SIDNEY CROSBY andAlexander Ovechkin may be franchise players, but the new stars of thesalary-capped NHL are the franchise makers--general managers. "[Success]comes down to how we spend money," says Detroit Red Wings G.M. Ken Holland."You have to think short-term moves, long-term moves. There's almost nomargin for error."
This is SI's shotat playing G.M. The goal: Build the best possible team while staying under thisseason's $44 million cap. Some rules to live by: Indulge in an unstoppablefirst line. Load up on scoring prowess. Put a premium on playoff track record(Colorado's Joe Sakic), value toughness (Calgary's Jarome Iginla and DionPhaneuf), relish role players (the Rangers' Petr Prucha) and save on defense.As tempting as it is to spend on Anaheim's fabulous defenseman ScottNiedermayer--$6.75 million--remember that recent Stanley Cup winners Tampa Bayand Carolina were without an elite blueliner.
CAP COSTcorresponds to each player's 2006--07 cap number, which is based on hiscontract's average salary plus bonuses and potential bonuses. (For example,Ovechkin's cap number of $3.83 million includes $2.85 million inbonuses.)
SI'S 23-MAN ROSTER
ALEXANDER OVECHKIN | LW | WASHINGTON
With super talent to work with on this dynamite No. 1 line, he should morphfrom a one-on-one magician, which he was last season with the Capitals, into agive-and-go genius.
JOE SAKIC | C | COLORADO
A tough choice over San Jose's Joe Thornton. Sakic, 37, has a quick-releasewrist shot, a Mensa-level hockey IQ and the superb leadership that makes him aneasy pick to be the captain of this team.
JAROME IGINLA | RW | CALGARY
Slimmed down (the 6'1" vet shed six pounds to get to 204) and free of theshackles applied by Flames coach Darryl Sutter, he can revive the superbchemistry he had with Sakic in the Olympics.
HENRIK ZETTERBERG | LW | DETROIT
With his speed, skill and excellent hands (though minus the physical play),he's a poor G.M.'s Peter Forsberg. Indeed, Zetterberg costs $3.1 million lessthan Forsberg would have.
SIDNEY CROSBY | C | PITTSBURGH
Stronger and quicker than he was as a rookie sensation last year, Sid the Kidis a better passer than Carolina's gifted Eric Staal, whose Stanley Cup bonafides nearly won him a spot.
NATHAN HORTON | RW | FLORIDA
Now that he is fully recovered from a torn rotator cuff, the 6'2",201-pound power winger, who was the No. 3 pick in the 2003 draft, should reacha career-high 35 goals.
RAFFI TORRES | LW | EDMONTON
Rangy and rugged, at 6 feet, 216 pounds he combined with Michael Peca andFernando Pisani to make the Oilers' nominal third line their best during the2005--06 playoff run to the finals.
MIKE FISHER | C | OTTAWA
The diligent Selke Trophy finalist, who was plus-23 last season with enoughoffensive polish to score 22 goals, is the ideal third-line center. Think Pecawithout the reputation or the contract.
STEVE BERNIER | RW | SAN JOSE
Bernier's numbers--the 6'2", 230-pound power forward scored 14 goals in 39games after being called up from the AHL last season--scream breakout year. Hebrings high energy to an energy line.
DUSTIN PENNER | LW | ANAHEIM
A late bloomer who was discovered by the University of Maine while attending ajunior college in North Dakota, he combines hulking size (6'4", 245) withthe touch of a classical pianist.
SAMI PAHLSSON | C | ANAHEIM
Finally crept into double digits with 11 goals last year, but he's needed forwhat he does best: hard work in his own end, forechecking like a dervish andwinning face-offs (52.8% last season).
JASON POMINVILLE | RW | BUFFALO
Scored 18 regular-season goals as a rookie last season despite averaging only14 minutes per game, then added five goals (and 10 points) in 18 playoffmatches for the balanced Sabres.
STEVE STAIOS | EDMONTON
Good in the locker room and good in the community, he has become, at 33, themodel of reliability in his defensive coverage (plus-10 in '05--06) and canplay on the second power-play unit.
