Canucks Army contributor and The Nation Network mercenary graphic designer Matt Henderson set Hockey Twitter ablaze with an update to his hockey variant of the $15 game. Sometimes the currency changes, but the point is that you have to make a starting lineup out of a list of players who have different dollar values assigned to them. His list looks as follows:
Now, I eyeballed this list while standing in a frigid media area next to the Leafs locker room while waiting for players and staff to come out for scrums, and felt pretty proud of my original lineup, which was as follows:
Alex Ovechkin – Connor McDavid – Jaromir Jagr
Scott Niedermayer – Erik Karlsson
Modern ability and smooth skating were the thought. But this morning, I started to wonder; does this game have a potentially inarguable lineup, or is all subjective opinion? I set out to see how close I could get to the former. My criteria are as follows:
- For skaters, only compare ages that all players mutually played regularly in. That way we can’t use the “he missed his prime” or “he didn’t have old age to drag down his points per game”, or anything of the sort.
- We’ll be using Hockey Reference’s era-adjusted points. We’ll also be using their point shares, just to give some additional context, since we don’t really have fancier stats to work with for anybody who stopped playing before 2007/08.
- Goalies are voodoo at any age, the curves on them have changed significantly as teams have started to deploy them at younger ages, and the ones on this list have had very different career paths, so we’ll just use the first seven seasons as starting goaltenders for this one.
The age limit of this list was mostly built around the career arc of Benn, who is the youngest of the bunch. I used Age 21 to Age 27. The top of the pack wasn’t a huge shock to me. For my money’s worth, Ovechkin is well on his way to cementing his status as the best goal scorer in NHL history, especially if he can eke out a few more huge seasons. Burying pucks as consistently as he has with scoring levels the way they’ve been over the years is nothing short of incredible. Benn is impressively good value himself, though; he’s exceeded expectations from the moment he was drafted and he continues to shine here.
I was shocked that Bucyk was lower value even at the dollar mark here, given his illustrious career, but it seems like most of his huge scoring years came late and on the coattails of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito.
The Best Pick: Alex Ovechkin ($4)
The Value Pick: Jamie Benn ($2)
The longer Jagr lasts in the league, the more we’re going to have to start talking about him being a “Mr. Hockey” in his own right. He’s had the longevity, he’s put up the results, and he’s even had the sabbatical era of heading to a rival league. Here, he barely edges out Howe in production and contribution, and at the $3 mark, that makes him about as close to an automatic pick as you’re going to get.
With that said, you can’t go super wrong with this list. Everybody on here would’ve been at least a $4 player on the Left Wing, and even Hull, the “weakest” of the bunch, had the best era-adjusted goal season in history in this window, which was Age 23 to Age 29.
The Best Pick: Jaromir Jagr ($3)
The Value Pick: Jaromir Jagr ($3)
This one is the most difficult because sticking with the same age method requires you to bet on history. We have two players that are no worse than Top 3 all time at the very top and Crosby, who is destined to land in the Top 10, coming in at only $3. But because McDavid has only played his Age 19 and 20 seasons, we can’t really compare fuller bodies of work for the others.
What’s impressive about all this? Connor is keeping up just fine. There’s a reason he got that monstrous contract extension from the Oilers this summer; his competition isn’t the rest of the league, it’s Mount Rushmore. I can understand why some would want to use their centre pick on a more proven product, but he’s huge value here, especially if you’re going to eye test it and put his skating up against someone else’s team of old guys.
The Best Pick: Wayne Gretzky ($5)
The Value Pick: Connor McDavid ($2)
If you ever wondered what people meant when they said that Bobby Orr changed defence forever, this is what they mean. He’s one of the highest offensive contributors in this game, including forwards, and still manages to be the most dominant on the defensive side too.
But, by this point, we’re running low on funds, some might skip out on the defensive GOAT and try to find some value. You definitely find it at the bottom: Denis Potvin’s prime is covered by this Age 23 (Chelios’ beginning) to Age 26 (Karlsson’s present) window, and at $1, he’s probably the best bang-for-buck you’ll find here. If you stretch the scope of this, things would be a little different; Potvin’s offensive contributions are still great but start to slip in relative stature after that season, and players like Chelios, Lidstrom, and Burns start getting used by their teams better in their Late 20s to Early 30s. Even still, I don’t think it impacts the final picks too much.
The Best Picks: Bobby Orr ($5), Ray Bourque ($4)
The Value Picks: Denis Potvin ($1), Erik Karlsson ($2)
This was perhaps the most difficult because goaltending has changed so much in the past few decades. If I were in Matt’s shoes, I wouldn’t have even kept Dryden in this list and would have likely used the $2 spot on someone like Henrik Lundqvist or Roberto Luongo, just to keep things a bit more comparable.
The most we can really work with when it comes to Dryden are Goals Against Average and Wins, which are stats we largely try to avoid comparing goalies with today. Playing on the dynastic 1970’s Canadiens, as such, probably inflates his point shares a bit, and you have to imagine playing his slower stand-up style against today’s skaters would be a non-starter.
Meanwhile, Dominik Hasek’s first seven years of his career just torch everybody else’s. He built up a save percentage that was the highest in league history for years and still keeps up with today’s super-robo-tenders, and as such, was leaps and bounds ahead of the pack in his results despite being on an awful goaltender.
Seriously, imagine being over 60 goals better than the average goaltender in the league and still winning fewer than half of your games. it’s absurd. At the bottom of this list, you’ll find Carey Price, who is excellent value at a $1 as arguably the best goalie of today, who has his last 70 games of about 0.930 hockey taken away from him under these criteria.
The Best Pick: Dominik Hasek ($4)
The Value Pick: Carey Price ($1)
With all of this in mind, I don’t hate the picks that I made before, but I’ve revised. My new ideal team looks as follows:
Alex Ovechkin ($4) – Mario Lemieux ($4) – Jaromir Jagr ($3)
Denis Potvin ($1) – Erik Karlsson ($2)
Carey Price ($1)
So really, not a lot of change. I upgrade Connor to Mario, and slide from Niedermayer to Potvin.
Of course, there’s still subjectivity in the mix there. While trying to avoid the knowledge that Lemieux would blossom into a GOAT-chaser, I am still accounting for everyone knowing that the Penguins teams he started with were terrible and are likely part of why he trailed Sid, Wayne, and Connor on the centre list. I’m not dropping my $5 on Orr because, as dominant as he was, I figure that he was dominant because he was so different from his peers and that having a player like Karlsson will have a similar effect on a team. I know Lemieux and Jagr have chemistry and I’d love to see them with Ovechkin to form a strong skating line of giants.
They are still one of the best teams possible using those metrics, though. But, if you’re interested in what appears to get you the most in terms of points and point shares, your best bet would be something along the lines of…
Jamie Benn ($2) – Connor McDavid ($2) – Jaromir Jagr ($3)
Bobby Orr ($5) – Denis Potvin ($1)
Ken Dryden ($2)
You’re really hoping here that Dryden can learn modern goaltending, and you don’t have a right handed shot on the point, but hey! It gets you the numbers you want. That team gets you 535.1 era-adjusted points per 82 games, and 16.7 point shares, which is the most I’ve been able to come up with.
Now, if only there were away to actually make these teams face each other..