Cap Crunch: Budgeting a Stanley Cup Winner In The New NHL
For teams in the National Hockey League, building a contender can take a lot out of you. With a scant $59.4 million to spend and players asking for larger contracts, it is hard to fathom creating a dynasty any more.
In fact, the last time anyone was given such a title was when the New Jersey Devils won three Stanley Cups in nine years. That’s right, the last NHL dynasty didn’t even include back-to-back championships.
Sure, the Red Wings would also be a factor, yet both are better examples for sustainable success under the cap.
If you’re in a pinch, under the gun, or strapped for cash, creating an NHL champion can be more than a headache with less than $60 million to spend, lowest of any professional league.
All that said, it isn’t inconceivable. In fact, I’m willing to wager that you could build on a budget of just $41.2 million (the current league low, belonging to the Atlanta Thrashers) and become a Stanley Cup winner.
Don’t believe me? Then let us have a look at each NHL franchise, building 18 skaters and two goalies into a low-budget powerhouse. In the interest of fairness, any players set to become restricted free agents have been disqualified.
However, if they were signed as restricted and are soon-to-be UFA’s, they are eligible. Taking into account what they’ll make just this year and their current standings, these are the players you make room for under your cap.
Before we start, however, a big thank you goes to CapGeek.com for in-depth salary statistics on all 30 NHL teams. If you’ve ever been interested in the mathematics behind the cap, check it out.
Offensive Front: Top Line
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LW Loui Eriksson, $4.26 Million
C Mikko Koivu $3.25 Million
RW Nathan Horton, $4 Million
For what its worth, this was a sneaky line to build, considering the top center shall receive a huge bonus following this season. Mikko Koivu becomes more dynamic with each passing year. His playmaking ability and movement on the ice is starting to evolve in the same way as Marc Savard and Joe Thornton.
The difference for Koivu, however, is an incredible knack for the net that could see him pot 30-40 goals this year.
On the wing, Koivu would be joined by Dallas’ Loui Eriksson and Boston’s Nathan Horton. There’s no question that the early going has been favorable to Horton, who is at the center of Boston’s fledgling offense.
Despite never eclipsing the 62-point plateau (he hit it twice in his career), Horton is finally showing he’s great enough to be a 100-point player.
Loui Eriksson, meanwhile, is a 25-year-old scorer with outstanding upside on a team reshaping its identity. He’s got one of the fastest shots in the league and will unload it anywhere in the offensive zone.
Just imagine a line where Koivu’s passing and playmaking is countered by the shot of Eriksson and Horton swarming for the rebound. Potentially deadly.
Top Line Total: $11.51 Million
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LW Jussi Jokinen, $1.7 Million
C Jiri Hudler, $2.875 Million
RW Milan Hejduk, $3 Million
Here’s where things get interesting. After a heavy and high-scoring No. 1 unit, the second line is a combination of speed and skill that can pepper any net-minder with pucks. At the center position, recent NHL-returnee Jiri Hudler comes in at just under $3 million.
Hudler was on pace for 60-point performances for his career before he joined Dynamo Moscow last season. Given his dynamic preseason and early returns this year, he’s right back where he left off.
Jussi Jokinen emerged last year within the Carolina Hurricanes organization as a go-to player on the offense. He’s quickly showing that he’s the better of two Jokinens thanks to increased playing time and responsibility.
Just two seasons ago, Jokinen had only nine goals and was hardly shooting on his opportunities. Now he’s a 30-goal scorer going slap-happy.
The third player on this line is the often forgotten Milan Hejduk, who still plays happily for the Colorado Avalanche. It wasn’t too long ago that Hejduk had 98 points in a spectacular 50-goal campaign.
When Hejduk is healthy, he remains a lethal sniper who has produced 20 goals every year since his sophomore season.
Speed is key here, with Jokinen and Hudler taking to a great fore-check while Hejduk, a seasoned veteran, can pick up the garbage and make the most of it.
Second Line Total: $7.575 Million
Team Total: $19.085 Million
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LW Ville Leino, $800,000
C Saku Koivu, $2.5 Million
RW Jamie Langenbrunner, $2.8 Million
Building an NHL third line requires a good balance of scoring threats and established leadership, and for this budget team, we get a double dose of both. With one Koivu already in the stable, we add Saku Koivu to center a third line comprised of smart decision making and clutch scoring. Koivu’s numbers have dipped with age, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a bargain given he’ll score 20 goals and manage 40-50 points from this position.
It probably wouldn’t bother Saku much, either, knowing that he’s playing with another savvy veteran to his right. Jamie Langenbrunner has shown an excellent consistency throughout his nearly 1000-game NHL career. He can shoot, he can pass, he can score, and he’s a pretty good defensive forward.
The intelligence and experience Langenbrunner brings to any franchise immediately ups the team’s stock. Even his value playing in the Olympics for Team USA was huge this year.
Langenbrunner has two Stanley Cups and, had not it been for Jean-Sebastien Giguere, would probably also own a Conn Smythe Trophy.
The third member of this line is an upcoming star making little money as of this printing. After an impressive playoff performance, Ville Leino is silencing critics from coast-to-coast with strong play in Philadelphia.
Pretend, if only for a moment, that Leino produced just half as well as he did in the playoffs last year. That totals up to a season average of 15-20 goals with 20-30 assists. Any player making less than a million dollars that puts up that performance is worth keeping.
Third Line Total: $6.1 Million
Team Total: $25.185 Million
Checking Line/Fourth Line
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LW Paul Bissonette, $612,500
C Mike Comrie, $500,000
RW PA Parenteau, $600,000
And if you’re going to budget correctly, you’ll need to do it by having an affordable, gritty checking line to support the team. We do it here with an underrated center, up and coming winger, and the man known simply as Biz Nasty.
