Inside the brain of a sim hockey GENIUS

The Associated Press got one of its rookie field reporters seated next to Canucks GM Aaron Sanderson on a flight home from the 2020 BEARD Entry Draft.

After a few glasses of mile-high wine, the enigmatic and normally media-shy manager opened up and shared the opening chapters of his team's story thus far in BEARD Hockey.

"Yeah, I guess it started with seeing an email from Tom in my junk folder. Before I knew it, I was hired. Felt pretty good, until I realized that I had a job again.

Retirement was pretty sweet, but there is just something about this group. I couldn't say no.

The first couple weeks were just getting to know new faces, and catch up with old ones. Guys like Scott (Davidson), Mathias (Lundgren), David (Springay), and Tye (Graczyk) were there, as well as strong managers like Corey (Chernuka) and Dan (Bacon), among many others. It's also been good learning about Josh (Rose), Theo (Pepper), and Trevor (Cook) and so many others. It really is a great group."

Sanderson went on about old times and new friends before straying back into the meat of his BEARD adventure so far.

"Then the new ratings came out, and all of us GM's got a copy and we were privy to what BEARD central scouting thought about the available players for the upcoming Dispersal Draft. I had a look, and started marking players down as "franchise players". You know, the types you would never want to trade.

I had about 60 guys on that list, so I figured once the draft came out, I would likely be able to get two, and maybe three if I was lucky. Now I've got this list, and I figure I want to pick about 30th-32nd in Round 1, and get a quick turnaround on the next pick. I'm just waiting to hear what position I am going to get picked at for round 1, when I start noticing something big, HUGE, and it is changing my feelings completely about where I want to pick.

I end up getting pulled at #19. SERIOUSLY...the middle is nice, and looking back, there were some great players grabbed there. But it just didn't fit with how I saw the draft moving. I had to choose: move down to around the thirties and go with my original plan, or move up. I'm talking WAAAAAAY up, friendly giant style, and go after what I thought was a player that was top-four in the league, but likely to drop a bit.

I was chatting with Bacon from Chicago a lot back then. He was helping me catch up on how things are, and if anything has changed, because I've been out of the game for so long, right? After a bit of that, I realize this guy has his eye on the same stud, and it's got me worried. Even more worrisome is that he managed to swap spots and move up to eighth, which meant I only had a handful of GM's to talk to, knowing I had to get ahead of Bacon.

I spoke with Trevor Cook out of Florida, and it turns out he has Winnipeg roots, which is awesome because I live in Manitoba during the off-season and down times. If you ever have a chance to chat with him, the guy is top-notch and worth getting to know. He tells me he has a few guys he is into, but doesn't see them dropping to his spot at six.

Long story short, Trevor moves me his six for my 18, and I am feeling REALLY good about this. The phone rings, and it's Jay. Not Bouwmeester, the other one that runs the Canes. He is talking about swapping picks, and the guy is really into someone and wants to move up.

So I felt him up, or at least as much as one would want to over the phone, and once I felt confident he was not after the same guy as me, I pulled the trigger and dropped to seven. He moved up to six.

I was thinking 2nd round, that one extra spot might be diamonds in my pocket, and being right beside Bacon, I know is going to really keep me sharp in this draft."

At this point, there was a bit of turbulence mixed in with a much needed pee break, and when we were settled, Sanderson got right into what happened at the draft.

"So my top three, after talking with Theo (CGY), Sean (NYR), and Tyler (TBL), was almost surely to go. I had Draisaitl, McDavid, and Matthews listed as my top players in the draft.

I thought there was little chance of Matthews dropping to seven, but it could happen. I knew McDavid and Draisaitl wouldn't make it there for sure. So we go through the first five picks, and it's McDavid, Draisaitl, Matthews, MacKinnon, and Eichel. And that is almost exactly how I predicted it.

But now I start sweating. Maybe Jay was playing me as a fool, and he wanted the same guy. Then he picked Andrei Svechnikov. SVECHNIKOV! I was relieved. David Pastrnak was my ultimate sleeper pick. Young, economical, and one of the top snipers in the league. You can't just get guys like this at Walmart. I grabbed him with no delay and a damn big smile on my face.

