Almost two years ago to the day, I created a thread where I built what I thought was the best team under the cap. I wanted to build a team that was unbeatable, with a focus on the playoffs, so I looked for guys who have proven that they can elevate their game when it counts. Obviously, when you are dealing with a salary cap, you can't just take all the best players and I didn't want to simply choose the best "fantasy" players either. I tried to mix experience with youthfulness with an eye towards real world performance. This year's salary cap is currently $70.2M. I used cap hits for the current year from Cap Geek.com and positions from either NHL.com or Yahoo. Here's what I came up with:
First Line (LW-C-RW)
Jeff Skinner ($1.4M) - Sidney Crosby ($8.7M) - Jordan Eberle ($1,158,333)
Skinner jumped right from junior to the big leagues and promptly put up 63 points in his Calder winning rookie campaign. He suffered a mild sophomore slump and scored 44 points in 64 games, a 56 point pace. As a teenager, Skinner recorded 11 points in 15 World Championship games. In his only junior playoff experience, he scored 20 goals and 33 points in 20 games. He's back on track this season with 18 points in 20 games.
Even with Crosby's history of concussions, uh, concussion-like symptoms, no, I mean the flu, or neck, uh, upper-body injuries, there is no player I want more on my team than this guy. He is the best player in the game bar none and constantly strives to be better. Self-motivated and a proven winner. He has 90 points in 68 career playoff games, a 109 point pace. Once again, Sid leads the NHL in scoring by seven points with 45 points in 27 games (137 point pace).
With his high hockey IQ and legendary clutch performances, Jordan Eberle is a perfect fit with Crosby. Imagine the magic the two of them would make if they ever played on the same team, like maybe in the Olympics? In his final year of junior, he had 50 goals and 106 points in 57 games, was the WHL MVP and Canadian Major Junior Player of the Year. He finished that year with 14 points in 11 AHL games. Last season, Eberle recorded 76 points, including 34 goals in 78 games.
Second Line (LW-C-RW)
Dustin Brown ($3.175M) - Jonathan Toews ($6.3M) - Claude Giroux ($3.75M)
Another team captain and Stanley Cup winner, Brown is often found leading the NHL's hit parade. He was in serious contention for the Conn Smythe trophy during last year's epic playoff run for the Kings. He has averaged 56 points over his last five seasons and 291 hits over the last four. In the seven seasons following his rookie year, Brown has missed only 10 games and considering his style of play, that's a picture of durability.
Captain Serious is a two-way threat and a proven winner. Toews is just 25-years-old and has won gold at the World Junior, World Championship, Olympics and was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner while leading the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup. He has 23 points in 26 games for the otherworldly Hawks this season. Nuff said.
Claude Giroux finished third in scoring last season with 93 points, behind only Evgeni Malkin and Steve Stamkos. In his final year of junior hockey, he was named the QMJHL Playoff MVP for scoring an incredible 51 points in only 19 games. Truly a man amongst boys. He has 55 points in 50 NHL playoff matches. Giroux is having what is considered an off year by some and yet he still has 25 points in 28 games.
Third Line (LW-C-RW)
Max Pacioretty ($1.625M) - Adam Henrique ($854,166) - Ryan Callahan ($4.275M)
Last season, Max Pacioretty broke out in a big way with 33 goals and 65 points. He followed that up with a dominating performance at the World Championship for Team USA by recording 12 points in eight games. He has 22 points in 23 matches this season. It would also make for an interesting dressing room dynamic with Pacioretty having been suspended three games for a hit on Letang as well as suffering a fractured vertebrae on an ugly hit by Chara.
As an NHL rookie, Adam Henrique surprised many with 51 points in 74 games. The previous season, he recorded a nearly identical 50 points in 73 AHL games. In his final year of junior, he had 77 points in 54 games. Henrique scored 47 points in 44 junior playoff games and had 13 points in 24 NHL playoff games helping the Devils advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Rangers team captain, Ryan Callahan is all about hustle and effort. It's not that the 2010 Olympic silver medallist doesn't have talent, he scored 29 goals and 54 points in 76 games last season, but he is perennially one of the top hitters in the NHL and his work ethic never wavers. He recorded 10 points in 20 playoff games last year for New York.
