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Fun Friday: Roster Shuffle

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It’s time to make a new Preds squad via chaos.

Welcome back to Fun Friday, the weekly column where I take a happy little thought I’ve been entertaining and take it entirely too far. This week, we’re going to be ruining the Nashville Predators with a little process that my good friend and fellow writer Bryan Bastin cooked up. The premise was originally pretty simple: what if every player on the team was replaced by the player drafted after them? In typical fashion, I decided to take this a few steps further and institute some rules of my own.

The Rules

Assemble the best (or worst, if you want) possible team while adhering to the following tenants:

1.) You have to replace every current player on the roster. Nobody original can remain.

2.) Your options to replace them are:

  • swapping the player for whoever was picked one slot later in the draft
  • if they were a UFA signing, you have the option to swap them for the player in the UFA class who had the next lowest cap hit at their position (if they’re signed for the minimum, equal cap hits will work)
  • if the player was acquired via a trade, you’re allowed to swap them for the assets in said trade (if they were dealt for picks, you swap them for the player chosen with that pick)

3.) You need 12 forwards, 6 defenders, and 2 goalies. For the sake of simplicity, you don’t need to worry about positions at forward.

4.) This includes pending UFAs to make everything a bit easier (Granlund, Smith, etc).

5.) You’re replacing the players that were in the lineup for the most recent game (found here at Daily Faceoff)

With all of that in mind, my initial goal was to somehow create a better team than the 2019-2020 Nashville Predators. Let’s see how that went for me.

The Best Possible Team

So in this case, I tried to create the best team I could. The results were not nearly as awful as I expected them to be; the Preds added some splashy new names (Kevin Hayes, Calvin de Haan, Nikita Gusev) and brought back some familiar faces, some more welcome than others (Kevin Fiala, Matt Irwin, Sam Girard, Anders Lindback, Seth Jones, Kyle Wilson).

Forwards

LW C RW
LW C RW
Mikhail Gregorinko Kevin Hayes Sam Lafferty
Nikita Gusev Nick Bjugstad Kevin Fiala
Miles Wood Vladislav Kamenev Mark Pysyk
Kyle Wilson Sam Gagner Kris Foucault
Phil Lane Kris Foucault

Defenders

LD RD
LD RD
Seth Jones Scott Mayfield
Sam Girard Colby Robak
Mathieu Brodeur Calvin de Haan
Logan Stanley Matt Irwin
Timo Helbling

Goalies

Starter Backup
Starter Backup
Anders Lindback Harri Säteri

Some observations:

  • A lot of these players were on historically awful teams. We have a lot of representatives from the 2013-2015 Sabres in particular.
  • Our defense isn’t the worst group I could name in the NHL off the top of my head.
  • Mikhail Gregorinko was taken with the pick after Filip Forsberg. The 2012 Draft was rough.

Looking at this team, it’s clear that they have depth issues and the goaltending is horrendous, but it could have panned out worse. In the process of making this, I had a few thoughts: is this random method of assembling a team any better or worse than what GMs like Peter Chiarelli or Steve Tambellini did? I wanted to test this, because if my random method of selection produced a better team it would support my theory that I, Eamon Smith, a 19 year old manchild with no professional hockey ops experience, could be an NHL GM and do a better job than others.

What Would This Team Look Like?

For a very silly, rough comparison of our current Preds team to the 2019-2020 roster’s results (a wild card playoff finish), I wanted to compare the two groups by WAR. WAR, or wins above replacement, is a statistic that attempts to measure a player’s value to their team by comparing how many wins they give their team versus if a replacement player were in their place. The more WAR, the more valuable the player and the better the team.

The race wasn’t even close, with the real Preds compiling 18.7 WAR (from the team’s most recent lineup) and our created team’s optimal lineup producing a rough estimate of 5.45. Because I love bad teams and wanted to compare our nightmare roster to the worst hockey squads in recent memory, I went back and compiled the WAR of the worst team in the league for every year that the stat has been tracked for (starting in 07-08).

I was especially curious to see how famously awful teams like the early 2010s Oilers, McDavid tank Sabres, 16-17 Avalanche and this year’s mess in Detroit compared to this random assembly. I assembled every last-place team’s optimal 12 forwards, 6 defenders and 2 goalies by WAR. This is what I found.

All of the worst teams of the past 13 years, charted by WAR.
All data via Evolving Hockey

We’ve assembled the worst team of the past 13 years.

The Florida Panthers of the 2012-2013 season had a lower WAR total, but that’s entirely due to the lockout limiting how many games they played. The 2019-2020 Bizzaro Preds are the tire fire to end all tire fires. I tried my best to improve our season, y’all, I really did, but in the end it just couldn’t be done. Is that a message? Should I try to refrain from playing God or diminishing the accomplishments of GMs in the future?

Nah. Look at some of these teams assembled by people who get paid to build them. The Sabres and Oilers are the only teams to appear on here multiple times, and they seemingly strove for a different kind of futility every year. Buffalo had some of the worst defensive groups I’ve ever seen, only being surpassed by Detroit; the Oilers had a tragic forward group in 2010-11, even worse than our Frankenstein’s monster could muster.

It’s incredible to me that those players didn’t just give up, but that’s not what hockey players do. They persevere, even if they know it’s ultimately pointless and stupid, because that’s who they are. Looking at these teams might create a sense of nihilism and despair in some fans; “what was the point of playing this season if a randomly-created team is comparable to the one I watch?” they might lament. To those Sabres fans, the Oilers fans who remember those teams, and everyone who has suffered a disappointing or awful year, I respond that you should feel optimistic that the players loved the game enough to fight a battle they knew they would lose.

Except for fans of the 2019-2020 Detroit Red Wings. Your team was only slightly better than an arbitrarily assembled roster. May God have mercy on your souls and the souls of the Edmonton fans who have to deal with Ken Holland now.