Building A Superstar

One of the best time-killing and argument-inducing activities we’ve got on sports social media is the dollar game. For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, it usually involves having a budget to build a roster of players given various costs. Those who know what they’re doing can usually exploit them pretty easily.

For example, take this Sportsnet graphic from this week. $15 to spend on a lineup of five legendary forwards. Well, you can quickly figure out that from a peak perspective, Eric Lindros and Peter Forsberg are bargains in the $3 bucket, as is Mike Modano at $1. $7 in with $8 remaining, and you’ve already started to build a big, fast grinding team, which makes going for the fastest player in the list (Pavel Bure) and the most gifted big man on the list (Mario Lemieux) seem pretty easy. There are other fun combinations you can make, but there’s a pretty easy pathway to the most bang-for-buck.

It’s great when you can find a version of this challenge that actually encourages you to go beyond one optimal list. So when I stumbled on Ryan Allen’s $18 challenge of player traits on the EA Sports NHL subreddit, I was very excited. Unfortunately, this list fell flat for Ryan on Twitter when he posted it a few weeks ago – but let’s try to give it some new life because I think it makes for some fun conversations.

The Nucleus

While this list does a much better job than most at making sure people come up with unique combinations, there are a few buys that showed some overlap in my builds.

Puck Skills: TJ Oshie, $1 – This one isn’t so much praise of Oshie’s talents as it is a realization that this isn’t a high-focus category – most high-end NHL players have incredible hands, but their shortcomings when it comes to other traits means that they don’t get the opportunities to use them. If I can create a player who finds more natural separation through his brains, brawns, and feet, for example, the phonebooth he has to stickhandle through becomes a lot more spacious. With that said, Oshie does have incredibly filthy mitts, to the point that I don’t think the gap between him and the absolute best in the league needs to take up 5-20% of my budget.

Senses: Erik Karlsson, $2 – While Karlsson is starting to see some regression due to natural aging and all sorts of injuries, one cannot deny his absolute brilliance in parsing the game, both offensively and defensively. I really think that him and Marner at $4 should have been reversed; less a knock on the latter than a praise of the former. Since they weren’t, we’ll use his brain to improve our all-around game on the cheap.

Defence: Patrice Bergeron, $3 – Patrice Bergeron is one of the best two-way forwards of our time, and possibly of any time. He’s also the only forward on this list, and while I looked at defensive builds, this makes him a lock for my forwards. The middling price also gives us some wiggle room.

Skating: Connor McDavid, $5 – You might find it weird that a highest-price item is considered a “must”, but in this format, that often rings true for at least one item. The need to have evenly-sized tiers tends to means that generational items can get lumped in with every good ones, which can simultaneously make them both a premium and a bargain. The Sportsnet example I mentioned earlier is a good case study in this – the gap between Gretzky, Lemieux, and the rest isn’t nearly big enough – and in some cases, is equal!

Being a great skater is so important in today’s high-pace game, and McDavid is for all intents and purposes the best skater we’ve ever seen play the sport. There are great wheels on all five guys given here, but that tool is a “god mode” add. You probably shouldn’t miss it unless you’re looking to build something very specific or make the challenge harder for yourself.

Size & Physicality: Tom Wilson, $4 – Look, at his worst, Tom Wilson is a blight on the game and a legitimate threat to player safety. He’s shown many moments of sheer recklessness that actively set the sport back as it tries to find the balance between physical, competitive, and safe. But, there’s no denying that he’s an absolute ox at 6’4, 220 pounds, and while you don’t get quite to the size of Dustin Byfuglien, you also don’t have to worry about him showing up to camp looking like he spent six months on a fishing trip. Wilson’s build and edge are more than enough to be intimidating in today’s game, so long as you can tone him down.

Five Builds

Using this chart, I came up with five different builds, that almost carry an NES “Ice Hockey” vibe to them. They are as follows:

The little, shifty forward:

  • Puck Skills: $4, Johnny Gaudreau
  • Hockey Senses: $3, Jack Eichel
  • Shooting: $4, Auston Matthews
  • Defence: $3, Patrice Bergeron
  • Skating: $2, Jeff Skinner
  • Size & Physicality: $2, Brad Marchand

My first build here will probably show the most variety of the bunch, which is funny in the sense that it’s also the most similar to an already existing player – who is among the players selected. What we’re doing here is making an optimal Brad Marchand, something he himself has worked towards over the past few years en route to his evolution from superpest to superstar.

