Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Which two NHL franchises would hold the league’s Tag Team Championship?

We’ve almost made it through August. We’re just a few days away from September, which means we’re just a few weeks away from training camp, which means soon we’ll have some actual hockey to talk about.

Which also means, tragically, that we’re running out of chances to spend our days building fake rosters based on arbitrary rules. We’ve already done first names and the $200 challenge. Today, let’s celebrate the spirit of teamwork with a question: Which two franchises could combine to hold the NHL’s tag team championship belts?

In other words, which two teams could produce the best starting lineup entirely out of players who played for both of them?

This idea comes to me from a reader who pointed out a weird fact: You could build an entire 20-man roster just using players who played for the Islanders and the Oilers within a few years of each other. That seems like an extreme example, but we can certainly find a few combos that will give us a strong starting six. So let’s do that. Come on, it’s not like you wanted to work today.

As always, let’s lay out some ground rules:

– For each combo, we’re looking to build a six-man starting roster of players who played for both franchises. That means a minimum of one game – players who were technically acquired but never suited up do not count.

– We want each lineup to have three forwards, two defensemen and one goalie, but other than that position doesn’t matter.

– Here’s the important part that will mess up the people who don’t read it: For these rosters, you get credit for everything a player did on those two teams only. That doesn’t mean that a player had to have been a superstar for both teams – Gordie Howe only scored 15 NHL goals in Hartford, but he’d did still be a monster for a Whalers/Red Wings tag team. But Eric Lindros on a Leafs/Stars team? Not great.

Got the idea? We’re going to come up with 10 entries to get you started. Then you can head to the comments and unveil you challenger to the tag team title.

Older teams have a big advantage here, so let’s get started with a few Original Six combos to help us get our heads around the concept…

Bruins/Blackhawks

Forwards: Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, Pit Martin

Defensemen: Bobby Orr, Allan Stanley

Goaltender: Frank Brimsek

The 1967 Esposito trade is the key here, giving us all three of our forwards. Sure, we could have used the other Esposito trade to form a Bruins/Rangers tag team that would also feature Brad Park, Jean Ratelle and Rick Middleton. But we can’t resist the chance to build around Orr’s entire career, so the Hawks are the pick. And that means we can also take Brimsek, giving us the full decade-long resume of a Hall-of-Famer and eight-time all-star, even though he only played the final one of those seasons in Chicago.

But apart from Esposito, Orr and Brimsek, the rest of the lineup is hit-and-miss. The “only get credit for what they did on your team” rule means we can’t sneak in Paul Coffey here, and Stanley isn’t as impressive as he seems because we’re only getting the seasons he squeezed in between his stronger runs with New York and Toronto.

So it’s not a bad roster. But honestly, it’s not as good as you might expect once you get past the Orr/Esposito combo. Let’s have another Original Six team challenge them for the title…

Maple Leafs/Red Wings

Forwards: Frank Mahovlich, Darryl Sittler, Norm Ullman

Defensemen: Red Kelly, Borje Salming

Goaltender: Terry Sawchuk

There’s no Orr-level deity here, but it’s a more well-rounded lineup than the Hawks and Bruins could offer. We’ve got Hall-of-Famers at every position, with basically every one of their best seasons is represented. The only controversy might be over how you slot Kelly into the lineup, since he went from defense to center once he was traded to Toronto. Still, that just shows that he could play both, so we’ll use him on the blue line, if only so that we don’t have to mention the Larry Murphy trade.

So there you have it: The Leafs and Wings have captured our tag team championship. Can anyone beat them? We could probably keep going with various combos using just the Original Six teams, but while we’re not done with the glory days quite yet, let’s let some of the more modern franchises have a shot at the title.

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