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L&F Starting Line Up: NHL 97-98 Edition

Welcome back to this week’s edition of The L&F Starting Line Ups series! Every week the co-hosts of the Life & Fantasy Podcast, Spence Plamondon and Kaveh Ghidy will face off against Hot Sauce Blogger Jon Eamon in a battle for your votes and affection! We will be drafting weekly line ups based on a specific criteria that pulls inspiration from sports, pop culture and life in general!

Don’t forget to check out last week’s draft which was the Second Round of our Playoff pool draft! You will also find a quick update on the stats below

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This week we decided to go back in time and draft players out of the 1997-98 NHL season. Why? Not a clue but it felt right so we went with it. I was happy with it because I knew who I was going with in the First Round immediately. However, this week we decided to add a little spin to the draft and implemented a last second condition provided by our main man Spence.

Not only did we have to draft players from the 97-98 season but they had to be 25 years old and under. This presented a small problem for me as my guy was 26, and Kaveh, who had the first overall pick, planned on drafting a 32 year old. Spence being a nice guy conceded one over ager pick, and both Kaveh and I wasted little time in using our over-ager pick!

Without further ado, here is the draft board!

PICK 1 – TEAM KAVEH
Paul Kariya (LW, ANA)
Eric Lindros (C, PHI)
Pavol Demitra (RW, STL)
Roman Hamrlik (D, EDM)
Ed Jovanovski (D, FLA)
Patrick Roy (G, COL)

I was reliving my childhood by making Patrick Roy my first overall pick, getting my over-ager out of the way. Love this guy, the ultimate fighter (literally) in nets with 4 cups under his belt (two are actually kept in his ears). Best goalie to rely on from this era, though I loved me some Hasek growing up too. In the end, Roy was my guy. Didn’t have to think too hard there.

Decided to go with size and skill for my second pick, that’s what you get with Eric Lindros, another great competitor in his prime. At this point he was starting to be hindered by injuries, but still had an absolutely elite skill set that was one of a kind. He was still capable of being arguably the best player in the league at his best.

Paul Kariya is a great speedy winger to help create space for Lindros. Such a cerebral player and so dynamic. Very heavily relied upon at that point, too. I decided to keep with the speed theme on the wings with Pavol Demitra, I always like rooting for the guy. Underrated skill player, never quite got his due. He was right there, putting up about a point per game or better year in, year out in the late 90s/early 00s.

Finished off my draft with two defensemen that are solid defensively and can put up points when need be. Roman Hamrlik was always a decent talent, and at around this time he was actually pretty dominant. Same with Ed Jovanovski – he wasn’t far removed from shutting down Gretzky as a rookie in the playoffs. While his offence wouldn’t hit the 40 point range until he got to Vancouver, he was a great defenseman that could make the right defensive play and help out in the offensive zone.

PICK 2 – TEAM SPENCE
Keith Tkachuk (LW, PHX)
Peter Forsberg (C, COL)
Jaromir Jagr (RW, PIT)
Nicklas Lidstrom (D, DET)
Sandis Ozolinsh (D, COL)
Martin Brodeur (G, NJD)

God, I love doing this assignment every week. These are so much fun. Everyone drafted amazing teams again and I’m thrilled with mine; I don’t think the draft could have fallen better for me.

I actually put a lot of thought into my first pick. Seeing Kaveh go Patty Roy #1 overall, I considered going Marty Brodeur next, but I knew Jon had back to backs after me, and that one of those picks would be his over-ager. I didn’t know who that would be, but for some reason I thought he wanted Hasek. If he went goalie, that would open me up to taking Brodeur whenever, so I decided to roll the dice and go with an under-25 forward.

The thought process for me was, between Jagr and Forsberg, who would Jon want more with his other pick? They were the leading scorers in 97-98, so I thought there was a decent shot at him taking one of them. In this imaginary scenario that proved to have zero basis in reality, I convinced myself Jon was a Forsberg guy like me, so I went Forsberg. Him being my favourite player growing up (and arguably of all time) was a nice bonus.

Once Jon went Bure with his over-ager, my thinking shifted. Would I still get Brodeur? I knew the under-25 goalie pool was shallow, and Marty was far and away the best of the bunch. In the end, Jon went Scott Niedermayer, on his way to establishing the exact D pairing I was dreaming of getting – Niedermayer & Pronger.

