Every NHL Player a Free Agent? Building the Ultimate Realistic Team

Dan Kelley@@dxkelleyCorrespondent IIDecember 30, 2012

Every NHL Player a Free Agent? Building the Ultimate Realistic Team

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    Almost two weeks ago, the Toronto Sun reported that the NHL, in response to the NHLPA's decision to move on a disclaimer of interest, would consider counterpunching by arguing that all player contracts be taken off the table.

    Per the report:

    'The NHL requests a declaration that, if the NHLPA's decertification or disclaimer were not deemed invalid by the NLRB, and the collective bargaining relationship between the parties were not otherwise to continue, all existing contracts between NHL players and NHL teams (known as Standard Player's Contracts or 'SPCs') would be void and unenforceable,' wrote the league.

    In layman's terms...FANTASY DRAFT!

    Essentially, every NHL player under contract would become a free agent at the same time. Overpaid players would lose their undeserved financial cushion. Budding superstars could graduate from their pre-UFA contracts early. Teams flirting with the cap ceiling could get a fresh start.

    The move is, of course, borderline outrageous, as the NHL is supposed to be representing the interests of the owners, and while the owners might not like some of the big contracts handed out over the years, you can bet your bottom dollar that teams like the Penguins, Kings and Bruins have no interest in seeing their respective superstars Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Quick and Zdeno Chara hit the open market. 

    Still, during a time when we have no real hockey to talk about, and even the most up-to-date analysis on the labor meetings has little to say beyond "they're not meeting," it can be fun to imagine the wacky results that this legal move could bring about.

    Of course, in this fantasy scenario, there would be no salary cap and seemingly nothing could be done to cap owner spending aside from their own financial limitations. Likewise, we cannot realistically claim to know the value of any given player on the open market. So, in the interest of building a realistic team, we will utilize the $60 million salary cap proposed by the owners in the most recent CBA proposal (via New York Daily News) and the current contracts of NHL players (via CapGeek) to build the most competitive, well-rounded NHL team possible. 

    Note: Players who signed extensions due to kick in during 2012-13 will be evaluated on the value of the extension, not the cap hit in 2011-12. Players who are currently restricted or unrestricted free agents and whose performances dictated a significant change in salary were not considered due to the unpredictability of the player's cap hit. The cap value of a player's contract was based on the 2012-13 value of his contract and bonuses, not the average annual value, in order to accurately determine the player's apparent value for the 2012-13 season.

First Line

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    Center: John Tavares

    2012-13 Salary: $4 million

    Notable Stats: 82 Games, 31 Goals, 50 Assists, 81 Points

    When creating the ultimate team, any good general manager would have to first focus on acquiring a player who can make a difference this year and who has the potential to make an even bigger difference in the future. 

    John Tavares has already surpassed the 200-point mark for his career, and the 22-year-old has missed only three games in his tenure with the Islanders. At $4 million per year, you would be getting a steal in Tavares, who is capable of scoring at a pace comparable to players who make twice his salary in a season. 

    Left Wing: Patrick Sharp

    2012-13 Salary: $5.9 million 

    Notable Stats: 25 or more goals in five consecutive seasons

    Patrick Sharp got a big payday from the Chicago Blackhawks, but it cannot be denied that he earned it. Sharp has turned into one of hockey's most underrated goal scorers, having netted 33 in 74 games last season.

    Tavares is a capable scorer himself, but he will thrive if he can do the passing and Sharp can do the shooting. It's impossible to predict chemistry, but Sharp's high-octane offensive style of play is, in theory, a perfect complement to Tavares'. 

    Right Wing: Johan Franzen

    2012-13 Salary: $3.5 million

    Notable Stats: 11 PP Goals, 10 Game-Winning Goals

    With Tavares and Sharp leading the offense, the first line needs some grit, and they will get that in the form of Johan Franzen.

    There is no doubt that the Mule would be parked in front of the net while Sharp and Tavares play catch with the puck, waiting to pounce on rebounds en route to his fifth season of 27 or more goals in the last six years. 

    In addition, Franzen is known for scoring in the clutch. 11 of last year's 29 goals were game-winners, and Franzen was a point-per-game or better player for three consecutive playoff seasons from 2008-2010.

Second Line

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    Center: Logan Couture

    2012-13 Salary: $2.75 million

    Notable Stats: 26 Power Play Points, 31 Goals

    Couture, like Tavares, will be a key young player for this team. His current salary is very affordable, but his quick rise to prominence in the NHL leaves the possibility of bigger and better things in the future.

