That's how many
Benjamin Franklins George Washingtons the Vancouver Canucks spent per regular season win on their squad last season. While it looks like an outrageous amount and while I'd rather spend that kind of money playing a little under 4.7 million games of Pac Man, it was actually the third lowest total in the NHL last season, behind the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Nashville Predators.
If you haven't read the two stories posted by James Mirtle at the Globe on Friday to celebrate the release of the new Brad Pitt movie Moneyball, which was, by the way, fantastic, you can check them out here. One is about the slow development of the principles of advanced statistics taking over in the NHL, and the other is about the teams that use the analysis provided and sold by our fellow SBN hockey writer Gabriel Desjardins over at Arctic Ice Hockey, formerly Behind The Net.
Moneyball, for those of you not aware, is the film adaptation of a book written by financial writer Michael Lewis about the seemingly-miraculous Oakland A's 2002 season. After losing three star players in Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen to the large-market New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals respectively, A's General Manager Billy Beane returned the team to the playoffs by picking off castaways from other teams who held talents undervalued by the rest of the league.
It began with a simple question: "How did one of the poorest teams in baseball, the Oakland Athletics, win so many games?" The A's had the second lowest payroll in baseball in 2002 and still made the playoffs. A way to determine the success of a General Manager by calculating exactly how much he did, and with what. The Canucks, albeit one of the big market teams, won many games thanks to the breadth of players they are allowed to add thanks to the stingy negotiation tactics of Mike Gillis and his use of the long-term deal to open up a window for the team right now. He's also kept coaches who allow the team's defensive systems to develop and succeed despite lacking the "superstar" blueliner.
The Lightning are quoted in the story as being a team that uses advanced statistics. The Predators are a terrific example of efficiency, often being a salary floor team who finds undervalued players who become better in Nashville. Neither organization is handicapped by needing a superstar to sell to the public (ie: Phil Kessel in Toronto) but play in such a climate where winning is the most important thing, not necessarily having the most recognizeable face. For the Canucks to be up and around that group, ahead of even the cash-strapped Coyotes who played over their heads in front of Ilya Bryzgalov last season, is a testament to some of the moves made by Mike Gillis.
That number will likely not carry over into this season due to a number of factors. For one, the Canucks are due to lose some goal scoring, what with injuries to start the season and powerplay regression. I estimate the team to continue dominating in the goals against column but lose about 30 goals this season, which will cost the team about five wins in the standings (our pythagorean expectation would put them between 50 and 51 wins). For two, the number for all teams will go up, since while the salary cap went up, the number of games in a season is still 1230 so the amount of available wins remains constant. The league average on dollars per win should go up about $80K to $1.4M from $1.32 and, with it, I estimate the Canucks to spend $1.23M per win this NHL season, which is still below the average.
Here is the full chart. Note that while the Mirtle piece says that the Calgary Flames have dabbled in analysis, it has yet to show up, well, anywhere. Perhaps the wizard behind the curtain believes that NHL General Managers currently de-value the no-movement contract. That would explain their interest in defensemen like Cory Sarich, anyway:
Note that Glen Sather and his New York Rangers are the cut-off here and that the Canucks are the only of the six Canadian teams (last season, anyway) to be under the average amount of dollars spent on a win. When I talked above of being "handicapped by superstars" this is sort of what I meant. Fans of teams in traditional markets have lust for faces and the team's marketers love being able to put names on the backs of sweaters. You won't find expensive Adam Hall or Nate Thompson hockey cards anywhere, but there's an argument to be made that they're just as vital to the success of the Tampa Bay Lightning as Steven Stamkos or Martin St. Louis were.