DION PHANEUF | CALGARY
Last year's other breakout rookie seems ready for top-pairing andpenalty-killing responsibilities. Equally impressive: his rocket shot from thepoint (20 goals) and his seismic checks.
ROBYN REGEHR | CALGARY
Unlike other physical defensemen who were stymied when the NHL clamped down onobstruction, this big hitter flourished with solid positioning andquicker-than-you-think feet.
MIKE COMMODORE | CAROLINA
Not quite Kristi Yamaguchi out there, but he's steady and passes well out ofhis zone. It's no accident that he--and his flaming orange playoff 'do--haveplayed into mid-June the last two seasons.
KEITH BALLARD | PHOENIX
The 23-year-old plays special teams, blocks shots and--though merely acruiserweight at 5'11", 208 pounds--fights, eliminating the need for aone-dimensional, payroll-sapping enforcer.
BARRET JACKMAN | ST. LOUIS
The '03--04 Calder Trophy winner is feisty (156 penalty minutes last season)and was well-schooled in the all-around game by former All-Star teammates ChrisPronger and Al MacInnis.
MIIKKA KIPRUSOFF | CALGARY
Fundamentally solid, and cheaper than New Jersey's Martin Brodeur ($5.2million), he led the NHL in goals-against average (2.07) and shutouts (10). Heholds up well in the postseason too.
CAM WARD | CAROLINA
A Conn Smythe Trophy winner as a backup? Absolutely. Before leading Carolina tothe Cup last season, the unflappable Ward had been Martin Gerber's understudyfor most of '05--06.
ANTOINE VERMETTE | C | OTTAWA
His six shorthanded goals in '05--06 ranked second in the NHL, he was durableenough to appear in all 82 games, and he scored 21 goals despite averaging just12:34 of ice time.
PETR PRUCHA | RW | NEW YORK RANGERS
The slender (6 feet, 170 pounds) power-play specialist, drafted No. 240 in2002, burst into the NHL last season with 30 goals--16 on the man-advantage.He's an option in shootouts (two for five).
FRANCOIS BEAUCHEMIN | D | ANAHEIM
The former Blue Jacket was a revelation after his trade to the Ducks early lastseason, playing key minutes with Scott Niedermayer and potting eight goals. Headded three more in the playoffs.
Team Total $43,590,299
A players' coach, he gets the most out of his team's talent and easily adaptshis approach to a team's strengths. Bonus: He has a good sense of humortoo.
The 6'3" 500-pounder can rappel from the arena rafters and drive an ATV onice. And he isn't afraid to mix it up: He once grappled (for real) with formerNHL bad boy Theo Fleury.
BILL MCCREARY (above) and DON VAN MASSENHOVEN
McCreary's judgment sets the NHL standard; Van Massenhoven, right oroccasionally wrong, really knows how to sell a call.
XCEL ENERGY CENTER
A superb six-year-old venue with good ice. The knowledgeable (and patient)Minnesota fans would love this team.
JIM HUGHSON,play-by-play (above), and JIM FOX, analyst. Hughson is lyrical and informed onCBC's Hockey Night in Canada. Fox, opinionated and sharp, breaks down games forKings fans.
Don't like SI's choices? Think you can build a bettersquad? Send your quibbles, as well as your nominations for the best team $44million can buy to SI.com/ultimateteam.
TWENTY EIGHT PHOTOS
DAVID E. KLUTHO (8); LOU CAPOZZOLA (7); G. BARTRAM/WIREIMAGE.COM; MARK KONEZNY/WIREIMAGE.COM; DAVID SHERMAN/GETTY IMAGES; PHILLIP MACCALLUM/GETTY IMAGES; ELSA/GETTY IMAGES; BILL WIPPERT; BRUCE BENNETT/GETTY IMAGES; SHELLY CASTELLANO/ICON SMI; TIMOTHY HEITMAN/WIREIMAGE.COM; JEFF MCINTOSH/AP; CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES; BRUCE KLUCKHOHN; COURTESY OF CBC