by PuckStopsHere on 12/09/08 at 05:01 PM ET
There was an interesting comment in the if only they had goaltending post where I argued that the Detroit Red Wings have been let down by their goaltending and would really benefit by better goaltending - which may have to be acquired via trade. A commenter JH says:
I’m curious why you think Detroit is currently on pace to have its best season, points-wise, since the “looser” point was established, with 56 wins? Is their goalie really holding them back?
It is an interesting comment despite the fact it is not factually true. Since the shootout was instituted and every game had a winner, the most wins in a season was the Detroit Red Wings in 2005/06 who had 58 wins. Currently this season, the San Jose Sharks are on pace for 67 wins, Boston Bruins 58 wins and the Detroit Red Wings 57 wins. Although one must be cautioned that those are win projections, as opposed to actual win totals, it is interesting that three different teams are on pace to have some of the best seasons we have seen since the lockout. Wasn’t the salary cap supposed to usher in parity to the league? Why isn’t that happening?
In all three cases, these teams have several players who are exceeding their salary and very few players who are not. This is critical in a salary capped league. It is critical to get value for your signings. It appears that the better run teams are learning how to succeed under a salary cap and are getting better at it as time passes.
In San Jose, Devin Setoguchi, Ryane Clowe and Joe Pavelski are all contributing offensively despite relatively low salaries. None of those three make $2 million per year and all of them have at least 23 points, with Setoguchi leading the way with 30 points. Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been one of the better defencemen in the NHL with only a $1.1 million salary. Their highly paid players Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle and Evgeni Nabokov are all playing well. Doug Wilson, the San Jose GM, has done a very good job of getting value for his money. It will be interesting to see how he can continue in that vein when some of his underpaid stars need new contracts.
The Boston Bruins also have several forwards who are outplaying their contracts. This group includes Phil Kessel, David Krejci and Milan Lucic. On defence, Dennis Wideman and Matt Hunwick are clear examples of players providing more value than their contracts. The biggest value in Boston is goaltender Tim Thomas, who is the Vezina frontrunner, who is making only $1.1 million a year. Their higher paid stars in Marc Savard and Zdeno Chara are earning their money as well. It will be interesting to see if GM Peter Chiarelli can keep this team at the top when Tim Thomas becomes a free agent this summer. Can Boston continue to win without a huge value in goal?
Detroit also has several forwards who are exceeding their contract value. This list includes Jiri Hudler, Mikael Sameulsson and Johan Franzen. They also have several stars signed to bigger contracts including Marian Hossa, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. Ken Holland has built a very good team. Like the other teams on this list, free agency may break them up. Zetterberg, Hossa and Franzen are all free agents this summer.
It is clear that in order to be a very successful team in the salary capped environment you must have several players who exceed their contract value. You must have star players who are giving good value for their contracts. That allows a team a one or two year run before they must re-sign a significant number of the players who exceeded their contract value to a larger deal and have to rework their salary structure. It is very hard to keep a good team together for a run of a few years. In order to do that, it is necessary to restock your team with new talent who will exceed their contract value.
The salary cap was supposed to bring parity to the NHL. In many ways it has succeeded so far. The best run teams have learned how to build very good teams in the salary capped environment. Three teams are currently on pace to have about as many wins as anyone has since the salary cap began (being on pace is different from actually achieving it - I bet at least one of these teams falls short). This shows that the best run teams are learning how to operate very well in a salary capped environment. The problem is that each of these teams will soon have to be broken up for salary cap reasons. I would like to see how any would do in a several year run. We could see some very good hockey between these teams in the next few years if they are able to keep up this level of play.
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