Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Team Loyalty vs. Team Vagabond, and everyone in between

It sounds like we’re going to have a 2021 season, with camps starting in just a few weeks. That means we’re in the final days of the offseason, and I’ve still got a long list of weird topics to get through. We’d better get to work.

Could a roster made up of players who only ever played for one NHL team beat rosters made up of all the other combinations? Let’s find out!

I’m going to make a 20-man roster of players who stayed with one team for their entire NHL career. Then we’ll compare it to rosters of guys who played for two teams, and three, and then four and five. We’ll finish it off with a roster of players who showed up on six or more teams over the course of their careers. Are there enough good players like that to even build a team? I have no idea, I don’t tend to think these things through in advance.

But first, a few ground rules:

  • By “teams” I really mean franchises. If somebody was on the North Stars when they moved to Dallas, that counts as one team. If a guy had multiple stints with the same franchise, we count that as one team too. And this is obviously NHL only; we’re not counting any other leagues, including the WHA.
  • The player has to has actually appeared in at least one game for a team for it to count. Short stints are absolutely fine, and will turn out to be crucial for most of the later teams. Two games work as well as two decades. But if a player was technically team property but never suited up, that doesn’t count.
  • Since we’re interested in how many teams a guy played for over a full career, no active players are eligible. I know it’s hard to imagine Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin playing somewhere else, but there was a time we said that about Ray Bourque and Henrik Lundqvist. Your NHL career has to be over to qualify.
  • Each 20-man roster will feature 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies. I’m going to try to play wingers on the wing and centers at center wherever I can, but I’m not going to get too hung up on position. And this isn’t so much of a rule as a guideline, but if a call for a roster spot is close, I’m going to defer to the more recent player. I just think it’s more fun for readers that way.

Since I’ve been helping my kids with their science fair projects lately, I’m going to go ahead and state my hypothesis up front: I think the one-team roster is going to take this easily. I can just think of too many legends who are going to be featured on that squad. But I’m interested to see if anyone can give them a challenge, and which roster it might be.

We’ll do this in order, which means we start with the favorites.

Team Loyalty (i.e. guys who played for one team)


Rocket Richard
Mario Lemieux
Jean Beliveau
Joe Sakic
Steve Yzerman
Mike Bossy
Bobby Clarke
Stan Mikita
Gilbert Perreault
Henrik Sedin
Daniel Sedin
Pavel Datsyuk
Nicklas Lidstrom
Denis Potvin
Ken Dryden
Dit Clapper
Jacques Laperriere
Bill Durnan
Ron Greschner
Red Horner

Yeah, I’d say these guys are good.

Are they unbeatable? I’m not actually sure they are.

There are no surprises up front, where a French connection of Mario, the Rocket and Beliveau would be unstoppable. They don’t let up after that, with an Yzerman/Sakic/Bossy unit that would score a ton, and plenty of big names in the bottom six. There’s so much depth here that we don’t even get a chance to use names like Alex Delvecchio, Dave Taylor or Teeder Kennedy. Modern guys like Patrik Elias didn’t even get an invite to camp. Team one’s forwards are ridiculous.

But then we get to the blue line, and it’s…. not great, right? The first paring of Lidstrom and Potvin is obviously fantastic, and we’d be fine with them playing 30 minutes a night. But after that, it turns into surprisingly slim pickings. Dit Clapper and Red Horner are old-time legends, and Jacques Laperriere is a Norris winner who’s in the Hall of Fame. But Ron Greschner, as good as he is, seems out of place. And if we didn’t use him, we’d be considering names like Ken Daneyko and Chris Phillips.

What’ the deal? Why does it seem like legendary forwards often stay with one team, but defensemen rarely do? I’m not sure, but I’m kind of fascinated by this. Maybe it’s an anomaly that will look different in a few years if we can add names like Mark Giordano or Duncan Keith, but for now it’s weird.

The goaltending options aren’t deep either, but we can sneak in two Canadiens’ stars who had short but impeccable careers. (Dryden was originally Bruins property but never played a game for them, so we can use him here.) Turk Broda is also an option.

So there’s your single-team roster, the one we figured would be the favorite. They’ve very good, but a shaky blue line leaves an opening. Can another team take this? Let’s find out.

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