    Couture finished in a tie for 10th last season with 26 points on the power play, meaning that he will likely have command of his own power play unit on this team. Playing on a line with Marian Hossa, Couture will also be expected to score proficiently at even strength and kill penalties when needed.

    Left Wing: Max Pacioretty

    2012-13 Salary: $1.75 million

    Notable Stats: 33 Goals, 52 Even-Strength Points

    Like Couture, Pacioretty could be the beneficiary of Marian Hossa's setup abilities. Pacioretty only has one statistically significant year under his belt, but his 33-goal performance in 2011-12 showed us a promising future for Max.

    The biggest reason for Pacioretty's presence is the relationship between his salary and his potential. He has a major upside and has proven he can compete at the NHL level, and his $1.75 million salary is about as low as you'll find for a player worthy of a spot among the top six forwards on any NHL team.

    Right Wing: Marian Hossa

    2012-13 Salary: $5.275 million 

    Notable Stats: 48 Assists, 9 PP Goals, 2 SH Goals

    Every team could use a jack-of-all-trades, and for this pretend club, Marian Hossa is that player. 

    Not only does Hossa bring veteran leadership to the team, but he is capable of playing any role on the ice. Hossa is a proficient penalty-killer and solid power-play forward, not to mention one of hockey's most reliable figures in the offensive and defensive zones. 

    He is capable of averaging 20 minutes of ice time per game, but a role on the second line will limit his ice time ever so slightly, allowing him to be fresher for power-play and shorthanded situations.

Third Line

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    Center: Adam Henrique

    2012-13 Salary: $854,000

    Notable Stats: 51 Points

    The third line will be centered by New Jersey's rising star, Adam Henrique. Henrique had a solid regular-season campaign, putting up 51 points as a rookie.

    However, come playoff time, Henrique truly made a name for himself. He became the first rookie to score two series-clinching overtime goals in all of NHL history, eliminating the Panthers in Game 7 in double-overtime during the first round and knocking off the rival New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals to finish the series in six games.

    Left Wing: Alexandre Burrows

    2012-13 Salary: $2 million 

    Notable Stats: 28 Goals, 90 PIM

    No offense would be complete without its agitator, and Alexandre Burrows is one of the best out there. He won't win his team any popularity contests, but our hypothetical coach would be able to put Burrows on the ice when the pot needed to be stirred a bit.

    Not a true fighter by any means, Burrows is nonetheless unafraid to get in the middle of the action. He can draw penalties for his team, and he has a scoring touch on top of it all. 

    Right Wing: Matt Read

    2012-13 Salary: $900,000 

    Notable Stats: 47 points, 17:03 minutes played per game

    Matt Read represents another player who will produce more than he is paid to, but the main reason for Read's presence on the team isn't simple economics. 

    Read was fourth among Flyers forwards last season in time on ice per game, primarily because he played both the power play and penalty kill. Read is an enthusiastic young player and can contribute to special teams in unique ways.

Checking Line

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    Center: Boyd Gordon

    2012-13 Salary: $1.35 million

    Notable Stats: 2:53 Shorthanded Time on Ice per Game, 56.8 Faceoff Win Percentage

    The checking line is built around Boyd Gordon. 

    Gordon impressed in Phoenix last season by finishing eighth in the league in faceoff win percentage. There is incredible value in having a player who can take a faceoff during a key situation, preventing a tying goal from being scored late in a game.

    On top of it, Gordon proved to be a shorthanded specialist, playing nearly three minutes of man-down time per game.

    Left Wing: Lauri Korpikoski

    2012-13 Salary: $1.85 million

    Notable Stats: 2:36 Shorthanded Time on Ice per Game, 91 Hits

    One of Boyd Gordon's current teammates is an ideal choice to assist him on the checking line. Lauri Korpikoski likewise put up big shorthanded numbers, and his physical, defensive style of play is perfect for this team's fourth line. 

    While right winger Shawn Thornton can get nasty, Korpikoski is a more composed, more positional player.

    Right Wing: Shawn Thornton

    2012-13 Salary: $1.1 million

    Notable Stats: 20 Fights

    The enforcer role in its classic form is dead, but any team that can skate a tough-as-nails SOB who isn't a liability in the goal-scoring department owes it to themselves to start him.

    Shawn Thornton isn't exactly one of the game's heavyweights, but he fights like one. Thornton's fists will protect the likes of Tavares, Hossa and Sharp if need be.

Defensive Pair 1

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    Defenseman: Dan Girardi

    2012-13 Salary: $3.4 million

    Notable Stats: 211 Hits, 185 Blocked Shots

    The simple reason that Dan Girardi is the first choice for defenseman on this hypothetical ultimate team: For two straight years, Girardi has finished in the league's top 10 for both hits and blocked shots among defensemen.

