Welcome to the World Cap of Hockey, a new series that dives into international waters and projects what a tournament featuring six national team rosters would look like today if each national team was required to be compliant to the NHL’s salary cap structure. The six teams in this series will be Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland and a group consisting of top Europeans from nations such as Slovakia, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, and each roster must fit under the current $81.5-million cap hit using only players currently under NHL contract.
Today, we break down Team Russia.
These are getting harder by the squad, and Russia's roster was the toughest to construct through the first three parts of the series. Talent-wise, you couldn't go wrong. But right off the bat, the inclusion of Artemi Panarin, who is a must-have for this Russian team, wreaked havoc on the salary structure due to his $11.6-million cap hit. Obviously, one can't leave the Hart Trophy favorite who is in the midst of a career year off the squad, but bringing him along means liberties needed to be taken elsewhere.
Let's start with the players who didn't make the cut. Vladimir Tarasenko would obviously play a key role on a real Russian national team, but with a shoulder injury limiting Tarasenko to just 10 games this season, it was difficult to justify his $7.5-million cap hit. Also absent is Sergei Bobrovsky, and I can give you 10 million reasons why he didn't make the cut, even if he would be likely to sneak onto a real Team Russia. Conspicuous by their absences, as well, are Alexander Radulov and Nikita Gusev. That should give you an indication of how challenging it was to piece this group together.
So, if those are the players who were left off the roster, who found their way into the cap-compliant Russian team? Panarin, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nikita Kucherov and Evgeni Malkin all land on the team and combine to eat up more than $33 million of the team's available budget, but it's worth every penny. Between that group, there are five Stanley Cup championships, five Hart Trophies and a host of international titles, too. As far as offense goes, it doesn't get much better than this.
Finding the best center depth was a challenge, though. After Malkin and Kuznetsov, only one other Russian pivot, Ivan Barbashev, had hit the 50-game mark this season, and Vladislav Namestnikov, who has struggled and spent most of his time this season on the wing, wasn't going to cut it. Nikolai Prokhorkin is a natural center who, despite modest performance on a weak Los Angeles Kings team this year, showed great promise in the KHL and might still be a hidden gem – and at $925,000, the price is right. And for other additions up front, price played a major part in their selection, and Andrei Svechnikov's entry-level deal and Ilya Kovalchuk's league-minimum contract transformed them from obvious selections to absolute no-brainers.
That's the offense. The defense is another story. Would you rather have a dominant offensive group or employ Nikita Zaitsev or Dmitri Kulkov? Don't even bother thinking twice. The group below clearly has its flaws and a lack of experience is evident, but there's no real way around it.
For as good as the team is up front, the goaltending is absolutely killer. Having Andrei Vasilevskiy, the 2019 Vezina Trophy winner, followed up by two of the best rookie goaltenders in the league gives Russia three high-caliber options in net. In fact, Igor Shesterkin could challenge for the starting role on a few of the teams in this fictional six-team event. For this exercise, it's a godsend that Vasilevskiy's $9.5-million hit doesn't kick in until next season. If it did, Russia's roster would look vastly different.
Once the core construction was completed, the roster was looking at a cap hit of $82,640,443 – just a tad bit over the cap. Where do you go from there? Do you cut Dmitry Orlov, one of the best Russian defenders in the league, and replace him with Nikita Zadorov? No, so the attention moved back to the forward group.
Evgeni Dadonov has seen a significant dip in production since his 70-point campaign last year, hitting just 47 in 69 games in 2019-20. Dropping him seemed like the right move, even if he's still a valuable asset. Gusev would have been a great replacement, but his $4.5-million cap hit gets in the way. Thus, the decision was made to drop Dadonov and insert a rejuvenated Valeri Nichushkin as the 13th forward.
But once the cap was re-calculated, it became apparent that there was money to burn and space to bring Dadonov back into the fold if another sacrifice could be made. And it could, as Pavel Buchnevich was given the axe in favor of putting Dadonov back on the squad. While there's a mere one-point spread between the two players, Dadonov played some of his best hockey alongside Panarin in international play and it's a connection ripe for re-ignition. That left the Russians with about $1.26 million in cap space.
Here is Russia's complete World Cap of Hockey roster:
Alexander Ovechkin – Evgeni Kuznetsov – Nikita Kucherov
Artemi Panarin – Evgeni Malkin – Evgeni Dadonov
Andrei Svechnikov – Ivan Barbashyov – Ilya Kovalchuk
Denis Gurianov – Nikolai Prokhorkin – Ilya Mikheyev
Mikhail Sergachev – Ivan Provorov
Vladislav Gavrikov – Dmitri Orlov
Ilya Lyubushkin – Nikolai Knyzhov
Total cap hit (Per CapFriendly): $80,240,443
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