I made a couple of different opts here based on player build. Rather than go for the Oshie/McDavid combo, I decided that Gaudreau would be a better stickhandling fit given how his moves are more tailored to his build and that Skinner’s edgework would help a smaller player make up ground more than explosive strides. Since we have a playmaker’s hands, I opted for Eichel’s brain, and since I want this player helping out near the slot, I felt that Matthews’ shot set was the most valuable if they end up playing cleanup. Having Bergeron’s ability in the defensive zone is probably something he’s already familiar with, even if he hasn’t perfected it in himself.

The well-balanced forward:

  • Puck Skills: $1, TJ Oshie
  • Hockey Senses: $2, Erik Karlsson
  • Shooting: $4, Auston Matthews
  • Defence: $3, Patrice Bergeron
  • Skating: $5, Connor McDavid
  • Size & Physicality: $3, Matthew Tkachuk

This, I think, is your best all-around player. Like I mentioned before, Oshie’s hands are more than enough, and Karlsson’s brains are going to help you on both sides of the puck, as is Bergeron’s two-way ability. Separation speed is a massive asset and Matthews’ shot set gives you a generational wrister, a high-end one-timer, and very good options on the other end. Springing for Ovechkin in the shooting department is an intriguing opinion if you want to dock something else, but it needs to be 2009 Ovechkin; with tools like this, you can’t really waste the player in the Ovi spot.

The big, dominant forward:

  • Puck Skills: $1, TJ Oshie
  • Hockey Senses: $2, Erik Karlsson
  • Shooting: $3, Phil Kessel
  • Defence: $3, Patrice Bergeron
  • Skating: $5, Connor McDavid
  • Size & Physicality: $4, Tom Wilson

“So, uhh, how do we make Eric Lindros in 2020?” is the question you’re asking yourself as you make this player. I’m pretty satisfied with how it looks. An absolute freight train with that combination of Tom Wilson’s size and belligerence, paired with Connor McDavid’s speed. The smart 200-foot play created by moulding the best-two way forward and best play-driving defenceman of our era. A little bit of dipsie doodle from Oshie, and the best snapshot of the game from Kessel for when you break free in close. Just might need more than a 65 flex with this body, though.

The imposing defenceman:

  • Puck Skills: $1, TJ Oshie
  • Hockey Senses: $5, Sidney Crosby
  • Shooting: $1, Zdeno Chara
  • Defence: $2, Drew Doughty
  • Skating: $5, Connor McDavid
  • Size & Physicality: $4, Tom Wilson

Here, we’re trying to create a relentless pain in the ass for other teams to face. I don’t think you actually need to spend a premium on the defensive trait for either defenceman due to some of the found value at the bottom of that table; I’d rather be Victor Hedman than Drew Doughty, but I’ll take Drew Doughty’s best at 40% cost over Victor Hedman’s best at 100% cost. Crosby’s hockey senses come up huge here both for his ability to make outlet passes and for the fact that Crosby is probably the most talented grinder-style player to ever play the sport, meaning this player would be an absolute pain along the boards. Since this defenceman would likely hang back a little more, we’ll give him the blistering power of Chara’s shot to create goalmouth opportunities.

The puck-moving defenceman:

  • Puck Skills: $1, TJ Oshie
  • Hockey Senses: $2, Erik Karlsson
  • Shooting: $5, Alex Ovechkin
  • Defence: $1, Duncan Keith
  • Skating: $5, Connor McDavid
  • Size & Physicality: $4, Tom Wilson

If we’re looking for someone to push the pace and direction of play, we simply need to re-arrange three categories. We’ll drop a dollar further to get prime Duncan Keith instead of prime Doughty; which isn’t a huge dropoff, if any at all, in terms of total talent, but gives us a stylistic change. Since this player will be involved more in breakouts and dictating the direction of his pair, we’ll give him the mind of a generational offensive defenceman in Karlsson, giving us plenty of surplus for shooting.

In this case, we can afford to toss it all into Ovechkin, making this juggernaut of an offensive defenceman a scoring threat from anywhere in the offensive zone. This player can essentially be used as a rover, activating at will to be a scoring threat. Just like the little forward is “what if we made Brad Marchand even better”, this is probably the equivalent for someone like Karlsson or Keith.

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