Silver Nuggets: The Money Myth, Part 1

If Senators fans manage their personal finances like they want the team to manage its own, they probably have nothing saved up.

When the NHL's salary cap went down thanks to its pointless lockout, the Ottawa Senators found themselves in an advantageous position. With no need for amnesty buyouts and a solid core of young talent, at one point, the major concern was whether or not the team would reach the cap floor, and not its ceiling. While other teams were forced to do some serious financial juggling, the Senators found themselves with nearly $10M in room.

There was just one problem: They couldn't spend it.

As has been well-documented, the Senators are operating on an internal salary cap, which means that they didn't find themselves in this advantageous situation by design, but by necessity. And that also means they are not in position to capitalize on the advantage they find themselves with. This simple fact has become the lightning rod for the ire among a specific group of fans.

"If the Senators would just spend more," they cry. "They wouldn't be having this nightmare season! Open the chequebook and the wins will flow like puppies and cheesecake!"

There's just one problem with that mentality: It's not true.

See, as much as we want to believe it, there's no direct correlation between spending money and success. It's easy to believe there is--after all, talent wins games, talent costs money, and the more money you spend, the more talent you have. Therefore, the more success you'll have, too.

If there's a direct correlation between spending and winning, then the team with the highest payroll should win the Stanley Cup each year. Of course, you already know that's not true, so let's broaden our scope of success just a little. Does a higher payroll directly correlate to more wins? If it does, we should see a correlation between final standings and payroll. Excluding the 2013 season, which was shortened by a pointless lockout, and therefore might be bad data, here's what the last full season looked like.

Division Leader Spending Overall Spending Conference
New York Rangers 10th 7th
Boston Bruins 8th 5th
Florida Panthers 21st 12th
St. Louis Blues 23rd 12th
Vancouver Canucks 3rd 1st
Phoenix Coyotes 22nd 11th

Whoops. Not much bang for your buck there. In fact, we don't really see any consistent distribution among spending and overall standings. In the Eastern Conference, the majority of playoff teams came from the top eight payrolls, while in the Western Conference, there was an even mix of top-eight and bottom eight. The Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks did not win their division and were dead in the middle of the pack for spending--7th in their conference, 17th in the NHL.

East Payroll Playoffs? West Payroll Playoffs?
1 Philadelphia Flyers $66,934,130.00 No Vancouver Canucks $64,946,644.00 Yes
2 Washington Capitals $66,356,277.00 Yes Calgary Flames $64,249,090.00 No
3 Buffalo Sabres $65,360,369.00 No Los Angeles Kings $63,671,201.00 Yes
4 Pittsburgh Penguins $64,217,311.00 Yes San Jose Sharks $61,423,233.00 Yes
5 Boston Bruins $62,166,571.00 Yes Columbus Blue Jackets $61,340,354.00 No
6 Toronto Maple Leafs $63,463,825.00 Yes Edmonton Oilers $60,489,576.00 No
7 New York Rangers $61,948,035.00 Yes Chicago Blackhawks $60,244,540.00 Yes
8 Montreal Canadiens $62,200,199.00 Yes Detroit Red Wings $59,298,581.00 Yes
9 New Jersey Devils $61,704,157.00 No Anaheim Ducks $59,256,051.00 Yes
10 Tampa Bay Lightning $60,915,904.00 No Minnesota Wild $55,800,758.00 Yes
11 Florida Panthers $55,465,153.00 No Phoenix Coyotes $55,059,462.00 No
12 Winnipeg Jets $51,760,331.00 No St. Louis Blues $54,882,994.00 Yes
13 Ottawa Senators $51,653,379.00 Yes Nashville Predators $52,188,068.00 No
14 Carolina Hurricanes $50,522,806.00 No Dallas Stars $49,857,505.00 No
15 New York Islanders $49,107,418.00 Yes Colorado Avalanche $49,401,072.00 No

This year is bearing similar results.Obviously, we don't need to rehash that none of the top four teams in spending are currently leading their divisions, but we see once again a split difference between the Eastern Conference and Western Conference.

