The Challenge, Revisited: Building The Best Cap Compliant NHL Roster
Just under two years ago, our Gavin Daly ran an article called “Here’s The Challenge: Building an NHL Super Team Under the Salary Cap.” The concept is simple, and basically what the title says: build the best team you can while staying under the cap. There are plenty of team-building articles and hypotheticals out there, but few could actually be constructed under the NHL’s rules. Gavin’s team, listed below, was one of them — at least for the 2020-21 NHL season.
|Mitch Marner||Connor McDavid||David Pastrňák|
|Alex Ovechkin||Sidney Crosby||Brady Tkachuk|
|Kappo Kakko||Jack Hughes||Andrei Svechnikov|
|Tyson Jost||Kirby Dach||Barclay Goodrow|
|Victor Hedman||Cale Makar|
|Miro Heiskanen||Quinn Hughes|
|Rasmus Dahlin||Charlie McAvoy|
It’s undoubtedly a very good team. But could we do better today? That’s what I, Trey Daubert, and Colson Valby set out to do. Our goal is the same as Gavin’s: build the best NHL team that fits under the $82.5 million salary cap. Our definition of “best” is which players/team gives you the best shot at winning the Stanley Cup this season. This is only focused on current contracts; players on sweet-heart deals now but have pricey extensions kicking in soon (looking at you, Tage Thompson) are still great value because all that counts is their skill and 2022-23 cap hit.
And one final important rule: NO ENTRY-LEVEL CONTRACTS ALLOWED. While Gavin’s team is great, a whopping half of his roster was on ELCs, which by rule can’t have a higher cap hit than $925,000. Using them makes it too easy; if you want bargains here, you’ve got to be creative. So, with all that being said, let’s take a look at everyone’s teams and see who built the best dream, cap-compliant roster. Cap hits for each player are included in parentheses.
|Jonathan Huberdeau ($5.9 Mil.)||Nathan MacKinnon ($6.3)||Alex DeBrincat ($6.4)|
|Brad Marchand ($6.125)||Elias Lindholm ($4.85)||Troy Terry ($1.45)|
|Kyle Connor ($7,142,857)||Roope Hintz ($3.15)||Robert Thomas ($2.8)|
|Michael Bunting ($950K)||Chandler Stephenson ($2.75)||Ryan Hartman ($1.7)|
|Victor Hedman ($7.85)||Shea Theodore ($5.2)|
|Jaccob Slavin ($5.3)||MacKenzie Weegar ($3.25)|
|Devon Toews ($4.1)||Alexandre Carrier ($733,333)|
|Igor Shesterkin ($5,666,667)|
|Daniel Vladar ($750K)|
Total Cap Hit: $82,392,857
Andrew: My main goal was simply to build as balanced of a team cap wise as possible. I didn’t want to shell out too much cap space on one player, trying to keep my top-six forwards and top-four defense pretty balanced in terms of cap hit. Five of my top six forwards and three of my top four defensemen make between $4.85 and $6.3 million, so mission accomplished there. A lot of these players are young players who play a modern, offensive-first game that signed sweetheart deals coming off their ELCs before they will break the bank on their next contracts. For now, though, they make up what I think is an elite team.
Perhaps the most underrated part of this team is its versatility, though. Sure, you have plenty of offensive firepower, with two players who ranked top-ten in points per game (min. 25 games played) in Huberdeau and MacKinnon leading the charge. But you’ve also got plenty of snarl in Marchand, Bunting, Hartman, Hedman, and Carrier. Lindholm is one of the top defensive forwards in the sport. The defense is full of excellent puck-movers. And you have arguably the best goalie in the NHL, although Shesterkin is honestly a bit of a luxury given the roster in front of him. He probably won’t have to carry the load too much, even against these other talented squads.
Trey: I very well could have had a team that ended up similar to Andrew’s. The toughest choices were either stacking depth or making sure you can supplement the team well enough to have Makar and McDavid on the team. The Shea Theodore contract is beautiful and buys you an extra player essentially instead of Makar. I just preferred to have the star power. Otherwise, our teams are pretty similar.
Colson: I like Andrew’s style of roster building. He built a very balanced team, with a good piece on every line. There is a good balance between scoring, playmaking, and defense on this roster. Backed up by arguably the best goalie in the world, this team has a very good chance to make a deep run.
|Jonathan Huberdeau ($5.9)||Connor McDavid ($12.5)||David Pastrňák ($6,666,667)|
|Jake Guentzel ($6.0)||Nathan MacKinnon ($6.3)||Elias Lindholm ($4.85)|
|Brandon Hagel ($1.5)||Ryan Hartman ($1.7)||Troy Terry ($1.45)|
|Matt Nieto ($850K)||Tage Thompson ($1.4)||Tanner Jeannot ($800K)|
|Victor Hedman ($7.85)||Cale Makar ($9.0)|
|Jaccob Slavin ($5.3)||MacKenzie Weegar ($3.25)|
|Devon Toews ($4.1)||Urho Vaakanainen ($850K)|
|Daniel Vladar ($750K)|
|Logan Thompson ($766,667)|
Total Cap Hit: $82,008,334
Trey: We’re fitting Connor McDavid and Cale Makar on this roster. I know their cap numbers are higher but it is what it is. They’re the best two players in the sport and need to be on what a perfect team looks like. The forwards of Huberdeau, Guentzel, Pastrnak, MacKinnon, and Lindholm represent the best of the underpaid elite stars. There were other players I could have considered but that top six is as deadly as it gets.
