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The Best NHL Team Money Can Buy

What’s the best possible team you can build in the salary cap world?

This week, multi-site contributor Ryan Fancey took a shot at creating the “best team $71.4 million can buy.” Take a look at the post here. In the piece, Fancey removes all constraints — except player positions and cap hit — to create an all-star lineup.

After posting his piece, Ryan sensed that the internet may react to his selections:

He was right.

The post caught the eye of many hockey people, including Dom Luszczyszyn from The Hockey News. The piece nabbed my attention too. Fancey went hard after stars, made strategic use of players on ELCs, served up youth on defense, and selected the best goalie in the NHL.

Now I’ll beat that team.

Fancey’s Fanciful FanRoster

Courtesy of Luszczyszyn’s neat graphic, here is a snapshot of the team that I’m trying to beat.

Yes, somehow this embarrassment-of-riches roster comes in under the $71.4 million salary cap at $71.301 million. The forward corps offers offense upon offense upon offense. Fancey’s lines are filled with some of the NHL’s top scorers – Benn, Tavares, Tarasenko, Backstrom, Voracek. The third line was the all-Calder-hopefuls group, with 2015 Calder finalists Stone and Gaudreau flanking 2016 Calder frontrunner Connor McDavid.

Fancey’s defense pairings are terrifying. Karlsson and Doughty anchor a group that is heavy on youth in the bottom-three. Still, Doughty and Karlsson can handle up to 30 minutes of ice time per night. If the two weren’t paired together, one or the other could be on the ice virtually throughout the game.

In net, Fancey keeps it simple. Carey Price is the reigning winner of every goalie trophy the NHL hands out. Lack is the league’s best-loved backup. This is a terrifying ensemble.


On the WAR Path

Still, there’s room to better Fancey’s squad. Guided by’s fantastic wins above replacement (WAR) and goals above replacement (GAR) stats, my squad will feature the players that are most likely to earn the most wins that money can afford. The lineup looks like this:

Name AAV ($) GAR Rank (/position)
Carey Price 6.5 36.51 1
Scott Darling 0.587 9.58 14
Joe Pavelski 6 31.23 1
Vladimir Tarasenko 7.5 25.48 2
Alex Ovechkin 9.54 25.45 3
Tyler Seguin 5.75 24.09 4
Filip Forsberg 0.894 11.62 63
Patrice Bergeron 6.88 23.13 6
Bryan Little 4.7 23 7
Mike Hoffman 2 15.78 32
Michael Raffl 1.1 14.14 40
Tomas Tatar 2.75 20.68 12
Connor McDavid 0.925 0 0
Justin Abdelkader 1.8 17.71 22
Erik Karlsson 6.5 17.4 1
Jared Spurgeon 2.67 12.66 2
Matt Dumba 0.894 6.28 24
Sami Vatanen 1.26 12.28 4
Barret Jackman 2 8.19 18
Matthias Ekholm 1.037 8.81 15
 Totals 71.287 344.02 13.55 (avg)

*all goals above replacement stats drawn from here

**all contract information from here

In general, this team is a terror.

The 20-player group (2 goalies, 12 forwards, 6 defensemen, no spares — as per Fancey’s roster) earn a combined $71.287 million, just underneath the $71.4 million salary cap. In terms of goals above replacement, the team scores a mark of 344.02. For some context, the President’s Trophy winning New York Rangers compiled a team GAR of 91.08 last year. The Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks amassed a team GAR of 98.97.

Both cases included every player that skated for either team and included the negative scores registered by fan favorites like Tanner Glass of the New York Rangers.

As with any team, some players on this roster are more important than others. The black bubbles indicate greatest player worth for the team, then grey, bright red, and dark red in descending importance. The size of bubble mirrors the colour scheme, visually representing each player’s impact on the team.

Carey Price and Joe Pavelski, first and second place in GAR last season, headline this group. The “second-tier” of stars for this cap-compliant club includes Tarasenko, Bergeron, Little, Seguin, Ovechkin and Tatar.

