In the premise of the
Oscar-winningclassic of modern cinema Space Jam, Michael Jordan teams up with the Looney Toons in order to play an intergalactic team of basketball superstars for the fate of the planet.
In the greatest sports book of all-time, Bill Simmon’s Book of Basketball, the theory continues in the form of a seven game series. However, he adds time machine abilities so he can select the greatest team at their peak to play for Earth.
In both scenarios the game of choice for Earth’s future has been Basketball, but given the fact that most alien worlds are harsh, unforgiving and frozen – isn’t it more likely that the game of choice with everything on the line would be hockey? In that case, we had better begin building our Hockey Wine Cellar Team.
The principles will be the same as Bill Simmons – only players I have seen in my lifetime are eligable / the team cannot have duplicates of one player due to the paradoxical problems (so no Gretzky ’83 – ’89 teamed with ’87-’93 Lemieux on every line)/ it will be built around the secret ie. the team will be built on ability to play together, not simply stats / the year players were picked was not always their best statistical year but a combo of great stats + title run / the team has to be built to play a 7 game series.
Without further ado The Hockey Wine Cellar Team.
What will the Aliens look like? What kind of team will they have? In my opinion, they will be a perfectly balanced team with depth and speed on offense, a powerful defense and a virtually unbeatable goalie in the mold of Vladislav Tretiak (another precedent for this series: the 1972 Summit Series, arguably the greatest hockey tournament ever). The Aliens will have size, and a couple of players who are stunningly good. Obviously, we will be facing their Gretzky / Lemieux combo and they will be formidable.
The only way to counter? Our formula for victory = Gretzky / Lemieux Combo + 4 lines with different purposes that can break down the alien defense while playing at a high energy pace + a solid defense anchored with size and tons of scoring skill to keep the aliens roughed up and off-balance and unable to collapse on our forwards+ a goalie trio that has proven it can win in any scenario.
The next issue is the same as the one that Bill Simmons faced with Michael Jordan: Which Wayne Gretzky? 92 goal Gretzky (50 in 39 games!) or ’93 Kings Gretzky who carried a subpar team to the Cup Finals? Simmons went back and forth on full skill Jordan and full secret Jordan. With Gretzky it is a little bit different: here is a player who was shockingly traded in his prime. The Bulls never would have traded Jordan in his prime no matter what – the major difference though, the rest of their team could never have won the title without him (and in fact failed twice). Without Gretzky the Oilers still won the 1990 Stanley Cup thanks to the leadership of Mark Messier.
The Gretzky of this team does not have to score a lot of goals due to the caliber of his teammates. Rather, I want Gretzky at his passing peak – I want ’85/86 Gretzky when he had, objectively, the greatest statistical season of all time. In 80 games Gretz tallied 52 goals, a record 163 assists, for a record 215 points. With the quality teammates Gretzky will have on this team, the Aliens do not stand a chance. Look at how well Gretzky could do with great teammates (like Paul Coffey and Jari Curri)…now imagine him with even better scorers. The alien team may have a “Gretzky-like” player but, at the end of the day they do not have the “Greatest Hockey Player the Universe has ever seen”.
To combat the Aliens potential size and strength, our forward lines need to be a unique combination of size / speed / skill /checking and boost to keep them off balance. Imagine facing a pure power line one moment, then having a quick shift to speed, skill and the deadly wrist shot of Joe Sakic? Unstoppable right? Additionally, hockey players generally have a good grasp of “the secret” because of the nature of the game – there will be no ego problems here. This is bigger than the Olympics or anything else. The four lines will crafted thusly:
Line 1) The SuperDuper Line – When we need a goal, we can go to these guys at any time and they will get it done.
Line 2) The Skills Line – Grittiness and finesse combine in the perfect way, a true scoring line.
Line 3) The Power Line – Need the other team’s defense to be totally worn down? Throw this line out there. Virtually impossible to move off the puck and no problems going into the corners to play control games.
Line 4) The Checking / Boost Line – The main job: shut down the opponents top line as well as providing a spark when necessary. All these players can score but that will not be their primary job.
SuperDuper Line = ’86 Gretzky – ’93 Lemieux – ’94 Bure
’86 Gretzky makes this line for the reasons discussed above, and he showed in 1987 that despite the fact both players are centres that he can play on the same line as Mario Lemieux! Therefore, on this team they will play together, on the same line.
’93 Lemieux makes the cut because he won the Stanley Cup that year; scored 160 points (69 goals) and would fit perfectly with an at-passing-peak Gretzky. ’94 Bure carried the Canucks to the Cup Finals and had 60 goals during the season. He also proved he could play big when it mattered most – in triple overtime against Calgary he came through with the game winner. Bure was also a bit of a power forward at times too, he could bullishly pick and roll his way to the net. His speed, combined with Gretzky’s laser-like passes and vision, alongside Lemieux’s power and shot makes this line virtually impossible to stop. They have size, speed, skill and Gretzky: without a doubt the top line Earth could send out.
