NHL.COM FANTASY RE-DRAFT
Or in this case, simulated.
This is where the minds at EA SPORTS come in. This spring, NHL.com relied on EA to use its NHL '11 simulation engine to predict the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and with 13 of 15 series accurately tabbed, they did better than just about any human mind could conjure. With the impending release of EA SPORTS NHL '12 next month, EA has refined and updated its engine and with their help, an entire 82-game season and playoffs were simulated with NHL.com's re-drafted league.
The results for the regular season are in. It may not be quite the same as having the players actually lace up skates and hit the ice, but it's the next best thing.
Some of those results were to be expected. As in real life, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos continue to be offensive powerhouses, but not everything could have been easily anticipated, like the breakout season in Florida for Logan Couture, who racked up 90 points.
REGULAR SEASON STANDINGS
|Eastern Conference||Points||Salary Cap
|3. NY Islanders||98||63.137|
|7. Tampa Bay||98||57.066|
|12. New Jersey||87||58.46|
|15. NY Rangers||64||63.783|
|3. Los Angeles||101||57.548|
|6. St. Louis||96||55.848|
|14. San Jose||72||51.904|
HOW IT SHOOK OUT
When the NHL played its first season under its current economic structure -- as well as with several rules changes intended to open up the game -- it was 2005-06 and with those dramatic changes as well as the flurry of free-agent musical chairs, it was hard to predict just who would be the dominant team in the new NHL. As it turned out, an impressive postseason performance by rookie netminder Cam Ward propelled the Hurricanes to a seven-game win in the 2006 Cup Final over an upstart Edmonton team, but that matchup seemed a pretty unlikely one to predict at the start of the playoffs, let alone the start of the season.
The NHL Re-Draft isn't an entirely different situation, and coincidentally, the chips in the Eastern Conference seem to have fallen the same way they did in 2006, as Carolina, Ottawa and Buffalo are the three teams that ruled the roost in the East in the Re-Draft. The Hurricanes' 109 points were tops in the East, bolstered by a stunning 56-goal, 58-assist campaign from Stamkos, who wound up on a line with Patrick Sharp and Taylor Hall. From the looks of it Hall benefited from being on Sharp's wing, too, as the two both finished with 77 points. All three players on Carolina's top line finished in the top 20 in scoring.
If there is a common denominator between these Canes and the ones from 2006, however, it's Ward, who stayed put in Raleigh and responded with a 2.33 goals-against average and 43 wins, tying him with Ottawa's Roberto Luongo for most in the League. Luongo's stellar season, which included five shutouts and a 2.21 goals-against average, were pivotal in getting the Senators to 105 points, just one behind division-rival Buffalo for second in the conference. In the case of the Sabres, they too benefited from a goalie staying home, as Ryan Miller backstopped the Sabres to 40 wins and 106 points. Filling out the rest of the East is Florida, Montreal, the Islanders, who return to the postseason with an Atlantic Division title, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia.
The West doesn't have quite the same déjà vu of five years ago. As the second-best team in the West with 109 points, the Oilers actually fared better in our simulation than the eighth-seeded squad in 2006 did. But they fell behind a surprising top dog in the West, as Columbus, a franchise with all of one postseason appearance in its 10-year history, grabbed the Presidents' Trophy with a 115-point outburst.
EA Sports Awards: Sid still shines
In addition to simulating a full-82 game season for the NHL.com Re-Draft, EA's simulation also divvied up postseason honors. Here's a glance of who took home what:
Hart Trophy: Sidney Crosby -- The Kid was up to his old tricks with Edmonton. Crosby's League-best 121 points and a solid plus-15 rating helped his case, but don't ignore his impact on the players around him. Scott Hartnell and Dany Heatley are prime talents, but Heatley's 91 points on Crosby's wing are no coincidence.
Art Ross Trophy: Sidney Crosby -- Offense was the name of the game in the simulation as 16 players averaged a point per game, but in this race another accolade goes to Sid, as his 51 goals and 70 assists put him seven points clear of Steven Stamkos for the League's top scorer.
Vezina Trophy: Roberto Luongo -- New crease, same results. Despite moving over to Ottawa, Luongo used a solid top six defensemen to his advantage in putting together the best goaltending resume in the League with 43 wins, a 2.21 goals-against average, a .935 save percentage and five shutouts.
Calder Trophy: Brayden Schenn -- We don't yet know how Schenn will fare in a full NHL season, but he's got an impressive future according to EA. Schenn's campaign as the top rookie was one of the few bright spots for a 13th-place Detroit team.
Lady Byng: Daniel Sedin -- Daniel may have struggled somewhat without brother Henrik, although both still finished in the top 16 in scoring, but he was a gentleman with or without his sibling. Daniel tallied 90 points as a Maple Leaf, but only spent four minutes in the sin bin.
