Thursday, January 7, 2021

Which team makes the best lineup of stolen late-career stars?

It’s been a wild offseason, and one of the themes has been players who’ve been with one team forever signing somewhere else. Joe Thornton in Toronto. Mikko Koivu in Columbus. Henrik Lundqvist in Washington, briefly. And then the biggest shocker of them all — Zdeno Chara leaving Boston after 14 years to sign with Washington.

It’s been pretty stunning. But it’s not unheard of in the NHL, a league where veteran stars occasionally end their careers with a short stint with a new team. And some teams seem to get in on that action more than others. So today, let’s go around the league and try to answer a question: Which NHL team could build the best starting lineup of legendary players they acquired at the very end of their careers?

But first, a few ground rules:

– We’re building a roster of three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie. To qualify, a player must have joined a team having already established themselves as a star somewhere else, and spent no more than the last 100 games of their NHL career with a team.

– Teams are getting credit for a guy’s entire career, not just what he did with that team. We’re rewarding teams for going out and getting big names, even if they were completely washed up by the time they arrived. We’re here for a good time, not for a long time. And honestly, this late in a star’s career, the part about being good is pretty optional.

– It’s the last team a player actually played for. Trading for an inactive guy’s rights to work the salary cap doesn’t count (sorry Coyotes). This of course includes ceremonial one-day contracts for retiring players, because that’s dumb. It also doesn’t include players who didn’t end up playing for health reasons.

– Active players aren’t eligible, since we don’t know how the rest of their career will play out. Koivu, Chara and Thornton will have to wait.

– A team reacquiring a former player is OK, but only if the player spent less than half their career on a team and had been gone for at least five years. Luc Robitaille doesn’t qualify as a King, but we’ll allow Brendan Shanahan coming back to the Devils.

We all assume the Red Wings are going to win, right? Me too, although I have a feeling it might be closer than you think. But yeah, we might as well start there:

Detroit Red Wings

Forwards: Darryl Sittler, Mike Modano, Bernie Federko

Defense: Borje Salming, Earl Siebert

Goalie: Ed Giacomin

Yeah, this is a really good lineup, with depth that includes Daniel Alfredsson and Reggie Leach (and near-misses thanks to too many games played by Mark Howe and Brad Park). Goaltending is really the only weak spot, and we still get a Hall of Famer there. We’re not even using Dominik Hasek, who didn’t arrive in Detroit until he was 37 but then stuck around for parts of four seasons (with a stopover in Ottawa).

There’s a reason why the Red Wings are known as the team that manages to steal away your favorite player for one last year. They’re our first entry, so we’re not really sure how they’ll measure up to other teams out there, but I think it’s fair to say the bar has been set fairly high.

As always with these sorts of things the Original Six teams should have an advantage. Let’s test that theory.

Boston Bruins

Forwards: Cy Denneny, Babe Pratt, Bun Cook

Defense: Paul Coffey, Brian Leetch

Goalie: Jacques Plante

Yep, that’s another very good roster, and in keeping with Bruins tradition they’re very deep on the blue line; they could also call on Guy Lapointe and Wade Redden and narrowly miss out on Sprague Cleghorn. The forward group can’t match the Wings, though, even as it features three old-time Hall of Famers. If you wanted a more modern option up front, you could look to Alex Zhamnov, Brian Gionta, Butch Goring and Rick Nash. Still, the goaltending is excellent, and even if you want to disqualify Plante because he went on to continue his career in the WHA, they can still turn to Rogie Vachon.

The Wings aren’t going to run away with this thing after all. Let’s try one more Original Six option.

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