Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How Much Are The Teams With The Largest Salary Commitments Actually Spending? (Or State Of Contracts In The NHL, Part 2B)

Fancy stats guru Eric T. tweeted to DrivingPlay after my State Of NHL Contracts Part 2 was posted, asking thus:

"So it matters whether you look at % of spend or % of cap, then, I guess? You'll find same % of spend, but lower % of cap?"

Decoding this question out of Twitter pidgin, he essentially asked - are teams spending as much money (proportionally) as they did in my comparison year (08-09)? And the answer is: Yes. They're actually spending more, at least the top teams are. Sussing out this sort of information is time-consuming, so rather than looking at the entire NHL, I took the top 12 teams in terms of cap hits (according to from this year and from 2008-09. I then looked at the total salary they paid out, counting all one-way contracts¹, and counting all call-ups proportionally to the time they were called up. Most of these were estimates based on me wanting to get through this data collection as fast as possible, so these numbers could be off by a tiny amount.

I'll spare you the individual details, but it suffices to say that the top teams are spending more, proportionally to the cap, than they did in 2008-09, while their cap spending has gone down (relative to the cap). Here's an average of the top 12 teams' actual spending as well as their total cap hits.

YearTotal Paid Salary% Of CapTotal Cap Hits% Of Cap

It's clear, then, that among top teams, salaries have continued to rise even faster than the cap. We can see that cap hits and cap payments used to be pretty much equal, but now one has far outstripped the other. Part of that is a function of the fact that these severely front-loaded contracts are new to the NHL; I imagine there will be some settling. On the flip side, one also imagines that salaries among bottom teams would show a similar fall - as teams like the Islanders struggle to make a profit even with their team parked right at the salary floor, they are using players with significant bonuses and backloading contracts to get around paying the full $49M that is this year's salary floor.

It's also clear that something in this system has to change if the NHL wants to maintain that the salary cap increases parity, because as it is now, the top teams are all spending well over the cap in total salaries each year, and I don't see why this would change in the future.

¹ Data on one-way contracts was incomplete from 2008-09


  1. So putting this in context of the other two posts...

    The top contracts are a smaller percentage of the cap than they used to be.

    RFA forward contracts are a smaller percentage of the cap than they used to be.

    Overall spend is pretty close to what it used to be.

    I'm back to suspecting that the average-plus guys are getting a larger share than they used to.

  2. I'm not convinced. Like I noted, the top 12 teams are spending less, compared to the cap, as they did 4 years ago. Just thinking about free agent signings around that time, I don't see that explanation as particularly likely. They might be getting slightly more, but I doubt they're getting substantially more.

  3. In addition, I bet there is less money spent this year relative to the cap than there was in 2008-09. Those numbers I can crunch pretty easily .