In light of the economic "catastrophe" taking place I thought I'd take a look at which NHL clubs have put their eggs in the most profitable baskets.
In the pre-cap era NHL GM's needed to ensure that their payroll reflected the success of their team. For instance, the turn-of-the-century Rangers were a woefully overpaid under-achieving squad, routinely finishing in the bottom 10 of league-wide standings but maintaining a payroll in the top five. The Leafs have also had a few stretches wherein the scale of their achievements failed to match that of the cheques being doled out by MLSE. Nowadays, the existence of a cap system replete with a ceiling and a floor pretty well negates the possibility of one team vastly outspending another. Still, I thought it might be interesting to take a peek at which teams are really getting some bang for their buck and which teams are seeing a GMC-esque return on their offseason investments. (Too soon?)
I won't bore you with the fine details but I've used numbers from Cap Central over at Hockeybuzz and compared them with the standings thus far to see who can sell high and who needs to get a new broker. For the record I used the players' actual salaries, rather than average salaries which determine their cap hit, because the cap hit is not an accurate representation of the team's true payroll. Furthermore, we are only 20% of the way through the season so feel free to divide the following figures by 5 in order to get a rough estimation of what each standing point will cost each time by season's end.
And now, without further ado, the (poorly formatted) results by order of current league standings:
San Jose - $2,072,756 per point (!)
NY Rangers - $2,722,900 per point
Detroit - $2,782,500 per point
Boston - $2,714,122 per point
Buffalo - $2,761,352 per point
Anaheim - $2,865,964 per point
Montreal - $2,983,314 per point
Pittsburgh - $2,798,025 per point
Vancouver - $2,715,509 per point
Carolina - $2,734,259 per point
Minnesota - $3,170,810 per point
Chicago - $2,918,845 per point
Calgary - $3,394,117 per point
Washington - $3,416,510 per point
New Jersey - $3,370,952 per point
Columbus - $3,169,062 per point
Toronto - $3,043,333 per point
Edmonton - $3,505,158 per point
Phoenix - $3,024,642 per point
Tampa Bay - $3,532,440 per point
Ottawa - $4,231,278 per point (!)
Atlanta - $3,243,154 per point
Nashville - $3,556,946 per point
Los Angeles - $3,469,375 per point
Colorado - $4,267,083 per point
Dallas - $4,042,083 per point
St. Louis - $4,516,969 per point
Philadelphia - $5,289,545 per point (!)
Florida - $4,714,772 per point
NY Islanders - $4,321,150 per point
(I sure know how to procrastinate!!)
Not surprisingly the worst offenders are near the bottom and the best are near the top. A few do stand out though and I'd like to touch on them briefly.
Ottawa - The Sens are are a notable bear on this list, spending $4,231,278 per point. Blame their poor showing on being 21st overall in the standings with the 2nd highest payroll in the league. With a top heavy forward complement, a defense corps that has lost Chara, Redden and Meszaros over the past few offseasons, and a palpable lack of reliable goaltending this team has been underwhelming at best. Leaf fans can chuckle from afar but if Murray can pull the trigger on some moves the Sens could quickly climb back up and contend for the Northeast title. Big hole to climb out of though... think Nortel.
Philadelphia - Another fabulous flop in the Eastern conference. The Flyers are the only team in the league spending over 5 million per point at $5,289,545. I haven't seen many of their games this year but you can safely attribute their struggles to some very irresponsible play in their own zone. Only Gagne, Vaananen and Alberts have positive ratings with +3, +2 and +1 respectively. A team GAA of 3.54 and a SV% just north of 88% belies their surprising lack of goaltending as Biron has proven himself to be a more or less reliable keeper since his days as a Sabre. Blame their bloated payroll on a very top heavy forward contingent (26.7 million for 5 players) and their poor showing from a stingy but unproductive defense corps (3 goals from the whole group!). Look for them to improve but you're probably safer investing in commodities.
San Jose - The Sharks have had a torrid start to the season, shaking off last season's lacklustre early-season performance with authority. Unlike the rosters of Philly and Ottawa, the Sharks are receiving production from all aspects of their lineup. At less than 3 mil for the pair, Setoguchi and Clowe have chipped in 16 goals and 28 points thus far while the big names are producing exactly as one would expect. A much improved, if expensive, blue line has been solid with the top 4 of Boyle, Ehrhoff, Blake and Vlasic all on pace for 40+ points! A phenomenal contribution from the back end to be sure. Consequently, the Sharks have paid just over 2 million per point thus far, a convincing $650,000 less than the next stingiest, Boston Bruins.
Boston - There's a bit of a logjam after San Jose but the Bruins stand out spending 2,714,122 per point. Their reasonably priced blue-liners haven't put up many points but boast an impressive +/- (+25 for the group as a whole) thanks in part to the white hot Tim Thomas (Sell high!!!). The forwards have been solid with 8 of them on pace for 50-60 point seasons, including Savard on pace for 90+. All 8 players come in at a neat and manageable average of 3 million per player. Don't expect the goaltending to keep putting up goose-eggs but do expect this well-rounded and defensively responsible club to challenge for the Northeast and make noise in the postseason.
Yeah, I have to talk about them. The Leafs are right around the middle having spent 3,043,333 per point up to this juncture. Don't look now but five Leafs are on pace for 60+ points in a season where few expected anyone other than Antropov to break that number. These five are also a very frugal bunch coming in at 1.95 million per head. The defense is doing reasonably well as Van Ryn, Kabby and Kubina are both on pace for 50+ on the season. We all know that these guys didn't exactly come out of the bargain bin but Kaberle is earning a modest $4.25 million per season. (This is offset by Blake making 4 million while contributing via ill-timed penalties, ill-advised shots and an innate ability to give the puck away.) Van Ryn won't get to that 50 point mark now that he's sidelined but it looks like he can be counted on for a point every 2 games. With about 7 million in cap room this team has a big enough gap for a marquee player but no marquee player to put in it. Look for them to be aggressive on the UFA market as even more payroll will be shed at the trade deadline and when some of their own UFAs and RFAs take a walk on July 1st. However, do hope that they don't make the same mistakes as Ottawa and Philly, which I will mention shortly.
Still with me? Wow! The Sens and Flyers have shown that top-heavy lineups cannot compete in the post-cap era. (Honestly, who thought paying Kimmo Timonen 6.3 million was a good idea??) It leaves little flexibility to shore up areas of concern (Goaltending in Ottawa, Defense in Philly) up-and-coming players get squeezed out of minutes or right off the roster in order to compensate for the big ticket players. Boston and San Jose have taken the strength in numbers approach. There are certainly some blue-chip stocks on these squads but they are not exorbitantly priced and every player north of the 5 million mark is paying dividends. Furthermore, they are both getting some meaningful production from some very reasonably priced skaters like Kessel, Lucic, Setoguchi and Clowe.
The conclusion seems obvious but apparently it isn't to some GMs out there. A roster needs to be well-rounded in all aspects and absolutely must have depth. Money can be spent on the occasional marquee player but if there is no supporting cast the money spent on a Heatley or a Briere will not have the same effect that it would if spent on 2 to 3 cheaper but collectively more productive players. Again, it's "hit-me-on the-forehead-with-a-brick" obvious but GM's continue to overpay for players who make very little impact, leaving very little room to correct the glaring deficiencies of their club.