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EHM Experiments: An Alliterative Attempt of an Array of 23 Players on Boston

This week’s Eastside Hockey Manager Experiment is to put together an Alliterative Roster. 23 players with the same letters the begin their first and last names. And this team does not include Jack Johnson. Read on to see how they did.

Boston Bruins v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Four
Connor Clifton is one of the 23 players on the Same-Initials Squad
Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

Last week’s Eastside Hockey Manager experiment saw a team of Nico Hischiers (plus Cory Schneider and MacKenzie Blackwood) smack down the league. This experiment is another name-game. One of the People Who Matter, Ethmal1, wondered whether you could have a team of alliterative players. Players whose first name starts with the same letter as their last names. Can a 23-man roster be put together with players with one letter for each initial? Can that roster be any good? Let us find out.

The Experiment

Put together a 23-man roster of players whose first and last names start with the same letter. The team must be cap compliant, too. See how they do in the 2019-20 NHL season.

The Approach

Ethmal1 noted that the “pro” of this team is that it would have Steven Stamkos. The “con” would be that the defense after Drew Doughty would be rough. Another one of the People Who Matter, acasser, actually responded to Ethmal1’s suggestion with an attempt at putting a roster together for this challenge that may not be so bad. However, it was over the cap. Still, I used it as a jumping off point to build my own that would be cap compliant.

Goalies (2): Ben Bishop, Matt Murray

The only other option I considered was a very cheap Veini Vehvilainen as a backup. However, I figured a solid combo of Bishop/Murray would be much more reliable than Murray and Columbus’ #3 goalie. This was the same tandem acasser suggested.

Defense (7): Drew Doughty, Brent Burns, Michael Matheson, Dylan DeMelo, Connor Clifton, Martin Marincin, Bowen Byram

I did take acasser’s blueline as well if only to avoid the fate of Jack Johnson or Cody Ceci. Or, if I needed to go very cheap, Josh Jacobs (he is not a NHL-level player in EHM). Byram is a bit of a stretch as he has not appeared in a NHL game in real life. But I would rather the roll the dice on him and his cap-friendly ELC than someone else. Who in Florida decided Michael Matheson was worth a cap hit of $4.875 million per season? For the next six seasons?

Forwards (14): Steven Stamkos, Teuvo Teravainen, Filip Forsberg, Tomas Tatar, Brock Boeser, Tyler Toffoli, Andreas Athanasiou, Sam Steel, Kaapo Kakko, Kirill Kaprisov, Tage Thompson, Brian Boyle, Mackenzie MacEachern, Dillon Dube

For cap purposes, this is where I deviated from acasser. Mitch Marner is great but his contract was too hard to fit in. Artem Anisimov is not bad, but he was also costly. I opted for a cheaper options in Brock Boeser and Andreas Athanasiou and used the left over money to snag Filip Forsberg. The forwards are not strong down the middle. There’s Stamkos, Steel, and it gets weak from there. But the wingers are mighty; especially on the left side with Teravainen, Tatar, and Forsberg.

All together, this 23-man roster put me right under the cap at $78.6 million. So I proceeded with this group.

In addition, acasser made some coaching suggestions. Alas, as we are the GM in these EHM Experiments, Lou cannot be the GM. And Tim Thomas and Jaromir Jagr are not available in the database as coaches. So the coaching staff ended up being Bruce Boudreau being the head with Andrew Allen, Dominique Ducharme, Manny Malhotra, Steve Smith, and Scott Stevens as assistants. I tried, but this was the best I could do.

For the team, there are three alliterate teams: Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, and (I’m stretching a bit here) San Jose Sharks. I opted for the B’s if only so Bruce Cassidy does not get fired mid-season like he often does in these experiments. I had wrestling on the mind when I put this together, so I went with a famous set of initials: “The Enforcer,” Arn Anderson. Boston was going to take somebody’s spot with this team.

As with a lot of these experiments, I limited myself to use this 23-man roster as much as possible. I could only call up players if I had to fill out a 20-man roster for a game. I cannot trade or waive players. While one could argue I could have traded or picked up a player as long as their names were alliterative (e.g. Ryan Reeves), I did not want to risk cap compliance to do so (e.g. why Ryan Reeves was on waivers).

The Experiment Results: The Regular Season

The board of directors expected the playoffs and I figured that was a fair assessment. As Ethmal1 implied, depth was kind of weak and it did not take long into the season to understand that. Boyle was not good. Thompson was also not good. Dube was not good. MacEachern averaged below a six for a while. Steel was not bad but there were some games where he was clearly overmatched. And when Stamkos suffered an injury - which happened twice in the season - the centers were a problem.

