The Ultimate ‘NHL 13′ Xbox Experiment

The NHL may be mired in a work stoppage, but people in Canada still want to talk about hockey, so here’s a potential topic of discussion: If each province had its own all-star team comprised solely of homegrown players, and those teams played against one another in an inter-Provincial Hockey Championship, which province would win?

To answer this question, I used the database at quanthockey.com to research the birth province for every active Canadian player in the NHL. Once I had that information, I assembled seven all-star teams: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and one for Atlantic Canada (click each team for their roster). To make this experiment more interesting, I also assembled two all-star teams from the United States: one comprised of players born in the American Midwest, and another from the American Northeast.

Next, I used EA Sports’ NHL 13 to create an avatar version of each team. Since nine is an imperfect number of teams for a tournament, I copied the structure of the Swiss National League A, which features twelve teams in a 50-game regular season, then selects the top eight for the playoffs. The playoff format is best of seven. Acting as doormats, I added three unlucky Swiss teams into the league to fill out the schedule.

With this structure in place, I simulated fifty seasons. Here are the results:

As you can see, Ontario was utterly dominant. In fact, their dominance made the tournament a bit dull. To make the tournament more competitive, and therefore interesting, I decided to reduce the number of teams to six. By taking the best players from British Columbia and combining them with the best players from Alberta, I created a super team to compete with Ontario. Let’s call them The Canadian Rockies. Similarly, if you were to amalgamate Manitoba and Saskatchewan to build a super team called The Prairies, they might be a contender. And finally, if you took the handful of elite players from Atlantic Canada and added them to the team from Quebec, you would have a damn strong team, which I refer to as Fleuve Saint Laurent. (Again, click each name for their roster.)

Because I lead a small and boring life, I programmed these new super teams into NHL 13, created a new league with three additional Swiss doormat squads, packed my bong and simulated another fifty seasons. Here are the results:

There are few things in the world that I would rather see than this tournament. I might even enjoy it more than the Stanley Cup Playoffs because, well, I’m a Canucks fan, and the Canucks never win the Stanley Cup.

I suspect that I am not alone. Hockey enthusiasts across Canada would love watching players from their respective region compete for national supremacy. If last year’s World Junior Hockey Championship dominated the TV ratings and broke attendance records in host cities Calgary and Edmonton, and if 6.1 million — nearly 1 in 5 — Canadians watched 2011′s Canada-Russia World Junior final on TSN,  what kind of crowd would an Ontario vs. Quebec matchup draw?

Ideally, this tournament would be held during the NHL preseason, like the Canada Cup was in the ’70s and ’80s. Any player who was skilled enough to get selected to play for their region wouldn’t need to worry about earning a roster spot on their respective NHL team, so their absence from training camp and preseason games would be irrelevant. Since it would be a TV ratings bonanza in Canada, the league could convince the players to participate in the tournament by putting a share of the TV revenue into the player pension plan. Frankly, I can’t think of a better way to herald the arrival of an NHL season.

Of course, this tournament will never happen because Gary Bettman is bad at his job. We’ll never truly know which team would be crowned champion (The Canadian Rockies would win, obviously — look at that defense). However, it is something to talk about until the NHL players go back to work.

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Samuel Kirz received an MA in Creative Writing from City University London. He writes nonfiction on the topics of sport, culture and Canada; his fiction is about sex. To contact Sam, send mail to samuelkirz@gmail.com.

Thanks to Tim Westlake, Matthew Kerr and Douglas Haddow for helping assemble the teams and simulate the seasons.