This graph charts each player’s GAR relative to their salary. The number beside each player gives that player’s rank among others at their position (i.e. forwards, defense, goalies). Players like Ovechkin, Tarasenko, Price, and Pavelski deliver high GAR and are paid handsomely to do so. Steals like Bryan Little, Tomas Tatar, and Justin Abdelkader deliver top-quality GAR with inexpensive contracts.


Up Front 

Line 1 – Tarasenko – Bergeron – Ovechkin

An elite trio with two triggermen and perhaps the game’s most complete all-around player in the middle, this unit would dominate puck possession and score at will.


Line 2 – Seguin – Pavelski – Little

Seguin’s elite offense is well-known but Little and Pavelski are overlooked for their all-around contributions. Individually, these skaters ranked first (Pavelski), fourth (Seguin), and seventh (Little) in GAR last season.


Line 3 – Tatar – Forsberg – Hoffman

This is an underrated, dangerous, and cost-effective group. Tatar was 12th in GAR among forwards last season and Hoffman scored 27 goals last year, leading the NHL in goals per dollar among skaters with more than three games played. Forsberg scored 63 points en route to a Calder nomination snub and would capably centre this third line.


Line 4 – Abdelkader – McDavid – Raffl

Stealing a page from Fancey, McDavid’s all-world ability (and entry level contract) make him a must. Abdelkader and Raffl (22nd and 40th among forwards in GAR) offer incredible value. Each offers first-line-quality GAR totals and both have contract values under $2 million per year.


The Backend

Karlsson – Spurgeon

This top pair features a Norris Trophy winner and the top two defensemen in total GAR last season. Out of the spotlight, Spurgeon produced advanced stats the bettered Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, P.K. Subban and everyone else except the Senators’ star.


Vatanen – Ekholm

Much like Fancey, youth is served on the blue line for the best team that money can buy. Vatanen finished fourth among defensemen in GAR last season. Ekholm finished 15th. Both earn under $3 million per year, making them incredibly cost-efficient choices.


Jackman – Dumba

A classic pairing of a wily veteran with a young, developing blue line stud. Jackman quietly compiled the 18th best goals-above-replacement value among all NHL defensemen last year. Dumba showed signs of realizing his potential, ranking 24th in the league in GAR. Both boast understated talent and carry small contracts. This would be by far the best bottom-pair in the NHL.


In Net

Price – Darling

Price has reached the top of the goaltending hierarchy. In addition to winning every conceivable trophy last season, Price finished first in the league in GAR value. He’s dragged a punchless Habs squad through playoff round after playoff round. For this team, he’ll only be asked to be competent and enjoy the ride. Darling finished last season as the 14th-best netminder by GAR. And he earns about $600K. He’s an excellent, cheap caddy for Price.

This team is led by the all-star names you want to see. Ovechkin, Price, Seguin, Tarasenko, Karlsson…the list goes on. By using War-on-Ice’s comprehensive GAR statistic, a number of steals round out the roster. Players like Spurgeon, Abdelkader, and Raffl don’t carry immense name value. But their advanced stats are strong.

This team would gladly face Fancey’s team any day — and win.


Think you can craft a roster that would beat this lineup? Find your favourite cap site and give it a whirl…just be sure to share your team in the comments.

  • Matt Vandenbrand

    I beat yours my forwards are deeper, my blue line is just as good and my goaltending accomplished the same thing you’ve set out to do but at a fraction of the price.

    Key note- Players like Tavares, Benn, Kreider, Lack and Andersen should probably be present on all teams for the bang for buck they provide IMO.