Fortunately, the Alliterative B’s were more stable elsewhere. The wings were awesome. Teravainen, Tatar, Forsberg, and Boeser were just point machines and constantly rated high in games. The defense was not as bad as I thought past Doughty and Burns. Matheson did quite well on a top pairing next to Burns. Doughty helped DeMelo and, occasionally, Byram. Marincin, Byram, and Clifton did rotate in and out, but no one was consistently poor. Clifton did end up being the odd man out. In net, Murray outplayed Bishop and ended up being my #1. However, I split the starts as Bishop’s lesser numbers were not all that bad.

It took some time for Boston to get going in the season. It did not help that they were in a division shared by Buffalo. Toronto, and Tampa Bay - all of whom were very good in this database. Yes, Buffalo was actually good. It also did not help that I could not set all four lines to attack and play up-tempo like the All-Nico team (and teams in several other experiments). So I had to be a bit more clever given the skill sets of who was on each unit. It all worked out as the season went on. The team entered December with a 17-6-4 record, right behind Toronto and Buffalo in the standings. They entered 2020 with a 28-8-5 record to lead the Atlantic by seven points and sit just two points behind Washington to the Eastern Conference’s best record. That was the same situation after January, where Stamkos, Bishop, Burns, and Doughty represented the team at the NHL All-Star Game.

Eventually by the middle of March, the Bruins were the first team to clinch a playoff spot (51-15-6 at the time of clinching) and were three points ahead of Washington. While the B’s were by no means perfect, they did enough to stave off a hot Washington team to take the President’s Trophy and the #1 seed in the East:

The final standings for the 2019-20 season. The Alliterative B’s took first.
The final standings for the 2019-20 season. The Alliterative B’s took first.

Clearly, the team was good enough to take first in the East. And they scored a lot of goals to get there. Despite not setting everyone to play offensively-minded hockey, they still scored over 300 goals. As you may expect, there were plenty of Bruins on the top scorers’ lists:

Top scorers in the league, featuring plenty of Bruins.
Top scorers in the league, featuring plenty of Bruins.

Tomas Tatar was not even on the first line, but he managed to be remarkably productive enough to take the Art Ross Trophy. Forsberg, who sometimes was on the first line, was just as prolific. He was especially awesome as he had the highest average rating in the league at 8.29. Only Tatar and Ovechkin were within 0.1 of him. Teravainen, who was often on the first line, was prone to go on hot goal and point streaks and so he finished in the top ten in league scoring as well. Surprising to me, Steel sorted out his issues as the season went on and turned in a fantastic season on the scoresheet. Also surprising was that Stamkos only put up 24 goals and 72 points. But with Boeser and Teravainen, it is easy to understand how that happened.

Among scoring by defensemen, Burns finished 9th with four goals, 44 assists, and a un-Burns-like 208 shots on net. Matheson, who certainly earned his sub-$5 million contract, ended up 20th with 43 points. Doughty finished 35th with 38 points and missed all of one game only.

For rookies, Steel led the class by a lot. His 77 points were 16 better than Cale Makar. Kaprizov (8th), Kakko (9th), and Byram (15th) also finished in the top-20 among rookie scoring. Clifton made the top-50 list at 43rd.

Lastly for league leaders, goalie Matt Murray finished just outside of the top-10 in save percentage. He was 12th at 91.6%, which is quite good. Bishop did recover from a not-so-hot 2019 by finishing the season with a 90.1% save percentage - which placed him 40th. Murray ended up being the #1 goalie and he earned it.

Boston skaters by scoring after 2019-20
Boston skaters by scoring after 2019-20

The left wingers just led the way in scoring. While Tatar, Forsberg, and Teravainen could play on the right side, they were often on the left and why not? If one of them failed to score, then one (or two) of them would instead. It just kept working. Boeser was not as productive as those three, but his average rating of 8.10 supports the fact that he was wonderful player at right wing. Burns was great as a defender even if he did not fire 300-400 pucks on net. I definitely underrated Matheson and DeMelo going into this, I was pleased to see them do so well.

The depth was not as a weak as I would have feared. Again, only defenseman finished with an average rating below seven and Clifton’s 6.80 was fine for a #7 defenseman. The fourth line was rotating mess as Dube, MacEachern, Boyle, and Thompson struggled. But MacEachern pulled himself back up into the average rating range within six, Dube was limited to 23 games due to his performances, and the icetime for Boyle and Thompson was limited. It did help that Kakko, Steel, and Kaprizov did reasonably well. It also helped a lot that Murray was great and Bishop turned his season around. The team was not as top-heavy as it would have looked on paper.

Now this team finished first in the East and won 60 games. What would they do in the playoffs?

The Experiment Results: The Playoffs

The playoffs opened with Boston taking on Buffalo, who stumbled in the second half of the season. Winning their last two games of the season helped salvage the final wild card spot, edging Montreal by one. This was a favorable matchup for the B’s. They went 3-1-0 against Buffalo and outscored them 24-11 in all four games. Of course, the playoffs are a different situation, right?