The Skills Line = 00/01 Sakic – 09 Crosby – 06/07 Selanne
The Skills Line features a young playmaker, electric finisher and the best wrist shot in the history of the NHL. Each player on the line won the Stanley Cup and has proven themselves to be a clutch performer.
06/07 Selanne (94 points, 48 goals, 46 assists) makes it over 76 goal Selanne because of the performance he put on helping the Ducks capture the Stanley Cup. While this was not Selanne’s best statistical year he just always seemed to be in the right place at the right time to make a huge play for the team. He fully understood the secret (and his longevity is astounding, seemingly impervious to any injury); young Selanne just wanted to score goals. With two elite linemates he would put up huge numbers in the 7 game series.
08/09 Crosby (33 goals, 70 assists, 103 points) was at his playmaking peak here. This was before he started scoring 50 goals a year and with his linemates on this team he does not need to. He will be the primary assist guy on this line – the scrappy, into the corners guy who will do whatever it takes to get it done. He led the Penguins to the Cup this year and will have no problem shifting over to Left Wing (Editors Note: A lot of players will be playing out of position, but with the Earth on the line can we really afford not to play all these prime time performers? They can play wing, trust me) and feeding brilliant passes to Sakic in the middle, as well as cross ice to Selanne. Crosby will not defer to his older teammates, but will instead make them better with his young legs and gritty intensity.
oo/01 Joe Sakic (54 goals, 64 assists, 118 points) had his best goal scoring year during this Cup Winning season. Sakic will move around the middle and create chaos amongst defenders. With his wrist shot (arguably the best in league history) Sakic will be especially deadly when combined with the passing abilities of Crosby. Backed by a strong defense, this line will be a change of pace to the Super Duper Line – but…not much of one. They will carry a heavy scoring load and a lot of that will fall to Burnaby Joe, one of the best clutch performers ever.
The Power Line = ’94/95 Lindros – ’90 Messier – ’95/96 Jagr
The thought with this line is pretty simple: beat the crap out of the opponents defense. Can anyone contend with the size and physicality of this line? They will be nearly impossible to push off the puck and can play the control game all shift long. The other team will have no way to match up with them, and after the previous two lines will be completely thrown by the sudden shift to such a physical approach. In fact – I strong advocate sending this line out right from the outset to intimidate the opponents and hopefully psychologically break them from the start.
’94/95 Lindros (46 games played due to lockout / 29 goals, 41 assists, 70 points) led the Flyers to the Cup and was at the height of his pre-concussion powers. His better than a point a game led to him being annointed “the next one” and his size and skill was unmatched in NHL history. He had no problem delievering a bone rattling hit, scoring or dropping the gloves. Remember? When he played like a runaway freight train? How can we not have that player on our team? He could change the game in a multitude of ways and lead by example. Given the short season, he will also be well rested in order to employ his physical style. His presence will throw off the opponents and with his linemates he should be virtually unstoppable in the middle. Enjoy this missile coming towards you, Hockey-playing Alien Invaders!
’89/’90 Messier (45 goals, 84 assists, 129 points) – Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Kings in one of the biggest moments in NHL history. The Oilers, we assumed, were done. Except, Messier went on to have the best season of his career and lead the team to the Cup while capturing every major award in the process. That was how good the Oilers were; they lost their best player and still won the cup! Messier was the main reason for that, and for that reason he makes this team and plays a huge role. (We could also have gone with New York Rangers Messier but I am still bitter about losing the Cup…)
’95/’96 Jagr (62 goals, 87 assists, 149 points) – In this case, I took one of the best statistical years of Jagr’s career and not a cup winning year. The reason? He knew what it took to win and could reach inside and pull it out again. On this line, we need some scoring punch and the 6’3 240 pound Jagr will be the perfect compliment for 6’4 Lindros and 6’2 Messier. His scoring touch was ridiculous and he was very difficult to move off the puck. One of my best hockey memories is the Penguins down 5-4 in the Stanley Cup finals with two minutes left. I had no doubt they would triumph. Then I watched them score two goals in rapid succession: when Jagr was on, no one could match up.
The Checking + Boost Line = ’96 Steve Yzerman – ’10 Jonathon Toews – ’89 Esa Tikkanen
The purpose of this line is to shut down the opposing team’s best player. Yzerman (’96 – 95 points, Cup Winner) on the fourth line? Yes, but only because two years later he won the Selke Award as the League Top defensive forward and fully realized his potential as an all-around player. Toews (’10 Playoffs MVP) showed just how versatile he was during the Hawk’s cup run and we may need his youthful energy to change the flow of the game at some point. Tikkanen (’89 – 78 points, 31 goals)? He was at his best harassing opponents and forcing them into mistakes. No player ever got into other people’s heads quite like Esa and his defensive prowess may be needed. ’89 represents his best stats and a cup win. This line can score, do not get me wrong, and they will also be able to shut down whoever they need to.
2000 Scott Stevens – Remember the hit? The one that essentially ended Eric Lindros’s career? That’s why he sets the tone in game one for my Wine Cellar team.