East Payroll Playoffs? West Payroll Playoffs?
1 Pittsburgh $67,038,338.00 Yes San Jose " $66,775,385.00 Yes
2 Tampa Bay $66,772,827.00 Yes Los Angeles $65,284,219.00 Yes
3 Philadelphia $66,702,176.00 No Chicago $65,159,111.00 Yes
4 Toronto $66,150,407.00 Yes Winnipeg $63,921,366.00 No
5 Washington $65,914,060.00 Yes St. Louis $63,903,141.00 Yes
6 Boston $65,553,643.00 Yes Vancouver $63,152,134.00 No
7 Carolina $65,243,150.00 No Anaheim $62,675,521.00 Yes
8 Detroit $64,364,375.00 Yes Minnesota $62,556,197.00 Yes
9 Columbus $64,257,998.00 No Dallas $62,124,688.00 No
10 N.Y. Rangers $63,249,748.00 Yes Phoenix $61,401,898.00 Yes
11 New Jersey $62,714,449.00 No Nashville $60,935,634.00 No
12 Montreal $62,577,217.00 Yes Edmonton $57,925,477.00 No
13 Buffalo $56,561,433.00 No Calgary $54,133,927.00 No
14 Ottawa $55,899,105.00 No Colorado $53,037,982.00 Yes
15 N.Y. Islanders $53,029,322.00 No

16 Florida $49,518,440.00 No

It will be interesting to revisit these standings at the end of the year. Eastern Conference teams are for the most part outspending their Western Conference counterparts, yet Western Conference teams own an 86-38-13 record against Eastern Conference teams this year.

What can we conclude from this? Should we simply say the team should not spend money because there's no guarantee of success? Absolutely not. The idea that you have to spend money to retain talent is clearly evidenced by the same charts we just looked at. Those playoff teams have talented players. What we should conclude, though, is that in the salary cap era, the key is not merely spending money--but spending money wisely. Whether by design or circumstance, the Ottawa Senators have done exactly that. Fans clinging to the delusion that the team's fortunes would be different had they spent more money in the offseason, or that they can simply change them by spending more money now need to wake up and realize the futility of trying to solve a problem simply by throwing money at it. Spending more money doesn't guarantee anything.

Tomorrow, we'll look at where that money could have been spent, and what the results might have been.

Sens Links

  • Two lineup changes tonight, neither very surprising: Craig Anderson will start in goal, while Patrick Wiercioch replaces Eric Gryba. [Senators Extra]
  • Varada thinks the Senators should try not playing from behind so often. It's so crazy, it just might work! [WTYKY]
  • In the post-game report, everyone talks about the no-goal, and says the right things. [SE]
  • Nichols doesn't want to trade for Martin Havlat because of his injury history. That's obviously nonsense, but the argument that the Senators can't afford to paper over imperfections with bloated salary holds a lot of weight. [T6S]
  • Jeremy Milks, meanwhile does want Havlat, arguing that his speed and skill make him the player Milan Michalek used to be. [Black Aces]
  • Nichols also doesn't want to trade for Michael Del Zotto. I think I'm more on board here because Del Zotto doesn't seem like the defensman you add when you're trying to shore up your own defensive zone coverage. [T6S]
  • Chet Sellers isn't too happy with last night's performance. [Bonk's Mullet]
  • The Prediction Panel is losing hope quickly. [SE]

NHL Links

  • The Winnipeg Jets are my favorite NHL joke, but their fans are straight up awesome. Case-in-point: #HelmetPardy for when the Blackhawks come to town. [Puck Daddy]
  • Bad news for the Carolina Hurricanes, as Alex Semin is out indefinitely due to a concussion. He's probably faking it because he's a lazy Russian. [Twitter]
  • The NHL calls bullshit on Mikhail Grigorenko's AHL conditioning assignment. Their reasoning? He didn't have "General Body Soreness." What if it was fibromyalgia? [PHT]
  • The Flyers are reportedly open to trading Brayden Schenn. Get this: They've spent too much and are worried they can't afford him in RFA negotiations. [TSN]
  • Mike Richards sent a text to Claude Giroux to help him get his game back on track. So, we need Daniel Alfredsson to text Jason Spezza. []
  • Could be worse, Sens fans. Columbus got annihilated 7-0 last night and players are pretty unhappy about it. [Twitter]

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