You probably think you can do better at picking a 23-man, $44 million salary-cap vetted roster that can win the 2007 Stanley Cup. And looking at it now, after sweating the math, I wonder if I couldn't have done better. (Is this the sort of thing that haunts real general managers, not a mid-50s typist whose fantasy team would include Raquel Welch and Elke Sommer, not Sidney Crosby and Raffi Torres, if he really wanted to be honest about it?)
Take Anaheim Ducks defenseman Scott Niedermayer. Well, we didn't take the brilliant Niedermayer, and the thought of him virtually going end-to-end against SI's team makes me break out in a cold sweat. But if I wanted to gorge on a $16.584 million first line -- and ours is Black Forest cake a la mode, baby -- there was no way Niedermayer ($6.75 million) could be squeezed onto the team.
See, that's the thing with a salary cap. Unlike the Detroit Red Wings or Colorado Avalanche or any of the money-fueled powers at the turn of the millennium, you really can't have everything. You have to mix and match, which is what my daughter probably would have done with Barbie clothes a decade ago if she hadn't been more interested in power plays and goalies with yawning five holes. She firmly believes I am an idiot for not taking San Jose's Joe Thornton ($6.67) and Jonathan Cheechoo ($2.5) as a cheaper No. 1 center-right winger combination than Joe Sakic ($5.75) and Jarome Iginla ($7.0). I can't say that I disagree.
Anyway, some guiding principles:
1. Although franchise defensemen traditionally have been a cornerstone of champions -- Doug Harvey, Bobby Orr, Montreal's Big Three, Denis Potvin, Brian Leetch, Nicklas Lidstrom et. al. -- the last two Stanley Cup-winners had defenses that were so anonymous they could have been 12-step programs. GMs Jay Feaster in Tampa Bay and Jim Rutherford in Carolina each spent money up front and finessed a title with pedestrian, albeit effective, blueline groups in a stratagem that won't prove to be the new template if Anaheim wins in 2007, but certainly might give other NHL GMs pause if the Ducks don't.
"It can be done," said Rutherford, who built a champion with the second most famous defenseman named Kaberle in the league -- Frantisek -- playing on his top group. Thus, we nod to the sagacity of Feaster and Rutherford. We are pinching pennies here while also including the Hurricanes' Mike Commodore ($1.2), for luck.
2. If the NHL pendulum is swinging back to offense, we want oodles of it. We have three lines that can score, especially our absurdly great first line. A left winger like Brenden Morrow (unsigned) would be more than serviceable as well as about $1.5 million cheaper than Alexander Ovechkin ($984,200 plus $2.85 million in bonuses), but the 21-year-old Capitals star can fill the virtual seats in Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., where we play our home games.
3. Role players. You have to bring more than numbers to the table. There are intangibles, even for a team that makes no pretense of being tangible, including leadership. Sakic and Iginla, based on their age, history of playoff performance, and chemistry for Canada in international competition, bring precisely that. For a different reason, young but estimable Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Keith Ballard ($900,600) makes this team. He is hardly a heavyweight, but he did fight seven times in '05-06. Why bother with an enforcer when you can dress players who can satisfy the requisites of that role, something like what Darren McCarty did in his best years with the Red Wings?