Fourth Line (LW-C-RW)
Brendan Gallagher ($870K) - Brad Marchand ($2.5M) - Alexandre Burrows ($2M)
Gallagher is one of the leading candidates to take home the Calder trophy as the league's top rookie. His motor never stops running. He has drawn comparisons to Marchand for his dogged determination and pesky demeanour. In his last two years of junior, Gallagher scored 168 points in 120 games and in his final three junior playoff campaigns, he notched 33 points in 26 games. The rookie has 16 points in 23 games and is making an impact in Montreal.
Marchand plays hard and much bigger than his size. In his last three major junior playoff seasons combined, he scored 78 points in 54 games and in his only AHL playoff season, registered 15 points in 16 games. He surprised everyone by finishing with the third most playoff points (19) for the 2010-11 Stanley Cup winning Bruins. Marchand improved from 41 points to 55 points last season and has upped his game once again this year with 21 points in 23 games to date.
Burrows is a pain in the butt to play against. Over his last four seasons, he has averaged 55 points and a very positive plus-27. He contributed on the scoreboard in Vancouver's run to the 2010-11 Stanley Cup Final with 17 points in 25 games. This guy absolutely thrives in the playoffs.
Zdeno Chara ($6,916,667) - Erik Karlsson ($6.5M)
Chara is a beast. Even with his monstrous cap hit, there was no way he was going to be left off my team. He has averaged 48 points a season over each of his last five campaigns. Chara is a Norris Trophy winner, led the NHL in plus/minus and won the Messier Leader of the Year award. He was plus-16 during the Bruins Stanley Cup run in 2010-11.
Before Erik Karlsson's untimely injury this season, he was being lauded as the best player in the NHL, let alone defenseman. The slick Swede was on track to pick up his second consecutive Norris trophy before a cruel fate struck him down. He had 10 points in 14 games this season. Playing with Chara would help protect him from too much physical abuse.
Shea Weber ($7,857,143) - Kris Letang ($3.5M)
I just couldn't leave one of last summer's most sought after free agent off this team. Even though his cap hit is astronomical, he might just be worth every penny. Weber has averaged 48 points over the last four seasons, but it's more than just points, he's simply one of the most dominant defensemen in the game. He was in the running for the Norris trophy again last season, but Erik Karlsson's otherworldly points won over the voters. He contributed offensively with six points in seven games for the Olympic gold medal winning Team Canada in 2010.
Kris Letang currently leads all NHL defensemen by a wide margin (seven points). He has 27 points in 24 games (a 92 point pace over 82 games). Last season, he recorded 42 points in 51 games, a 67 point pace and the year before that he scored 50 points. In his last two year's of junior hockey, he combined for 120 points in 100 games. All those points and he plays with an edge that belies his size.
P.K. Subban ($2.875M) - Ryan McDonagh ($1.3M)
Brash, bold and not lacking for confidence, Subban plays a physical style that sometimes irritates opponents. In his last junior season, he scored 76 points in 56 games. In his first pro season, he racked up 53 points in 77 AHL games and then followed that up by potting 10 points in seven playoff contests. Subban recorded 38 points as an NHL rookie and 36 points last year. This season, he is taking it to another level with 20 points in 21 matches.
The Rangers hit a home run in getting rid of Scott Gomez's contract and netting a diamond in the rough in Ryan McDonagh to boot. McDonagh is now a gem shining bright on Broadway. Last season, he recorded 32 points, was eighth in the league in blocked shots with 182, made 118 hits and was a plus-25. He also received the fourth most average even-strength ice time in the league, to go along with a ton on short-handed minutes.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($1.75M)
Only 21-years-old, Ekman-Larsson broke out offensively last season with 13 goals and 32 points. In parts of two AHL seasons, OEL has 31 points in 35 games. This season, he has 17 points in 26 games, a 54 point pro-rated pace and receives the 12th most average time on ice in the NHL, just north of 25 minutes per game.