They are, but not in this case. The B’s dumped the Sabres in four games. Game 1 was a 5-3 decisive win. Game 2 was a more decisive 5-2 win featuring a four-goal game by Forsberg. Game 3 only had one goal by Forsberg in a decisive 4-2 win. Game 4 was an emphatic 6-1 elimination of the Sabres with three point nights each from Teravainen and Stamkos. Four up, four down. Next.

As the B’s waited, Toronto came back from a 3-1 series deficit to Tampa Bay to take the series in 7 games. Boston versus Toronto in the playoffs? Surely, we all know what would happen. In the regular season, it was not so simple. The two teams split the series at 2-2. Also, Toronto was the #3 season; they would prove to be no pushovers.

In Game 1, Toronto scored a last minute power play goal to force overtime. In the second overtime, Kapanen finished a feed from Matthews to make it 4-5 and take an early series lead. Game 2 went even longer. In this one, Teravainen scored a last-minute equalizer to force overtime. However, deeper into the second overtime, Matthews converted a power play just over 94 minutes in for a 2-3 loss and a 0-2 series deficit. As the series moved to Toronto, the narrative continued. Another game went to overtime. There was no late dramatic equalizer; Steel made it 2-2 just nine seconds into the third period. However, the Leafs managed to win another overtime when Andreas Johnsson scored 3:13 into the first overtime. The Alliterative B’s were on the brink to Toronto - Toronto! - in the playoffs. They would need to do the highly improbable to move on: win four straight playoff games.

In a crucial Game 4, the game ended in regulation for the first time in the series. Even better, it was won by Boston. Boeser tied up the game at 53:07 and Burns provided a PPG with 29 seconds left on the clock for a 4-3 victory. The B’s had a lifeline. A very thin, easy-to-break lifeline, but a lifeline all the same. The series went back to Boston. A statement was made in Game 5. Forsberg, who has been outstanding in the postseason, scored 28 seconds in and Bishop - who replaced Murray in Game 4 - stopped everything. Boston won 3-0. Presumably, the Toronto fans were beginning to sweat, memes were beginning to form, and whatever EHM’s answer to Steve Dangle was starting to ramp up the worry. Back in Toronto, the B’s put the Leafs to the sword. They out-shot them 45-25. They could not stop the onslaught. The Bruins won 5-2 and forced a Game 7. Yes, Boston came back from 0-3 in the series to make it 3-3. Would EHM follow reality and see the Bruins knock out Toronto?

No. They lost 1-2. While Forsberg opened the scoring, a quick double from Johnsson and Tavares put the Leafs up. Andersen could not be beaten and the Toronto defense kept Boston to just 28 shots. With that, the 60-win Bruins were out with a whimper. Instead of taking down Toronto in an epic and hilarious comeback in the series, they were done. They only won three in a row when they needed four. Alas.

The final playoff tree - without Boston winning it all.
The final playoff tree - without Boston winning it all.

As it turned out, this was kind of Toronto’s year. They did come back to eliminate Tampa Bay in seven games in the first round. They held off Boston stunning them in a seven game series. In the Eastern Conference Finals, Toronto and Pittsburgh traded wins and Hyman broke the deadlock in double overtime in the seventh game to go to the Stanley Cup Finals. However, Edmonton was on a mission. McDavid was just about unstoppable. Toronto provided more resistance than Minnesota, Calgary, and Winnipeg. But they fell to the mighty McDavid, who finished the postseason with 30 points in 20 games (woah).

While they were knocked out, how did the B’s stack up among league scorers in the playoffs?

Leading playoff scorers in the NHL postseason
Leading playoff scorers in the NHL postseason

Not that badly! Forsberg was simply unreal with an average rating of 8.82. His 17 points in 11 games silenced any critics he may have regarding postseason play. Only six players outproduced him and all six went to the Stanley Cup Finals. Had the B’s beaten Toronto and then go on to the Finals, I would like to think Forsberg would be a lock for the Conn Smythe. Alas. Stamkos finishing tied for tenth is also pretty impressive since, again, he played all of eleven games. Teravainen’s 14 points was also in good company, as does his amazing 8.45 average rating. Other B’s on the top-50 list included Steel (11 points, 30th), Tatar (10 points, 34th), Boeser (9 points, 40th), and Burns (8 points, 50th).

The Bruins by playoff points.
The Bruins by playoff points.

It is not really fair to be too unhappy with some of the low amounts of production as the team played in just 11 games. However, you can tell by some of the average ratings that the depth was not as solid as they were in the regular season. Kakko was not that good. Toffoli kind of disappeared. Athanasiou went from providing a decent level of secondary scoring to just one goal and one assist. The fourth liners, well, the less said about them, the better. Kaprizov only put up three assists, but his average rating of 7.27 shows that he was not a jobber out there. I cannot say the same for others. However, the point remains that the team’s playoff success was largely driven by the men at the top of the lineup. As sensational as Forsberg was among others, if he was kept in check, then the B’s were in trouble. And so they were.

