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 Sweden.
Putting together Team Sweden posed a much greater challenge than figuring out which players would make the cut for Team Finland. And that was due entirely to an overabundance of talent. While the Swedes don't have to worry about a ton of bank-breaking salaries, two tough decisions involving a Vezina Trophy-caliber goaltender and one of the best defensemen of his generation made this much more difficult than expected.
Let's start with the latter, where Erik Karlsson is conspicuous in his absence from the roster. While it does appear that his best days may be behind him, the bigger issue was Karlsson's $11.5-million cap hit. But with all the scoring talent up front, the blueline could afford to be slimmed down slightly from a salary perspective. After Victor Hedman, Mattias Ekholm and Oscar Klefbom, Erik Gustafsson is the fourth highest-priced blueliner at a scant $1.2 million, and the other three rearguards make less $1 million. Would Karlsson be one of the most impactful players on the roster? Probably, but given his play over the past two seasons and his enormous salary, it's not worth sacrificing some additional punch up front to bring him aboard.
For example, if Karlsson was to make the cut, a pair of high-paid forwards would need to be left off the roster, which could include William Nylander ($6.92 million) and Filip Forsberg ($6 million). Nylander's 30-goal production for less than $7 million makes him incredibly valuable, though. No forward makes more than that, so there wasn't another major salary to shed, though some will quibble with Viktor Arvidsson's absence. He was on the chopping block because of his $4.25 million cap hit, but the two-time time 61-point player's slowing production was also taken into consideration.
Robin Lehner is the other glaring omission. But there's some international-tournament thinking behind that decision. Teams typically want one goaltender to do the heavy lifting at events like the Olympics, World Championship and World Cup. And because Jacob Markstrom has played well enough in Vancouver this season to earn Vezina consideration and has done so at a reasonable price, he was a no-brainer to slot into this roster. As for Lehner, a Vezina candidate last season, he misses out based solely on cost. Though his cap hit is lower in Vegas, the full weight of his deal is $5 million.
Looking past the roster conundrums, this is a high-skilled, fast-paced squad that has all the makings of a medal contender. Take a look at the fourth line, for example: those are three 50-point players, and the top-end skill is outstanding. Mika Zibanejad, who has scored 41 goals this season, centers the group, with 31-goal scorer William Nylander and Elias Pettersson, a would-be 30-goal scorer this season, on the wings. On defense, Hedman is still one of the best in the game and both Mattias Ekholm and Oscar Klefbom are having remarkable seasons in Nashville and Edmonton, respectively. Behind them, the team has some young skill in Dahlin, who continues to make his case as one of the best young defensemen in the game. Inexperience is an issue on the backend, but the talent throughout the lineup is enough to make up for it.
Here is Sweden's complete World Cap of Hockey roster:
Gabriel Landeskog – Mika Zibanejad –Elias Pettersson
Andre Burakovsky – Nicklas Backstrom – William Nylander
Filip Forsberg – William Karlsson – Rickard Rakell
Victor Olofsson – Mikael Backlund – Elias Lindholm
Victor Hedman – Mattias Ekholm
Oscar Klefbom – Rasmus Dahlin
Erik Gustafsson – Rasmus Andersson
Total cap hit (Per CapFriendly): $80,692,739
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