Here's a post I've been meaning to do for a while, but it gets more complete the longer I wait. (Funny thing about writing about hockey every day: You have more ideas than you have time, but sometimes when you have time you don't want to tackle the ideas you have.)
James O'Brien, who runs Cycle Like Sedins and contributes at Battle of California, was inspired by some sort of self-loathing to create a suicidal summer project for himself: What if the entire league's pool of players were thrown into the pot and redrafted, keeping their existing salaries but going to new teams?
It sounds a lot like a simple fantasy draft, except there are 30 teams. Which means 30 different GMs. Going 20-23 players deep per roster. This is a thorough reshuffling (and an administrative headache for James and a few other invaluable helpers). And the evaluation will be, in part, based on an EA Sports NHL 10 simulation (that will be my downfall). There is talk of having the rosters evaluated by stat wonks, too.
When James invited me to represent the Islanders, I didn't think twice. If only I'd known: The pressure! It's one thing to pick a fantasy roster for "Bossy's Bombers;" it's another to rationally pick players around the league and bestow upon them the blessed label, "Islanders" -- even if only in make-believe land.
We're through 10 rounds now. Check out some of "your" new "Islanders" -- plus my rationale and excuses -- after the jump.
Daniel Sedin ($6.1 million) -- David Backes ($2.5 million) -- Kyle Okposo ($1,671,666)
David Perron ($918,333) -- Rich Peverley ($487,500) -- xx
Paul Kariya ($6 million) -- xx -- xx
Nicklas Lidstrom ($7.45 million) -- Alex Goligoski ($1.833 million)
Denis Grebeshkov ($3.15 million) (sorry Doug) -- xx
Tomas Vokoun ($5.7 million)
Some caveats and rules
The order. Snake-like. I don't remember how James arrived at the draft order, but it sort of had to do with market size and opportunity, I think. Regardless, it's in a snake fashion, so the "Islanders" picked 6th overall in the first (I took Lidstrom) and then sixth from the end (25th, or #55 overall: I took the underrated Vokoun) of the second round. Imagine a fantasy draft where your 2nd pick was the 55th-best player in the league.
There's a cap, but the world ends after this season. While each player's current cap hit counts as their salary -- and we are limited to this season's $56.8 million cap -- we were instructed to think of this season only. So Hossa-types are fine and in fact ideal, because there are no long-term consequences. And the Islanders strike it rich, because suddenly we can go to the cap ceiling instead of the cap floor. (As one poster quipped after my Lidstrom pick: "They've got one player, and already they're better than the real Islanders.")
The EA simulation thing: That's what will sink me, but I don't care. With a lot of my picks, I know I chose young players I thought would ramp up their production this year, thinking of how to piece together a perfect, cap-clearing package. But that's more of a fantasy draft ideal than a video game ideal. It's been six years since I bought an NHL video game, but last time I played they rated more on the previous season than the upcoming one. Uh-oh. Oh well, in the laboratory of life, I still like my team.
Coordinating 30 (mostly) employed people to pick in an orderly fashion leads to some odd consequences. We're doing this via message board and email, and we're spread across at least four time zones (not sure if Alaska is represented), That means there have been slow days where only one or two picks were made, and there have been hours where six picks were made. Occasionally, someone picks an already drafted player and things crash to a halt. Less occasionally, someone picks an already drafted player twice with the same pick (Hint: His name rhymes with BootySmelly).
Worse, though: Occasionally your pick comes up after you've just returned home from a night of -- how shall we call it? -- drinking enough alcohol to kill a small equine animal. Which means you pick someone with your brilliant fantasy "he's gonna come back and surprise" cap on, disregarding the fact salary matters here. (I'm looking at my 4th-round pick, #115, Paul Kariya, due a cool $6 million after missing most of last year with hip surgery.) And sometimes your pick is up when your between weekend pool parties, and you don't want to hold things up but you don't know who to pick because you were too crazy to make a list. That hasn't happened to me yet, because I don't have any friends -- and if I did, they'd probably have really disgusting pools.
Some observations on fantasy GM behavior
The coolest thing about this draft so far, though? When you open it up to 30 teams, you really, really don't have a clue what everyone else is going to do, which creates some interesting decisions. You start to see parallels to the real world, like when there's suddenly a run on defensemen even though there are very good forwards left on the board (I'm reminded of the real-world Islanders using their third and fourth picks (2nd and 3rd rounds) this summer on goaltenders: They might not have rated those goalies at those spots, but it's too hard to tell when the goalies will fall off the board.)
So for most "GMs," you have two picks relatively close together, followed by a long wait until the next one. That means you not only think about what you need, but you get paranoid about what assets might be off the board by the time you pick again, some 40 or so picks later. If you're eyeing a particular scorer, but you notice all the first and second-tier defensemen are disappearing, you might be inclined to pick a blueliner now so that you don't end up with Wade Redden on your top pair.
Add to all of this the cap element: I sort of screwed up by taking high-dollar targets early (Lidstrom-Sedin-Vokoun), but I was trying to make sure I had at least one "stud" at each of the three positions. (Taking Lidstrom at #6 was also probably a "real-world" gaffe, as I was thinking about building my ideal real-life team rather than building a team that an EA Sports simulation would find sexy. Taking Vokoun was pricey but necessary, as goalies were starting to disappear, and he was one of the top five goalies in the league last year ... DID YOU HEAR THAT, EA SPORTS?)
So anyway, loading up on big salaries early meant I needed to dial back later on, which is how I ended up with Kyle Okposo (no worries), David Perron (should have a great year, even on EA), and Rich Peverley, an anonymous minimum-salary center who put up points at a great rate after being picked up by the Thrashers mid-way through last season. (Again, though, Peverley's production probably won't impress EA.)
We're all homers: Then you have the fact that we all really like our real-world teams, warts and all, which means we'll probably overvalue a few guys and "steal" a few others. I don't think I reached on Okposo in the 7th at #186 -- and there's no one else of interest yet on the Isles (Streit at #63 and Tavares at #122 were taken early) -- but I've taken a few Blues, my other NHL favorite, at spots others might not have. Perron (6th, #175) was smart; Kariya (#115) not so much, even though I think he'll have a big year. Backes is still a rising, 30-goal unknown to many, but at $2.5 million he's not a rookie-level steal but still likely a bargain.
Oh, and I wouldn't have picked the back-injury (now knee-, too) submarined Eric Brewer for a $4.25 million hit, but someone did. But it's really hard to stay on top of all the local team news for a 30-team league -- and if you're lazy like me and never got around to creating an actual wish list, you can really be scratching in the dark.
Ultimately, I think I'm doing okay so far. I had to grab at least one Islander to make it all feel right. When it gets to the late rounds, it should be really amusing as people pick through scraps. And once all the teams' rosters are set, it will be fun to see how everyone did. But right now, I have no idea what the other teams look like. That's a suicidal project for someone else's summer.
I know stuff like this can be pretty dull if you're not involved, which is why I saved this post for the weekend. But I will post updates later as the draft goes deeper. So if you're a fantasy (or video game) geek, or if you just want to shoot the breeze about this high-dollar Islanders squad, by all means weigh in. Tell me what I did wrong. Give me hell -- I'm in the Milbury perch, after all, and I might just deserve what you're hurling.