’85/’86 Paul Coffey – The best offensive defensemen ever, Coffey scored 48 goals this season. When the team needs a boost on both offense and defense, he will be there. Plus, he plays a great point on the power play.
2001/2002 Niklas Lidstrom – Never a big scorer, Lidstrom is the best defensemen of the modern era, winning Norris Trophies into his 40’s. Shuts down anyone’s best player and will be responsible for locking down many great Alien players. He won a cup, Conn Smyth (playoff MVP) and Norris trophy this year.
’90 Ray Bourque – No defensemen played as hard as Raymond Bourque and 1990 was the year he powered to 94 points and a 2nd place MVP finish. He also took the Bruins in the Cup where they lost to the Oilers. He has to be a serious anchor for any defense, even if he is the 2nd best Bruin defensemen ever.
’91 Al MacInnis – The huge powerful slap shot wielded by Big Al will be invaluable on the power play and could shift the outcome in one of the seven games. A Cup winner in 1989, in ’91 MacInnis powered to 103 points, most of them thanks to the thunder stick he carried.
’92 Phil Housley – 97 points for the US born defensemen in 1992. Pair him with MacInnis or Coffey and you have an incredibly potent offensive tandem that could change the game. Who would the opponents cover? The defense can score from anywhere and with the level of play the forwards bring to the table, it will be impossible to cover everyone at all times. Housley adds to that dimension.
1999/2000 Chris Pronger – Pick any Chris Pronger season and you will get what you pay for – a big, physical defensemen that can change the fortunes of a team for the better. He is a difference maker and sometimes that is all you need. Being a 6’6 human wrecking ball also helps (Pair him with Stevens and the Power Line and this thing will be over quickly, the Aliens leaving barely intact).
2001 Rob Blake – Blake scored 19 points in 23 games during the 2001 playoffs and remained as good as anybody at shutting down opponents. His season was a wash but he helped the Avalanche to the title and presents another physical presence on the back line.
1992 Chris Chelios – Led the Blackhawks to the Cup and won the Norris Trophy. A steady performer who is reliable in the clutch.
1) 1999 Martin Brodeur – Literally carried the Devils to 3 Cups. At times displayed uncanny ability to step up in the clutch. Remarkably durable, he rarely missed starts and logged huge minutes. ’99 was a cup winning season and a Vezina performance from the master. Opponents never got easy goals on Marty and his steadiness allows for some gambles with his backups…
2) 1993 Patrick Roy – Why young Roy over experienced, shutout king Roy? Quite simply, with Brodeur taking most of the prime goaltening duties, we can gamble with young, pure-talent Roy. He led the Canadiens to their last cup in ’93 and was so athletic that he changed goaltending forever. His style was a breath of fresh air and a change of pace. If we need to, we can count on him to rob our opponents in spectacular style.
3) 87/88 Grant Fuhr – However…just in case Brodeur gets injured and young Roy proves to be too much of a gamble: we have Grant Fuhr. The greatest goalie of the ridiculous scoring era, Fuhr was a proven winner and if you need someone to close out a 9-8 game, Fuhr is your man. He had nerves of steel and won Cup after Cup. This was the year he swept the Vezina and finished 2nd in MVP voting.
So, there you have it for the most part – here are the luxary picks and intangible players who round out the team:
2006/ 2007 Rod Brind’amour– Won the Selke Trophy twice…but more importantly is one of the best faceoff men in NHL history (62% career) and when you need someone who can win a faceoff at the end of the game deep in the shadows on your own goalpost: Brind’amour is the best that ever was.
2002 / 2003 Todd Bertuzzi – Sometimes you need someone to stand in front of the net and screen the goalie (Bert+MacInnis = 50 screened goals combined at least). Bertuzzi was impossible to move this year and redirected many shots amongst his 46 goals (97 points). Sometimes you also need someone no questions asked to protect the superstars, Bertuzzi is more than willing to punch someone in the back of the head and lay down the law.
Some Lineup possibilites:
Captain: Wayne Gretzky – really no other choice here. While Gretzky may not be the best leader of the bunch, he is the alpha dog and as he goes, so does the team. On a deep, talented team he still stands apart and needs to be the leader. Think ’98 Nagano – everyone deferred to him.
Alternates: Mark Messier / Mario Lemieux – Either player could wear the C for the team and my friend ADub thought Mario should be the captain. However, on this team, like the 1987 Canada Cup team: Gretz wears the C.
Penalty Kill: Toews – Brind’amour – Tikkannen – Pronger – Stevens
Power Play: Gretzky – Lemieux – Jagr – MacInnis – Coffey
Power Play 2: Messier – Lindros – Crosby – Housley – Bure (played the point at times)
Ridiculous Size Lineup: Bertuzzi – Lindros – Lemieux – Pronger – Blake
Ridiculous Scoring Lineup: Bure – Gretzky – Lemieux – Housley – Coffey
Speed Lineup: Bure – Selanne – Sakic – Housley – Blake
There you have it: this team would be our best bet at avoiding this kind of outcome:
Am I crazy? Who did I miss? What combos would you like to see?