Given Kaveh already had a goalie, I knew I could wait for my next pick to take Brodeur, so I sealed the deal and went Jaromir Jagr. Kaveh followed with Lindros-Kariya (WOW). If he hadn’t taken Kariya, I would’ve actually strongly considered him here. I’d probably still have gone Brodeur, but I f*cking loved the idea of a Kariya-Forsberg-Jagr line. Wasn’t meant to be, though, and it worked out better for me this way.

As I perused the list of eligible players I realized my best play was to use my over-ager on a defenceman – there were some solid 25-and-under guys outside of Niedermayer & Pronger, but it wasn’t a deep pool. Once I knew I was doing that, I got excited. I could save my over-age pick for the last round since Kman and Jon already had theirs, and I knew I could get at least ONE really good under-25 D with my second to last pick.

That led me to going with Keith Tkachuk to round out my forward line. I love the idea of Tkachuk-Forsberg-Jagr on a line. They can kill you with skill while dominating physically. I can only imagine how amazing that line would’ve been together. After that, it was time for my first D – Sandis Ozolinsh. I strongly considered going Sergei Gonchar here (I’m a big Gonchar guy) but he just hadn’t become a dominant offensive defenseman at that point. Ozolinsh, on the other hand, was one of the best in the league at that point.

To finish it off, I went through the list of active D that year and while several gave me pause – MacInnis, Stevens, Leetch & Coffey to name a few – none stood out more than Nicklas Lidstrom. Easy choice, and quite possibly my favourite D of all time.

Starting Line Ups

PICK 3 – TEAM JON
Alexei Kovalev (LW, NYR)
Pavel Bure (C, VAN)
Jarome Iginla (RW, CAL)
Scott Niedermayer (D, NJD)
Chris Pronger (D, STL)
Jocelyn Thibault (G, MTL)

I was going Bure First Round no matter what and if one of the other two drafted him, I would have gone full Mike Ditka and traded my entire draft board for him. Bure is, in my opinion, the greatest player in NHL history to succeed despite the team around him. If you wish to argue with me I would like to refer you to the 2000-01 Florida Panthers’ team stats page and I await your apology. Of course that was in the latter stages on his career, with Vancouver Bure had 2 60 goal & 100 point seasons by the 1997-98 season.

With Bure up front I knew I could surround him with anyone so I focused my next two picks on building the dream pairing on the backend. Niedermayer and Pronger formed one of the best pairings I’ve ever seen play in my lifetime and I had the opportunity to get them in their early 20’s?! Yup, I’ll take that! Not to mention that in the 1997-98 the two were voted as the 2nd Team All Star Defense pairing and both finished top 5 in voting for the Norris (5th and 3rd respectively).

I found myself at a cross road with my 4th pick. I was torn between Kovy and Tkachuk, ultimately I went with Kovy for three reasons. First, his hands and play making would be incredible next to fellow countryman Bure. Second, I was worried that he would not make it back to me with two fellow Habs fans having two picks each. Finally, the Pronger pick gave me the sand paper I wanted on the backend, and while Tkachuk would’ve been the perfect partner in crime on the front end, another name caught my eye that I hoped would fly under the radar.

And he did.

After Spence dropped the dagger on me again, I went with Plan B, Jarome Iginla. The youngest player in our draft, the 97-98 was a rough year for him, but how could you not imagine him dominating with these line mates in that era of hockey? He is not as fast as Bure (who is?) but he is fast enough to get to the slot by the time Bure hits the bottom of the circles and that’s all you need. I also love the ensemble of talent on the front end with Iggy the power forward, Kovy the playmaker and Bure the Russian Rocket.

The depth of talent at the goalie position heavily drops off after Brodeur, and not just because he’s Marty f***ing Brodeur. I considered Thibault, Khabibulin or going real ballsy and taking Jim Carey. The Habs factor eventually won out, not to mention that Thibault was a top 10 pick in his draft year. If I were going to make a pick based on the hypothetical theory that one of these three would play better behind this line up rather than their respective real teams, I’ll take Jocelyn!

Be sure to let us know who’s team you think is the best, as well as what roster combination you would create using only players from the 1997-98 NHL season! Be sure to tune in next week where we will be continuing our Playoff Pool by making our picks for the Conference Finals. I guess this would be a good time to shout out the Habs for being the first team to make it to the Conference Final round!

As always don’t forget to check out the rest of the Hot Sauce Family and check out our Youtube channel for all our podcasts and videos! In the latest episode of the L&F Podcast the boys discuss the Habs’ First and Second round matchups while also touching on all of their Fantasy Pools that they are in!

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