He’s known mostly for his defiant and outlandish tweets, and while he’s yet to see much ice time this year, Paul Bissonette, AKA Biz Nasty, is the enforcer every team needs.
He’s brash like Jarkko Ruutu and arrogant like Sean Avery. He also costs half as much money, making him the best value to fill the void.
Playing opposite Bissonette is one of the young New York Islanders finally getting and embracing his chance to shine, PA Parenteau. Rangers fans won’t question how much it hurts to see Parenteau averaging a point-a-game to start the year, meaning he’s already going to break his career highs. He’s fast, with a diligent nose for the net in close and is also a valuable asset on both the penalty kill and in the shootout.
Centering this fourth line is the terribly underrated Mike Comrie, who has to compete for a job every year despite former seasons of 30 goals and 60 points (twice).
And when talking about Mike Comrie, it doesn’t hurt to mention that this team will include his wife, Hilary Duff, watching from the stands. Yowza.
Fourth Line Total: $1.7125 Million
Team Total: $26.8975 Million
Defensive Pairings: Top Pair
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
D Alexander Edler, $3.25 Million
D Brooks Orpik, $3.75 Million
Want to see a gruesome twosome on the back end? Look no further than the heavy-hitting Alex Edler and the lumbering Brooks Orpik, the two high profile defenders making up our fantasy budget team.
Edler amassed more than 40 points last year and could do even better with extended power play time this season. But his real strength is just that: his strength. Edler is an impact hitter who isn’t afraid to use his body for shot-blocking or bone-rattling.
Orpik, meanwhile, was another player who got the biggest exposure on the biggest stages. In both the Stanley Cup finals and the 2010 Winter Olympics, Orpik excelled as a shutdown-style player with enough intimidating force to be reckoned with. Think of Orpik as Hal Gill, but younger, faster and smarter.
Top Pair Total: $7 Million
Team Total: $33.8975 Million
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images
D Carlo Colaiacovo, $2.125 Million
D Adam Foote, $1.2 Million
Do you remember the hype for Carlo Colaiacovo when he debuted for the Toronto Maple Leafs? No? Perhaps that’s because Colaiacovo spent his entire tenure north of Niagara on the injured reserve list or in the minors, where he could never form a consistency or rhythm within the club.
But after a few years of good health and a change of scenery, Colaiacovo is returning to form as a faster, two-way defenseman capable of scoring on the power play.
That’s exactly what we’d want from him and his small salary in the upcoming season, providing good support with the man advantage.
His partner would help balance any shortcomings Colaiacovo might have when recovering from the rush, as the still standing veteran Adam Foote steps in.
You’d have to go back a long time to find the last time Adam Foote wasn’t a top quality, bruising defenseman. In fact, if Foote’s great career were a child, that child be legal.
Second Unit Total: $3.325 Million
Team Total: $37.2225 Million
Harry How/Getty Images
D Mike Mottau, $800,000
D Davis Drewiske, $616,667
It is important for defensemen to not only be great at their position, but also to eat up a lot of minutes and play mistake free. Enter this third, underrated tandem of Mike Mottau and Davis Drewiske.
Mike Mottau was a well-known hockey figure when he won the Hobey Baker award out of college. But Mottau never really applied himself to become an NHL star and has since been relegated to second and third unit duty.
That said, playing second and third unit for the New Jersey Devils over the past few years certainly made a huge difference in the way he can perform.
You’d have to go deep on the Los Angeles roster to know the name Davis Drewiske, however, who was a key part of the baby Kings’ rise last season.
Often snubbed thanks to the outstanding play of his teammate with whom he shares a similar name (Drew Doughty), Drewiske is only 25 and is starting to play hockey at the NHL level like a seasoned pro.
Third Unit Total: $1.416667 Million
Team Total: $38.639167 Million
In The Pipes: Goalies
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
G Jimmy Howard, $716,667
G Marty Turco, $1.3 Million
Go ahead, pick me a winner (or rather, a starter) out of these two Central Division stars. Jimmy Howard is set to become an unrestricted free agent, and after showing that he can be as stellar as any player the Detroit Red Wings have to offer, he’s due for a big pay raise.
But as value comes and goes, Howard’s 37-win season last year and subsequent playoff experience leave little doubt that he’s not a flash-in-the-pan player. In fact, he’s making less than $20,000 per victory. Most goalies get paid five times that amount.
Marty Turco, meanwhile, has been one of the best goalies at the start of this NHL season and is one of the most consistent regular season tenders of the past decade.
Forget what you know about his playoff reputation, Turco is a personable guy in the locker room willing to do what it takes for the better of the team, and at $1.3 million (a huge pay cut from his $4 million+ contracts), he’s cheaper than several NHL backups.
Goalie Total: $2.016667 Million
Team Total: $40.655834 Million
Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images
Could this team win a Stanley Cup? Obviously, we will never know, but the point of this exercise was to prove that building such a team was conceivable. I set a goal of $41.2 Million and managed to come in under that even, if only by just about $600,000.
Today’s NHL is based on a strong, smart general manager creating the right chemistry and contracts in a franchise that will give them sustainable success. Pretend for a second that this team did exist, and with the official cap still being $59.4 million, we could afford to give those bonuses to our expiring contracts. Not only that, but we could make a few even bigger signings if we wanted.
The frugality of general mangers like Ken Holland and Lou Lamoriello has become the stuff of legend. Same as the obnoxious spending of GM’s like Glen Sather and Darryl Sutter. Finding the middle ground is most important, which is why managers Darcy Regier, David Poile, and Mike Gillis should be executive of the year anytime they show such excellence.
I hope you enjoyed this piece and I'm interested to hear your thoughts. Snubs? Agreement? Let me have it.