Norris Trophy: Shea Weber -- His recent arbitration award placed him among the highest-paid defensemen in the game, and the simulation seems to think he's worth it. Weber, who was nominated for his first Norris Trophy last season, takes the award back to Minnesota despite missing out on the postseason.
Rocket Richard Trophy: Steven Stamkos -- EA SPORTS' simulation produced quite a race for the League's top goal-scorer, but in the end Carolina's Stamkos edges Florida's Alex Ovechkin with 56 goals to Ovi's 55.
Ted Lindsay Award: Sidney Crosby -- Crosby's numbers made him a near no-brainer for the League's MVP award and the NHLPA agreed, giving Sid his third piece of hardware for the season.
Selke Trophy: Jonathan Toews -- With 91 points, Toews was among the League's best offensive producers, but his two-way game shined. Captain Serious defended as well as he scored, putting together an impressive plus-24 rating for the season.
The Blue Jackets boast one of the strongest trios in the League with homegrown talent Rick Nash playing on the wing with Jonathan Toews and Nathan Horton. Toews, with 91 points in our simulation, proved the main force behind our simulation's top team. True to real life, Toews' impact was felt both ways, as his plus-24 was the best rating among the League's top 20 scorers. Nash was not to be outdone, putting together an 84-point campaign with 39 goals, but the most underrated aspect of Columbus' powerhouse just might be goalie Tuukka Rask. While Rask has never had a full-time starting job in the real NHL, getting out from behind Tim Thomas seems to agree with him. Rask had one of the most complete seasons of any netminder in EA's simulation, winning 42 games and posting a 2.29 GAA.
Right behind Columbus, the Oilers were a force to be reckoned with in their own right, as Crosby netted 51 goals to go along with his 70 assists. Many of those assists likely went to Crosby's linemate Dany Heatley, who had an impressive bounce-back season in our simulation with 91 points, tied with Toews and Nashville's Zach Parise for the fourth-most in the League.
The West's playoff bracket had a decidedly Central flavor, as each team aside from Detroit finished in the top eight, with Chicago, led by an 84-point season from Ryan Kesler, and Nashville, which benefited from Parise's seamless return from a meniscus tear, each totaling 104 points. Los Angeles proved best in the Pacific, as St. Louis, Anaheim and Phoenix rounded out the conference's postseason field.
Because our staffers had to work within the confines of the NHL salary cap, the Re-Draft provided an interesting exercise in how efficiently a team can use their money when given a completely blank slate to work with. If one thing is clear, it's that you won't succeed without doling out some cash.
The lowest total salary to make the postseason in our simulation belonged to the Montreal Canadiens, who were the fifth seed in the East in using up a Moneyball-esque $55.349 million of the cap. The sixth-seeded St. Louis Blues were the only other team to make the playoffs with a payroll below $56 million.
In fact, the top teams in each conference were all big spenders, as three of the top four teams in the West played chicken with the 2011-12 NHL salary cap of $64.3 million, while all of the top four teams in the East spent more than $59 million. The Predators win the award for coming closest to the League's upper spending limit, squeezing just under the cap with a League-high payroll of $64.276 million, but they did get tie for the third most points in the West for their trouble.
The average payroll of all 16 playoff teams came in at a robust $59.343 million, nearly $2 million more than the average payroll of $57.344 million of teams that didn't make their respective top eights.
It should be noted that money doesn't necessarily buy everything. The second and third highest payrolls in our simulation belong to the Wild and Rangers, respectively. Minnesota finished ninth in the West while the Rangers, despite an offensive machine in Joe Thornton on the top line, Jaromir Jagr's return to the Blueshirts and three very solid defensemen in Mark Streit, Kimmo Timonen and Victor Hedman, finished a very surprising 30th out of 30 teams across the simulation, compiling just 64 points during the season.
Even if money isn't guaranteed to buy you a playoff berth, though the evidence suggests it certainly helps, we can determine that not spending money is highly unlikely to work in your favor. For a hint of how a tight budget can impact your team, look no further than the exercise in austerity undertaken by the San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames, who stayed in a near embrace of the League's 2011-12 salary cap floor of $48.3 million with payrolls of $51.904 million and $49.187 million respectively. The two totals were by far the lowest in our simulation, with the next lowest, the $54.545 million Colorado Avalanche, nearly $3 million higher than San Jose. For their thriftiness, the Sharks and Flames ended up with the two worst records in the Western Conference.
All the regular season results aside, hockey season isn't complete until the playoffs happen, and now that the NHL Re-Draft has been boiled down from 30 teams to 16, the fun can really begin.
Can Columbus make good on its Presidents' Trophy and bring the Stanley Cup to the Buckeye State for the first time? Can Edmonton bring the chalice back to Alberta for the first time in 21 years? Do Phoenix and Philadelphia have upsets up their sleeves? There are plenty of questions to be answered and a Cup to be hoisted. On Wednesday, NHL.com will have the final results of EA SPORTS' simulation of the NHL.com Re-Draft's Stanley Cup Playoffs.