    Girardi is not afraid to throw around the body, and he is not afraid to sacrifice it. A true stay-at-home defenseman, Dan Girardi would serve as the backbone of this team.

    Defenseman: Alexander Edler

    2012-13 Salary: $3.25 million 

    Notable Stats: 49 Points, 143 Hits, 145 Blocked Shots

    Like Girardi, Edler is no stranger to his defensive responsibilities. However, with Girardi holding down the fort at the blue line, Edler will have an opportunity to showcase his offensive talents.

    Only five defensemen scored more points than Edler last season, and the Canuck played in all 82 games following an injury-shortened season. Edler and Girardi would prove to be one of the most stalwart defensive pairs in the league, and Edler's offensive touch would make them downright lethal.

Defensive Pair 2

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    Defenseman: Josh Gorges

    2012-13 Salary: $3.9 million

    Notable Stats: 250 Blocked Shots, 3:53 Shorthanded Time on Ice per Game

    Not to be outdone by Girardi's sacrificing, Josh Gorges laid it all on the line in 2011-12 when he blocked 250 shots. That's 51 more than anyone else in the league. 

    Contributing to Gorges's bruises was the amount of time he spent shorthanded, averaging almost four minutes per game being played a man down. The defensive pairings on this team would pack a dramatic one-two punch that would make life very easy for the goaltenders.

    Defenseman: Brooks Orpik

    2012-13 Salary: $3.75 million

    Notable Stats: 259 Hits

    Orpik finished second in the league among defensemen last year with 259 hits, and his physicality will go nicely with Gorges's defensive responsibility. 

    Orpik is a veteran who has an Olympic silver medal from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, as well as a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not only can he throw the body around, but Orpik has those intangibles that this team would need to seek out come playoff time.

Defensive Pair 3

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    Defenseman: Adam McQuaid

    2012-13 Salary: $1.567 million

    Notable Stats: 6'5"

    On the third defensive pair, we have Adam McQuaid, whose statistics are not necessarily impressive like Girardi's or Edler's, which is largely due to his lack of ice time.

    However, McQuaid is built as a third-pair defenseman. He is a huge (standing 6'5" without skates on), imposing presence for any forward skating toward the crease. Like many of his Bruins teammates, McQuaid is tough as nails.

    Defenseman: Jake Gardiner

    2012-13 Salary: $1.12 million 

    Notable Stats: 30 Points

    Aside from Alexander Edler, this defense will not produce a whole lot of offense, so our pretend GM might take a chance on Jake Gardiner, Toronto's young defenseman.

    Gardiner managed a respectable 30 points in 75 games as a rookie, and his scouting report on Hockey's Future makes note of the way Gardiner's offensive instincts, which developed when he was a forward, meld with his defensive mindset. 

    If he turns into the dangerous puck-moving defenseman that the scouting report speaks of, Gardiner will be a force to be reckoned with, at a very reasonable price.


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    Starting Goaltender: Henrik Lundqvist

    2012-13 Salary: $6.875 million

    Notable Stats: 39 Wins, 1.97 GAA, .930 Save Percentage

    His name is not yet on the Stanley Cup, but Henrik Lundqvist is the greatest goaltender in the game right now, even including Jonathan Quick. Even as the highest-paid player on this team, Lundqvist is an obvious first choice when it comes to building the ultimate team.

    Four Vezina nominations, including a win last year, are only the beginning of Lundqvist's remarkable story. His team is consistently near the bottom of the league in goals allowed, and it's no surprise why. 

    Lundqvist is as quick, athletic and technically sound a goalie as you can find in the NHL today.

    Backup Goaltender: Brian Elliott

    2012-13 Salary: $1.8 million

    Notable Stats: 1.56 GAA, .940 Save Percentage

    This pick might be cheating, but technically, Elliott is backup to Jaroslav Halak in St. Louis. So, despite the fact that he could easily be a starter and would likely refuse to sign with a club that already has King Henrik on board, we're going to select Elliott as our backup.

    Like the Rangers, Elliott's Blues have little trouble keeping the puck out of their own net. Elliott was a major part of that, playing in 38 games last year. He also had no qualms about filling in and easily took over the starting role in the playoffs when Halak went down with an injury.


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    The final Opening Night roster is as follows:










    The total of all player salaries is just under $57 million, leaving $3 million in cap space for two or three healthy scratches and mid-season transactions. 

    The likelihood of this free-for-all ever taking place is practically zero, but if it were to happen, this is the kind of team that could be built by a savvy, persuasive GM.