certainly didn't plan on a dramatic decrease. We have $6 million in space when we brought this team back that we can't use, so everything we did in the last two weeks with Solly (Kings Vice President/Hockey Operations and Legal Affairs Jeff Solomon, the team's cap specialist) we've got more physics projects on the board than MIT in trying to figure out how to make sure we keep our own.
"That certainly had an impact on your market, too."
What's more is that not only are the Kings working diligently through amateur scouting to identify talent and bring it aboard, they're quite good at it. Of those 12 Kings the team originally selected via the draft that are on the active roster, five were first round picks, three were selected in round two, one in the third round, two in the fourth, and one in the seventh. It's not accidental that their higher selections are making an impact. It's a skill in and of itself.
And still, if the Kings were "hurt" by the cap decrease following the lockout, it was only a minor injury. Three players from Los Angeles' 2012 Cup team aren't on this one. Those players? Simon Gagne, Dustin Penner and Rob Scuderi. Not exactly that 2012 team's nucleus.
But instead, take a look at how Lombardi's decision impacted the decisive Game 5 that saw the Kings hoist their second Stanley Cup on Staples Center ice in three years. How about Justin Williams? He scored the first goal in Saturday night's marathon affair, won the Conn Smythe Trophy, and was acquired by Los Angeles in 2009 for Patrick O'Sullivan and a second round pick from Calgary.
Or Marian Gaborik, this year's big splash for Lombardi at the trade deadline (during the 2012 Cup run, it was Jeff Carter, a key piece on this year's championship team), who was plucked from Columbus for Matt Frattin, a second round pick, and a conditional third.
However you choose to look at it, Lombardi is the maestro calling the shots. He's fine-tuned this Kings roster into one that can compete year in and year out despite the speed bumps created by the salary cap.
And with only four players set to hit free agency this summer -- three unrestricted -- it's likely Lombardi will have another nearly-identical roster ready next year to defend their crown.