Each NHL team likely has a strategy on how they allocate salary by position. Such a strategy might be especially important during a flat cap year with no real signs of economic improvement on the horizon. While every team and pending roster situation will differ, I wonder aloud if there is a ‘sweet spot’ when it comes to positional salary allocation in the NHL.
Winnipeg Jets an Example of Salary Imbalance
A case study might help illustrate the point. The Winnipeg Jets currently have the biggest disproportion of salary spread between forwards ($53M) and defense ($16M). This imbalance is likely the lagging result of shedding Dustin Byfuglien’s salary this offseason but, unfortunately, Winnipeg does not have any remaining cap room available to try and reduce that gap.
That said, the Jets cap situation may loosen up a bit if Bryan Little is officially placed on the long term injury reserve list. Little has been advised by medical professionals not to play in the next regular season after suffering ear drum damage in 2019/20.
The Jets could use that cap relief to sign local Manitoba product, Travis Hamonic. He and Sami Vatanen are likely the two best right-handed UFA defensive options available and despite a below average 2019/20 season with the Calgary Flames, Hamonic still has plenty to offer on the back end. At 29, he is solid defensively and would add some sandpaper to the Jets blueline.
Understanding that for any team more forwards means more money allocated to the forwards, the biggest knock on the Jets coming into the season is that they’re not strong enough on the blue line.
If not Hamonic, you would think the Jets try and target another defenseman with any cap relief they are afforded by Little’s unfortunate injury. Paying $16M to seven defenseman is quite low and does not seem to offer a ton of depth. The only other team that has allocated less than the Jets is the Boston Bruins who currently have six signed defensemen totaling $16M.
However, the Bruins are not a great comparison because of the significant amount of salary they have on injured reserve – $14M split between David Pastrňák, Brad Marchand and Kevan Miller. As a result, the Bruins only have $33M committed to the forward group at this stage. However, the biggest difference is that the Bruins still have over $6.5M in cap room available.
The best example of a really good NHL team that looks to have reached a sweet spot is the Colorado Avalanche. Similar to the Jets, Colorado is paying twelve forwards just shy of $51M. However, Joe Sakic has six defensemen that are making over $23M. That $7M difference in allocation between the Avalanche and Jets likely makes a huge difference in the quality and depth of the blue line.
Notably, the Jets and Avalanche also have significant differences of salary allocation in goal. The Jets of course have current Vezina trophy winner, Connor Hellebuyck as their definitive starter while the Avalanche have more of a tandem in Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz. Accordingly, the Jets are spending $7.6M in the crease while the Avalanche are spending $5.3M
Makes sense – spend more or less on the defensive unit depending on the style (a clear starter vs the tandem approach) or strength of goaltending. However, even with an amazing goaltender it seems like the minimum benchmark for allocating money to defenseman should be around $20M. If the Jets can grab Hamonic on a short term deal then they will be closer to that mark and unquestionably have more depth as a result.
So, again, is there a sweet spot in the allocation of salary between positions? I guess we will find out if/when Winnipeg does in fact place Bryan Little on the LTIR. Stay tuned!
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