Posted: Wednesday September 27, 2006 11:14AM; Updated: Wednesday September 27, 2006 2:19PM
This is SI's shot at playing G.M. The goal: Build the best possible team while staying under this season's $44 million cap. Some rules to live by: Indulge in an unstoppable first line. Load up on scoring prowess. Put a premium on playoff track record (Colorado's Joe Sakic), value toughness (Calgary's Jarome Iginla and Dion Phaneuf), relish role players (the Rangers' Petr Prucha) and save on defense. As tempting as it is to spend on Anaheim's fabulous defenseman Scott Niedermayer -- $6.75 million -- remember that recent Stanley Cup winners Tampa Bay and Carolina were without an elite blueliner.
CAP COST: Corresponds to each player's 2006-07 cap number, which is based on his contract's average salary plus bonuses and potential bonuses. (For example, Ovechkin's cap number of $3.83 million includes $2.85 million in bonuses.)
SI'S 23-MAN ROSTER
FORWARDS: FIRST LINE
ALEXANDER OVECHKIN | LW | WASHINGTON With super talent to work with on this dynamite No. 1 line, he should morph from a one-on-one magician, which he was last season with the Capitals, into a give-and-go genius.
JOE SAKIC | C | COLORADO A tough choice over San Jose's Joe Thornton. Sakic, 37, has a quick-release wrist shot, a Mensa-level hockey IQ and the superb leadership that makes him an easy pick to be the captain of this team.
JAROME IGINLA | RW | CALGARY Slimmed down (the 6'1" vet shed six pounds to get to 204) and free of the shackles applied by Flames coach Darryl Sutter, he can revive the superb chemistry he had with Sakic in the Olympics.
FORWARDS: SECOND LINE
HENRIK ZETTERBERG | LW | DETROIT With his speed, skill and excellent hands (though minus the physical play), he's a poor G.M.'s Peter Forsberg. Indeed, Zetterberg costs $3.1 million less than Forsberg would have.
SIDNEY CROSBY | C | PITTSBURGH Stronger and quicker than he was as a rookie sensation last year, Sid the Kid is a better passer than Carolina's gifted Eric Staal, whose Stanley Cup bona fides nearly won him a spot.
NATHAN HORTON | RW | FLORIDA Now that he is fully recovered from a torn rotator cuff, the 6'2", 201-pound power winger, who was the No. 3 pick in the 2003 draft, should reach a career-high 35 goals.
FORWARDS: THIRD LINE
RAFFI TORRES | LW | EDMONTON Rangy and rugged, at 6 feet, 216 pounds he combined with Michael Peca and Fernando Pisani to make the Oilers' nominal third line their best during the 2005-06 playoff run to the finals.
MIKE FISHER | C | OTTAWA The diligent Selke Trophy finalist, who was plus-23 last season with enough offensive polish to score 22 goals, is the ideal third-line center. Think Peca without the reputation or the contract.
STEVE BERNIER | RW | SAN JOSE Bernier's numbers -- the 6'2", 230-pound power forward scored 14 goals in 39 games after being called up from the AHL last season -- scream breakout year. He brings high energy to an energy line.
FORWARDS: FOURTH LINE
DUSTIN PENNER | LW | ANAHEIM A late bloomer who was discovered by the University of Maine while attending a junior college in North Dakota, he combines hulking size (6'4", 245) with the touch of a classical pianist.
SAMI PAHLSSON | C | ANAHEIM Finally crept into double digits with 11 goals last year, but he's needed for what he does best: hard work in his own end, forechecking like a dervish and winning face-offs (52.8% last season).
JASON POMINVILLE | RW | BUFFALO Scored 18 regular-season goals as a rookie last season despite averaging only 14 minutes per game, then added five goals (and 10 points) in 18 playoff matches for the balanced Sabres.
STEVE STAIOS | EDMONTON Good in the locker room and good in the community, he has become, at 33, the model of reliability in his defensive coverage (plus-10 in '05-06) and can play on the second power-play unit.
DION PHANEUF | CALGARY Last year's other breakout rookie seems ready for top-pairing and penalty-killing responsibilities. Equally impressive: his rocket shot from the point (20 goals) and his seismic checks.
ROBYN REGEHR | CALGARY Unlike other physical defensemen who were stymied when the NHL clamped down on obstruction, this big hitter flourished with solid positioning and quicker-than-you-think feet.
MIKE COMMODORE | CAROLINA Not quite Kristi Yamaguchi out there, but he's steady and passes well out of his zone. It's no accident that he -- and his flaming orange playoff 'do -- have played into mid-June the last two seasons.
KEITH BALLARD | PHOENIX The 23-year-old plays special teams, blocks shots and -- though merely a cruiserweight at 5'11", 208 pounds -- fights, eliminating the need for a one-dimensional, payroll-sapping enforcer.
BARRET JACKMAN | ST. LOUIS
The '03-04 Calder Trophy winner is feisty (156 penalty minutes last season) and was well-schooled in the all-around game by former All-Star teammates Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis.
MIIKKA KIPRUSOFF | CALGARY Fundamentally solid, and cheaper than New Jersey's Martin Brodeur ($5.2 million), he led the NHL in goals-against average (2.07) and shutouts (10). He holds up well in the postseason too.
CAM WARD | CAROLINA A Conn Smythe Trophy winner as a backup? Absolutely. Before leading Carolina to the Cup last season, the unflappable Ward had been Martin Gerber's understudy for most of '05-06.
ANTOINE VERMETTE | C | OTTAWA His six shorthanded goals in '05-06 ranked second in the NHL, he was durable enough to appear in all 82 games, and he scored 21 goals despite averaging just 12:34 of ice time.
PETR PRUCHA | RW | NEW YORK RANGERS The slender (6 feet, 170 pounds) power-play specialist, drafted No. 240 in 2002, burst into the NHL last season with 30 goals -- 16 on the man-advantage. He's an option in shootouts (two for five).
FRANÇOIS BEAUCHEMIN | D | ANAHEIM The former Blue Jacket was a revelation after his trade to the Ducks early last season, playing key minutes with Scott Niedermayer and potting eight goals. He added three more in the playoffs.
COACH: LINDY RUFF, BUFFALO A players' coach, he gets the most out of his team's talent and easily adapts his approach to a team's strengths. Bonus: He has a good sense of humor too.
MASCOT: S.J. SHARKIE The 6'3" 500-pounder can rappel from the arena rafters and drive an ATV on ice. And he isn't afraid to mix it up: He once grappled (for real) with former NHL bad boy Theo Fleury.
REFEREES: BILL MCCREARY and DON VAN MASSENHOVEN McCreary's judgment sets the NHL standard; Van Massenhoven, right or occasionally wrong, really knows how to sell a call.
ARENA: XCEL ENERGY CENTER, ST. PAUL A superb six-year-old venue with good ice. The knowledgeable (and patient) Minnesota fans would love this team.
ANNOUNCERS: JIM HUGHSON, play-by-play, and JIM FOX, analyst. Hughson is lyrical and informed on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada. Fox, opinionated and sharp, breaks down games for Kings fans.