Among the many changes to the NHL after the lockout of 2005-06, none have had the impact of the implementation of a salary cap. As in any professional sport, some teams dole out their money more wisely than others. This season, those extremes are best embodied by the Carolina Hurricanes and St. Louis Blues.
NHL teams operate under a hard salary cap, meaning they are not permitted to devoted more than a set amount to roster salaries. Perhaps more importantly, there is also a salary floor, which requires each team to spend a certain amount of money every year to field a team. The more a team spends above the floor is significant since each dollar represents additional resources aimed at increasing their chance at winning a championship.
The Hurricanes, according to CapGeek.com, have committed more than $64 million to their NHL roster, including forwards Eric Staal ($8.3 million) and Alexander Semin ($7 million) along with netminder Cam Ward ($6.3 million). However, they sit well outside the playoff picture with a 30-30-9 record and, according to Las Vegas bookmakers, have less than a 1 percent chance at raising Lord Stanley’s Cup. In other words, the $20 million the Hurricanes spent above the cap floor barely edged them closer to their ultimate goal. In fact, based on their current spending and money management, they would have to commit $4 billion over the cap floor to guarantee a 100 percent chance at a championship.
That strictly theoretical number illustrates just how inefficient their spending has been this year and is perhaps a harbinger of things to come. They are not alone. The Winnipeg Jets have similar resources allocated with a comparable return on investment.
The Blues, on the other hand, are among the league’s most efficient spenders. Despite committing more than $17 million to blue-liners Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, they have bargains among their forwards with David Backes ($4.5 million), T.J. Oshie ($4.2 million) and Patrik Berglund ($3.3 million). So despite committing virtually the same cap dollars as Carolina, the Blues will likely win the Presidents’ Trophy for tallying the most points in the league and are currently bookmakers’ favorite to win the Cup, with implied odds of 17 percent. If St. Louis was to “buy” a championship based on their spending efficiency, it would “cost” them just $120 million — just 3 percent of what the Hurricanes would require.
There are still games to be played, and a whole postseason ahead, but the Blues are positioned to succeed not only this year but for the immediate future as well. Doug Armstrong, the general manager of the Blues, won the NHL’s General Manager of the Year Award for his stewardship in 2010-11. Perhaps he should win one again.