One surprising twist was seeing Bishop take back the net from Murray. Murray did struggle a bit in the Toronto series, so I switched to Bishop. He was better right away. Their postseasons ended with Bishop holding a 92.6% save percentage and Murray being just above 90% (90.1%). At least I figured that out and Bishop ended up with more games as he deserved.

The Alliterative Bruins did not go all the way and win the Cup. Had an overtime go their way in the Toronto series, or if they won that seventh game, then it may have been a different story. It is hard to say they failed since the expectation was for them to make the playoffs. But I can understand how you could say they stomped through the season and that would increase expectations if nothing else.

At least there would be some trophies for the players by the end of the campaign. Tatar won the Art Ross by leading the league in points. Did the team win any others?

The Experiment Results: The NHL Awards

Absolutely. There were plenty of B’s among the award finalists:

  • Art Ross Trophy: Tatar (89 points) (runners-up: Forsberg, McDavid)
  • Ted Lindsay Award: Ovechkin (runners-up Tatar, Vasilevskiy)
  • Calder Memorial Trophy: Makar (runners-up: Steel, Q. Hughes)
  • King Clancy Memorial Trophy: Forsberg (runners-up: Ovechkin, Tatar)
  • Lady Byng Memorial Trophy: Teravainen (runners-up: W. Nylander, Forsberg)
  • GM of the Year: Ken Holland (runners-up: Anderson, Dubas)
  • Jack Adams Award: Dave Tippet (runners-up: Boudreau, Keefe)
  • Mark Messier Leadership Award: Stamkos (runners-up: Thornton, Soderberg)
  • Hart Memorial Trophy: Ovechkin (runners-up: Tatar, Forsberg)
  • NHL First All-Star Team: Tatar (others: Vasilevskiy, Letang, Reilly, Ovechkin, MacKinnon)
  • NHL Second All-Star Team: Forsberg, Teravainen (others: Hellebuyck, Makar, Morrissey, Laine)
  • NHL Rookie All-Star Team: Steel, Kaprizov (others: Shestyorkin, Makar, Q. Hughes, Olofsson)

I was pleased to see many members of this team received finalist nominations and some actual wins. I knew Tatar was going to win the Art Ross and Forsberg would get the King Clancy since EHM seems to make that the “Highest Average Rating” award. I was pleased to see Teravainen get the Lady Byng as well as see five Bruins make the three All-Star teams. I did not expect to see Tatar and Forsberg as finalists for the Hart. I think their votes cancelled each other out. Given that Tatar made the First All-Star team and Forsberg did not, I wonder how Forsberg was a finalist over, say, MacKinnon. No matter, it is an honor to be a finalist. As Steel was for the Calder, Boudreau was for the Jack Adams, Tatar was for the Lindsay, and “The Enforcer” was for the GM of the Year. All together, I have no real issues with the awards given out with this team.

Experiment Conclusions

While they did not go and win a Stanley Cup, it is proven that you can put together a 23-man roster of alliterative names that will be a contender in the league. You can do so without needing to resort to the Jack Johnsons and Cody Cecis of the world. You can do so without needing to set aside a massive part of your cap for Mitch Marner. You can do so at least in the world of EHM.

It is arguable that this was not an optimal lineup. I did take acasser’s attempt at it and modified the forwards. It turned out that my switches largely worked. I would have liked Athanasiou to have done a bit more. However, Boeser and Forsberg - especially Forsberg - were awesome players on this team. Marner may be a better player than either one of them in reality and perhaps in EHM too. However, two great players often contribute much more than just one great player. It appears that is what happened with those two in particular. Now, if I had all three, then that would be something even greater on offense. However, that would require cuts elsewhere and the team did put up 330 goals in the season even without Marner. I do doubt whether the improvement there would have led to more gains for the team’s already-great record. Maybe they would have won an overtime period against Toronto? But with cheaper goaltending or defense, maybe they do not even get there.

Still, this shows that such a team can be put together and not stink. I think that is enough to call it a successful experiment.

The Next Experiment?

Thank you again to Ethmal1 for providing the suggestion for this week’s experiment. Thank you again to acasser for putting a roster together that I built on for this experiment.

With actual NHL hockey events coming up soon, we may be near the end of EHM Experiments for the time being. I am not sure at this moment as to what to replace it with on Sundays. But if you have any ideas or suggestions, then now is the time to get them in. Please leave your suggestions in the comments. Also, feel free to share your reaction to this week’s EHM Experiment. Thank you for reading.