I wasn’t able to totally stack the D men but we got close. Hedman, Slavin, Toews, and Weegar all have incredible contracts that just made too much sense not to have on the roster. Of course, this was only possible because we went with a goalie is the new running back theory. We want to build the best team possible. Plus, Stolarz actually had a really solid year. His contract is a total bargain. Thompson made the cut simply because he’s a lefty. I’m not sure how good he is but just from watching the games, there are forwards who get thrown off by it. We will daze and confuse are opponents with that position.
Andrew: You really can’t go wrong with a one-two punch of Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon. It’s hard to not like Trey’s team, especially given it shares eight players with mine, including a perfectly identical left side on defense. There’s some nice physicality in the bottom-six as well; some fans will scoff at that, but it is important to have — it just shouldn’t be your priority. It isn’t here, and that’s what makes Trey’s forward and defensive cores very good. A couple of weird picks in Nieto and Vaakanainen, though.
The goaltending is obviously a big question mark, though I understand that’s by design. Vladar and Thompson do have some potential, which helps a little bit here. Personally, I’d weaken my third pair or fourth line to fit in some of the bigger cap hits (McDavid, Makar) before my goaltending, especially considering this tandem has just 48 NHL games under their belts.
Colson: This is a good roster, with a lot of top-loaded talent. The top line is very goal-oriented, with Pasta, Huberdeau, and McDavid. Outside of the first line, it seems like every player has grit and heart on the team, similar to the Avs last season. I think Hedman and Makar would be an amazing pair in real life, good GM work. Clearly, the hole on the roster is the goalie, with Daniel Vladar. I think this team is a good fit, with a little bit of recency bias. It can work, though.
|David Pastrňák ($6,666,667)||Steven Stamkos ($8.5)||Nikita Kucherov ($9.5)|
|Alex DeBrincat ($6.4)||Anthony Cirelli ($4.8)||André Burakovsky ($5.5)|
|Patrick Maroon ($1.0)||Nick Bjugstad ($900K)||Corey Perry ($1.0)|
|Wayne Simmonds ($900K)||Curtis Lazar ($1.0)||Danton Heinen ($1.0)|
|Victor Hedman ($7.85)||Aaron Ekblad ($7.5)|
|Quinn Hughes ($7.85)||Ethan Bear ($2.2)|
|Olli Joulevi ($750K)||Jake Bean ($2,333,333)|
|Igor Shesterkin ($5,666,667)|
|Scott Wedgewood ($1.0)|
Total Cap Hit: $82,341,667
Colson: My thoughts on building this team was simple. Playmaking in the top 6, and defense in the bottom 6. For the defensemen, I tried to find a balance between offense, defense, and two-way overall. I originally thought I could include entry-level contracts, but I after being told I could not, I had to change my structure. Knowing I can have an everyone buys-in mentality, I knew I could try and win with my top 6 while my bottom 6 shut it down.
Yes, it’s not the best team on paper, but I think my team has tons of heart and veteran leadership, some guys who can mentor the studs up front. Together I think this team has a solid shot to win it all with an awesome goalie, good defense and solid offense. A combination of Jon Cooper and Joe Sakic’s mentality/roster building could not possibly fail, right?
Andrew: Colson’s team is the most… interesting to me. That doesn’t make it a bad team, though. There a couple of familiar names in DeBrincat, Pastrňák, and Hedman. Burakovsky is very underrated after a few productive years outside of the spotlight in Colorado. Bear is a very underrated player, so much so that he seems to be undervalued by his own NHL team (Carolina). And there is some logic in just following the blueprint of one of the league’s model franchises in Tampa Bay. It’s a strategy other NHL GMs are copying, so why not join them?
That being said, there are some choices that feel short-sighted here. Cirelli’s stock has dipped over the last few years as his offensive game has stalled. He could still have a fit here, just not as the second-line center. Stamkos is probably best on the wing these days, especially if he’s playing top-line minutes. Moving away from Tampa Bay, Ekblad and Hughes are both very good players. But I’d argue there are better options at similar if not cheaper cap hits. And there are a few very weird picks here in Simmonds, Bjugstad, and Juolevi. Forget not being good value — I’m not sure any of those players are bona-fide NHLers at this stage in their careers.
Trey: Six Lightning players for Colson? Homer!
And The Winner Is…
Andrew: I know you’re not usually supposed to pick yourself for these types of things, but, come on. I think this is a two-horse race between Trey and I. And while Trey’s forward and defensive cores probably have slight edges due to the presence of McDavid and Makar, respectively, I don’t think it’s as big of an edge as the one between starting Shesterkin and Vladar.
Trey: I’m a believer that goalies are unpredictable so let’s treat them as bullpen pitchers in baseball. Let’s be smart about our resources and draft capital. It allows me to have an awesome team everywhere else around me. It’s called what the Avalanche did this year. It’s the future of hockey. If you don’t have aircraft carriers on your team you’re screwed anyway. Those guys are too talented. Goalies are running backs in the NFL. Get your miles and be done with it. How do you not love my team?
Colson: Looking at each team, all have their strengths and weaknesses. That being said, I think Andrew’s team takes the cake. Yes, Sakic won the Cup last year with essentially a subpar goalie (no disrespect to Kuemper) compared to Vasy. However, I think the ability to score on all four lines plus a goalie is more of a formula for success than a great team and a subpar goaltender.
All Salary Cap Information via CapFriendly