For NHL GM's the real challenge is, and always will be, getting your money's worth (or more) for your team.
The complex problem they face is this - who do you pay a 'premium' salary and who gets the 'average' salary?
Since Pascal Dupuis is a common target on the Penguins Hockeybuzz forum...I'll use him as an example. For this comparison I will use simple statistics from the regular season.
For at least a couple of years Pascal was producing way above his salary grade. His 1.5M salary (annually) in 11-12 and 12-13...when he produced 97 points in 130 games (.75 p/g - 45 goals and 52 assists) is proof of this. During that same time the Penguins employed Jordan Staal at a cost of 4M annually. Staal served a slightly different role with the Penguins than Dupuis (wing versus center)...but both were very important members of the team - mainly due to their versatility. Staal scored 81 points in 110 games (.74 p/g - 35 goals and 46 assists) - he missed 20 games in 12-13 due to injury.
After that season, both players got a bump in pay because of FA. Dupuis to 3.75M as a Penguin and Staal to 6M as a member of the Hurricanes.
Clearly, Staal being a younger player, and showing potential to improve, got a pay raise based on the idea that his .74 NHL points per game (over those two seasons) was something he could maintain, if not improve upon.
Dupuis got an increase that was more in line with what a 1st or 2nd line winger would earn, since that was essentially what his role had become and his production had shown.
Last year, under their new contracts, both players fared as follows:
Staal 40 points in 82 games (15g 25 a) - .49 p/g
Dupuis 20 points in 39 games (7g 13a) - .51 p/g - injured about halfway thru the season.
I realize this is a small sample size...but it does illustrate the predicament GM's face when trying to ascertain who is worth what. When paying a premium is really worth it.
Part of that problem is in determining what 'average' is worth...but as premium prices go up, averages follow.
A lot of people will argue Pascal Dupuis is average.
In some ways...it's tough to disagree with that.
I won't even go into the long debate about how his numbers are inflated because he plays with Crosby...because for a good portion of 11-12, 12-13 he did not play with Sid. I'll just say Pascal has found a way to produce while in the Penguins line-up. Other guys with seemingly more talent have not been able to do the same. Pascal has earned his money as a Penguin.
What we can...maybe...sort of...agree on (and the larger sample size numbers might bear this out)...a forward that scores (again, using simple stats) about .5 points per NHL game, is probably worth in the 3-4M dollar range in today's NHL.
As long as that player maintains or hopefully exceeds that expected productivity for a particular team, he is worth the investment.
So even though we might agree that Jordan Staal is closer to a premium player than an average player (I like Jordan and would tend to agree with this), his 6M contract looks mighty large at .5 NHL points per game.
I mentioned all of this for a couple of reasons...
First, I get the idea of not paying premium for average. The problem is that the expected return from a premium investment can become average in a hurry. And, as mentioned, as the premium prices go up, so does the average.
The second problem is even bigger...there are, by definition, a lot more average players and also then, a lot more chances to overpay for average. Add in the free agent dynamic, which allows for supply and demand to have an affect, and there is no way to avoid the problem entirely.
This brings me to my final point...
Lots of talk here about the Nick Spalling contract and the 2.2M figure that some people think is overpayment.
I am pretty sure at least a decent number of people thought Carolina overpaid for Staal at 6M. But even so, I'll bet most of them still see an upside to Staal and the real potential that he will eventually earn that money.
Spalling at 2.2M to be a 3rd/4th line player might end up being a little pricey...but I have to believe...as others have mentioned...management sees him as a potential Dupuis replacement.
I can't predict if that will happen, but if it did, and Spalling played the next two years at 2.2M per year and produced .5 NHL points per game, then I think he would be worth more than his pay.
If not, then the risk the team took is still rather small (.5-1M) in terms of the overall team cap situation.
Clearly, the risk in paying Malkin, Crosby and Letang 25M is much, much higher. Just like the risk in Carolina to Pay the Staals 15M for...well...just above average to this point, is much higher.
And for every one of those guys that signs at 6M or higher, you have at least 5 other 'average' guys and their agents waiting for those premium guys to play 'average' so their agents can further justify a higher base pay.