I know this was Bacon's guy as well, but he did well with Elias Petterson behind me.

So I wanted to be dramatic when I made that first pick, and I had four guys written down on paper towels. If Pastrnak went, I had to take somebody else. The other names were Miak Zibanejad, Auston Matthews, and Patrik Laine. All four would've been fine at that spot for me. But I got my guy, my #4 guy at #7. I was thrilled.

So now, my entire draft strategy is altered because of getting Pastrnak. Originally, it was next going to be a goalie, and then a centre or defense. Really build a team that was tough to score on from the start. But now that I had a howitzer, I needed somebody to fill the howitzer with ammo, and give some cover for him.

The best overall centre available at that point in round two, in my mind, is Ryan O'Reilly. He is dominant in the faceoff circle, can play the PP and PK, and once again, is economical for what he is.

Round 3 starts, and one of those franchise type guys is there in Jake Guentzel. He was rated way above O'Reilly for us, but the need for a centre was higher, and Guentzel's FA status was more agreeable contract-wise for us in Round 2.

I tell you, getting sworn at by Dan Bacon is not new for me. But what really got me hard was the sheer emotion behind his anger that he expressed between me naming Guentzel, and him having to scramble and grab Adam Fox. Not a bad choice, considering Fox was who we had at the top of the next round for us. But very few things have felt better in this entire process than that moment.

The rest of the Dispersal was just filling in positions, and trying to get ahead of trends. Goalies were not in favour, nor was anybody over 30, and we found ourselves trying to grab players that could stay on the team. And of course, always being mindful of contract expirations and the cap.

We grabbed a top-ranked goalie for us in Round 4 in Ben Bishop, which used to be unheard of. But we paid for it in a large chunk of salary for him. He has a big role on this team, so we are hoping he shows up the way we know he can.

Round 5 came around, and we got Neal Pionk to start out our defense. The guy was really a great choice for us, and another one of those franchise types.

By the end of the Dispersal, we got the team we really wanted, and then some. I think we have a top-three offense in the league, we can hit on every line, we are versatile, we have a great group of defensemen, and a few of them can move the puck well. We have depth at every single position, and we have two guys in net that can both be counted on as #1 goalies. Add to that the fact we got our top-rated coach at a discount in Rick Bowness, and we are happy where we are.

The farm team needs a bit of work. It was built around pro-team support, with the ability to develop prospects. But we will be tinkering with it for sure going forward."

The flight attendant came by with a final pouring of red, and let us know that we were soon going to be descending. We needed to finish the freshly-poured drinks and belt in again.

"Yeah, so I am happy with the team, big time. I think it can go on the ice tomorrow and compete, every game, right all the way to the Cup.

Then my good buddy Sean from the Rangers puts the word out that he is shopping Jason Zucker. I know this kid, and I also know that our scouting crew had him ready in the Dispersal, but he got scooped before we could get him.

So I talked to Sean, and we came up with something that worked for both of us. He got a couple picks in the Entry Draft, and I got Zucker and some cash. I'll take that deal any day. That move...I know it is hard to lose a first rounder, especially in this very special, very deep year. But it really puts our offence up there as tops in the league. I wouldn't trade it for what anybody else has, and I mean that.

So during the Entry Draft, I was away on other business. But I left head scout (Jim) Benning in charge, and he didn't disappoint.

He got us some VERY good goaltender prospects early in Drew Commesso and Pyotr Kochetkov, and followed it up with studs like Leo Loof, Sam Stange, and Isaak Phillips. It really went well, and I couldn't be happier. We already have other managers asking about the prospects we drafted, so the hard work we did in researching our draft picks is already paying off in spades.

Going forward, I'm just hoping for a good preseason and just a chance to try out our line combos. We already know who is going to play for the pro team, and who will be on the farm. There is absolutely no need to try guys out when they won't be making the big team this season, and I've had that talk with them. They all get it.

After that, it's just going to be me and the crew, watching the games, and seeing what works and what doesn't. And, if there is a way we can improve the team without ruining any gel factor that we have."

With that, GM Aaron Sanderson started fumbling through his stuff, making sure nothing would be left loose as we began our descent into Vancouver International Airport.

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