    LW- Benn- 5.5

    Pacioretty- 4.5

    Schwartz- 2.35

    Kreider- 2.475

    C- Tavares- 5.5

    Seguin- 5.75

    Johnansen 4

    Courturier- 1.75

    RW- Okposo- 2.8

    Voracek- 4.25

    Stone- 3.5

    Toffoli- 3.25

    Forwards = $44.955 Million

    D- Karlsson 6.5 Ekman- Larsson- 5.5

    Hedman 4 Barrie 2.6

    Vatanen 1.262 Hamonic 3.875

    Defence= $23.737 Million

    G- Andersen- $1.15

    Mrazek- $737,500

    Goaltending- $1.88 Million

    Total- $71.2795

    Deep down the middle, three number one centers, each with a featured shooter, deep blue line and no money spent between the pipes, so I can concentrate that money on filling their net. Aka my unwillingness to pay top dollar for a position I’d have no problem rolling a platoon from allowed me to go with the best group of forwards money can buy without going cheap and snapping up ELC, otherwise, Tarasenko and McDavid, Monahan, etc etc find themselves on this team.

    Probably the best you’re going to come up with, while coming under the cap and going without the beneficial ELCs. Remove all the young studs and the exercise becomes even more difficult.

    • Sean

      This roster is excellent. As you say, ignoring the league’s MVP and going with a reasonable goalie platoon frees up a lot of cash to spend elsewhere. Not sure if I’d love relying on Anderson but, with your defense, you may not need to be concerned. Great lineup.

  • Harrison Lee

    I went for a ridiculously budget-priced group. How’d I do?

    Forward Group:

    Ladd – Little – Williams ($12.35 M)
    Pacioretty – Perreault – Simmonds ($11.475 M)
    Hoffman – Hertl – Condra ($4.175 M)
    Teravainen – Lazar – K. Hayes ($2.688 M)

    Defensive Corps:

    Hedman – Byfuglien ($9.2 M)
    Giordano – Yandle ($6.645 M)
    Gryba – Postma ($2.138 M)


    Mason ($4.1 M)
    Hutchinson ($0.575 M)

    Cap Total: $53.346 M

    • Sean

      Sneaky decent roster with about $18 million in cap space. Lots to like, even without big time star power.

  • Harrison Lee

    Gave the line-up another shot while still playing with staying well under the cap.

    Forward Group ($44.4 M):

    Pavelski – Seguin – Okposo ($14.55 M)

    Forsberg – Kopitar – Williams ($11.452 M)
    Calvert – Kadri – Read ($9.925 M)
    Hoffman – Perreault – Stone ($8.5 M)

    Defensive Corps ($14.858 M):

    Hedman – Ekblad ($7.775 M)
    Wiercioch – Trouba ($3.858 M)
    Sustr – M. Rielly ($3.225 M)

    Goalies ($4.675 M):

    Mason ($4.1 M)
    Hutchinson ($0.575 M)

    Cap Total: $63.933

    • Sean

      this group is superior to your first, though, with the same savings in net. The addition of top-end stars (Pavelski Seguin, Kopitar) makes this group more dangerous.

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  • DashingDave314

    Here’s my team. Did this mostly with dCorsi Impact. Started cheap with my forwards and then realized I could hilariously stack my first line, so I did. Originally had Mason as my goalie, but figured I might as well splurge for the second best goalie in the league. For giggles, Vigneault is my head coach. Love how he deploys his lineups.

    • Sean

      great team with tons of big name appeal, Dave. I love your Raffl but where’s your Pavelski?

      • DashingDave314

        Pavelski didn’t fit the concept of my team. He’d be great in a second line role (where I was able to get Tatar at a much more reasonable price). Was considering him over Thornton or Ovechkin, but Ovechkin can do a lot more offensively than Pavelski. I don’t think Pavelski is the elite passer that Thornton is. Since I wanted my first line to be a huge scoring line, the obvious choice was Thornton and Ovechkin.

      • DashingDave314

        Thornton’s a significantly better passer than Pavelski. That’s really what I was looking for in my first line center. If you want to maximize Ovechkin and Gallagher, put the best passer possible with them. Short of Crosby, I don’t think anyone can match Thornton.

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  • Joe

    -Ovechkin, – Bergeron, -Little, -Pavelski
    Getting rid of those salaries buys you better overall quality elsewhere.

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