By the numbers: thinking about the World Championships a different way

This post was co-authored by Shayna Goldman and Alison Lukan

As part of the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 World Championship was cancelled. But, we still wanted to see how rosters for an international tournament with NHLers could have shaken out. While it’s easy to just put together an All Star lineup for most countries, we wanted to add a twist: each country’s roster could only include NHL players and each team had to be compliant with the 2019-20 salary cap. 

So what does this look like? A little bit about our process, first.

Six teams will compete in our fictitious tournament: Canada, USA, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and Europe. Each roster consists of 12 forwards, six defenders, and two goaltenders. Because we were limited to NHL players, talent from outside of those core countries in Europe was combined to form one super team. 

Since our hypothetical tournament takes place sometime this year, each player’s cap hit for the 2019-20 season is shown, even if they’ve signed an extension for next year that carries a more significant value. 

Not only are we comparing these teams in terms of salary, we also want to see which team has the highest on-ice performance value. To measure this,, we used Sean Tierney’s WAR Lineup Creator from to determine each roster’s projected full season Wins Above Replacement value. His model features data from and prospect data from Emmanuel Perry and blends both projected value (in expected wins above replacement, and actual value this year in wins above replacement. You can read more about the Lineup Creator and its methodology here.  

Welcome to the Lukman World Championship!

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The talent that comes from Canada is self-evident. To that point, we could have made multiple cap compliant Team Canada rosters, or made one really expensive team. For us, the keys were finding entry-level contracts to balance out some of the more significant contracts, deciding where to invest more heavily, and figuring out which players to exclude. Those cuts include Alex Pietrangelo, Ryan Ellis, Mark Giordano, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and Claude Giroux – players who easily could form a core of another very talented roster. 

With a mix of offensive weapons and two-way players, including a few who are in the Selke conversation, we balanced a very expensive first line with a cost-effective, but still skilled, fourth trio. 

Where we really tightened our spending was on the backend. Four ELCs on the blue line made this team much more manageable financially, as do the team-friendly deals in net, which meant leaving out Jordan Binnington’s contract that couldn’t fit under the cap. 

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Team USA brought their own challenges – mainly trying to make this team work with three contracts carrying a $10+ million cap. That’s why a few key American players, including Johnny Gaudreau, Anders Lee, T.J. Oshie, and Kyle Connor, are missing. We decided to focus on players who earned that spot based on their play this year, which is why Cam Atkinson didn’t make it after his abbreviated campaign this year due to injuries. 

This blue line is led by Jaccob Slavin and Seth Jones, who both have cost-effective deals for first pair defenders; but, even with three rookies – all of whom could be in the Calder race this year – the collective defensive cap hit is higher than Canada’s. 

Editor’s note: Originally we had Adam Pelech on the third pair, but he is indeed Canadian! He has since been replaced with Tony DeAngelo, who is being asked to shift to the left to balance out the pairs.

In net, the decision came down to Connor Hellebuyck and John Gibson. Based on this season, the edge went to Hellebuyck who should be leading the Vezina race. But to make the entire scenario work, we needed a backup with a low cap hit in Jack Campbell.

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We continue our theme of building strength down the middle with Team Sweden where we slotted in four centers who each belong in the top-six of any team. Plus, we have three other players on the wing who could slot down the middle as well. 

With one of the lowest forward cap hits of the teams, Sweden’s value primarily was invested in their blue line – even after some with heftier salaries, like Erik Karlsson, were excluded. Rasmus Dahlin and Adam Boqvist’s ELCs help provide balance, as does Mattias Ekholm’s contract (but we shifted him to the right because we were limited in our options). 

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Team Finland is rising up the ranks, but we had to make a few sacrifices (Mikeal Granlund and Mikko Koivu) for cap space. The Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes’ Finnish contingencies make up key pieces on this team, while Montreal helps fill out some of their forward depth. 

Finland has the most expensive cap hit in net, with Tuukka Rask’s $7 million hit leading the way. While we could have saved space by replacing Rask with Joonas Korpisalo, the Bruins’ netminder has been excellent this season, earning him the starter’s net. 

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Russia’s cap is highlighted by four players making upwards of $9 million per year. That meant squeezing the roster in other areas while ensuring each role is filled. And that left this team with the least amount of remaining cap space of $256,224. 

Since Vladimir Tarasenko missed much of the year with injury, he was left off the roster this year, and Evgeny Dadonov’s $4 million salary couldn’t fit in either. What helped this roster specifically was finding a goaltender on an ELC in Igor Shesterkin. Andrei Vasilevskiy just missed the cut financially, but we have a veteran backup in Anton Khudobin. 

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Europe is a blend of players from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, and Latvia. All 12 of their forwards belong in the top-six of an NHL team, giving them enough forward depth to compete against leading teams like Canada. David Pastrnak’s team-friendly deal gives us needed cap flexibility, and we lucked out that Roman Josi’s extension doesn’t kick in until next year. 

Together, this group forms a solid roster with a balanced forward corps in terms of cap space and one of the least expensive blue lines, all backstopped by a young goaltending tandem that comes at a reasonable cost.  

So which team rates the highest? Click through for a team by team breakdown by projected full season WAR. 

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Here’s a look at each team’s total value by position and then as an overall roster. 

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The top three teams overall are, in descending order, Canada, the United States, and Europe. All three lead the way offensively with their forward groups, while Canada and the US also bring a strong defense to the tournament.

Russia’s goaltending and forward strength can’t get them into the top three, while Finland’s only strength seems to be goaltending, and Sweden is strong but has some catch up to do in all areas of the ice to be in the top tier of the teams we constructed.

Of course it’s far too simplistic to assume that the “highest value” team just skates to a win – that’s why we play the games – and we didn’t build out a full bracket, either. But what an interesting tournament it could be if we had some of the same requirements of World Championship teams that we do of NHL rosters.

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