Photo: Scott Rovak/Getty Images
Do recent Stanley Cup winners share a similar strategy when it comes to salary cap management? There are plenty of factors that make up a championship team other than money: team chemistry, ability to overcome adversity, and leadership, among others. But does how a team manages its budget play a role? NoVa Caps looks at the past five Stanley Cup Champion’s salary breakdown and compares how this season’s Washington Capitals stack up.
2014-15 Chicago Blackhawks
None of the players on the Blackhawks 2015 championship squad had oversized contracts as the two highest-paid players — forward Patrick Kane and center Jonathan Toews — each made $6.3 million per season. Five other players, including goaltender Corey Crawford, had cap hits over $5 million, though. Of the $69 million salary cap, $39 million (around 57%) of their cap hit was spent on forwards, $25 million on defensemen (36%), and just under $7 million (10%) on goalies ($6 million was Crawford’s). Brent Seabrook was the highest-paid defenseman on the team with a $5.8 million cap hit. They had 11 entry-level contracts and $1,791,768 of dead money on the books. The Blackhawks spent a total of $68.94 million on their salary cap that year.
2015-16 Pittsburgh Penguins
$44.5 million (over 62%) of the Pengions’ salary cap was spent on forwards, with center Evgeni Malkin ($9.5 million), center Sidney Crosby ($8.7 million), and forward Phil Kessel ($6.8 million paid by the Penguins) the biggest contracts. Just under $18 million (nearly 25%) was spent on defensemen with Kris Letang ($7.25 million, $4.15 million more than the next highest-paid defenseman) making up a big chunk of that. Only $6.6 million (just over 9%) of their cap hit was spent on goaltending, with the postseason starter in Matt Murray accounting for just $206,666 of that. Marc-Andre Fleury was the Penguins’ highest-paid goaltender at $5.75 million per season. Pittsburgh had only $339,697 of buyout money and $1.85 million in retained salary transactions on their books. The Penguins actually ended the season with $374,554 left in cap space.
The Penguins brought back almost everyone from the previous season with a few more entry-level contracts and they acquired two defensemen that had a combined cap hit of $3.18 million at the trade deadline. The team had eight entry-level contracts, retained around $2 million in trades and a little over $11 million on injured reserve as Letang and defenseman Olli Maatta were injured during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Capitals did an exemplary job of avoiding dead money as they had no buyouts or retained salary transactions on their salary cap. $45.6 million were spent on forwards (almost 61%) despite the fact that four forwards had contracts of at least $5.75 million, including two for at least $7.8 million. Their highest-paid defenseman (Matt Niskanen) cost only $5.75 million that season and their defensemen combined for a total of just $23.11 million (31%) against the salary cap. Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, and Brooks Orpik accounted for $16.75 million (over 72%) of that money spent on defensemen. $7.62 million (10%) of the salary cap was spent on goaltending, with starter Braden Holtby accounting for over 80% of the money spent on goalies. The Capitals had three entry-level contracts on their roster.
2018-19 St. Louis Blues
The Blues threw out some big money last year as each of their top two forwards (Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko) made $7.5 million and nine players’ cap hits were at least $5 million. Almost $47.32 million (over 59%) was doled out to forward with six making at least $5 million and over $25.83 million (32%) was spent on defenseman. Surprisingly, just 6% (around $4.78 million) was spent on goaltending with Jordan Binnington on a two-way contract. The Blues had four players on entry-level contracts last season.
This year, the Capitals have $50,705,128 (just over 62%) dedicated to forwards, $22,794,166 (almost 28%) on defensemen, and $7.025 million (8.6%) on goaltending with Holtby accounting for $6.1 million of that (87%). Eight players are making more than $5 million this season. The only big difference compared to when they won in 2018 is that only two defensemen are making over $5 million.
The Capitals numbers are similar to the past four champions, which took a turn after the Blackhawks won it as they spent the most money on defense out of any of the five teams.
The percentage of the cap spent on goaltenders has varied from team-to-team, but the Blues and Penguins having Binnington and Murray, respectively, on two-way contracts skewed that pattern. The Capitals have only two players (goaltender Ilya Samsonov, defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler) on entry-level contracts, a lot less than most of the previous Stanley Cup Champions. Does that matter? We’ll have to wait and find out.
By Harrison Brown