It seems like NHL fans, media, and even some General Managers were big fans of After School Specials. After all, it’s not enough that a Stanley Cup Final is thrilling, tense, and exciting — we have to learn a lesson as well. Every Stanley Cup Final seems to turn into a teachable moment: forget all the other Finals, this is how you win the Stanley Cup.
In 2010, the lesson apparently was to go with a cheap goaltender so you can use your cap space elsewhere. And yet, in 2011, the two teams that made it to the Final had two of the more expensive goalies in the league. That year, the lesson was that you won through toughness and intimidation (rather than Vezina-calibre goaltending, apparently).
The lesson some got out of Anaheim’s Cup win in 2007 was that fighting and goonery was once again a viable way to win. The next year, the Detroit Red Wings had the fewest fights in the league enroute to winning the Cup.
With all that said, we can clearly learn something from the two teams that made it to the Stanley Cup Final this year. I got to wondering how exactly these two teams spent their money to get to this point? How did they divvy up their salary cap and is there something that can be learned from that?
To prevent the onslaught of information from boring you, I put my mediocre Photoshop (secretly GIMP) skills to work to create a slightly more aesthetically pleasing chart. All data is from NHL.com and CapGeek.com and includes performance bonusses.
- The Blackhawks pay a lot more to their top-end talent, but make up for it with quite a few cheap contracts, including four entry-level deals. Eight players with cap hits under $1 million have played for the Blackhawks this post-season. The Bruins have just two — Kaspars Daugavins and Matt Bartkowski — and they’ve played a combined 12 games.
- The Bruins have allocated a slightly higher percentage of their salary cap to their forwards than the Blackhawks, but have that money spread more equally across the top three lines. About $4.5 million separates the Bruins’ first line from the third, while the gap is over $14 million for the Blackhawks.
- The Blackhawks are not paying a premium for their goaltenders, but have managed to get elite results, while the Bruins are benefiting from Tuukka Rask while he’s still relatively cheap. He’s an RFA this off-season, however.
- Both the Bruins and the Blackhawks used over 50% of their defence spending on the top pairing.
- The Bruins and Blackhawks appear to have very different philosophies when it comes to long-term contracts. The longest contract for the Bruins is Zdeno Chara’s seven-year deal that runs through 2018. For the Blackhawks, it’s Duncan Keith’s 13-year deal that expires in 2023. They also have Marian Hossa’s 12-year deal that runs through 2021.
- What’s most striking is how different the two teams’ spending is, but there are some commonalities that might teach us a couple lessons: don’t overspend on goaltending, prioritize your top pairing on defence, and don’t be afraid to spend a little bit on your fourth line, keeping it at or below $4 million. Frankly, if you’ve got that much to spend on your fourth line, you’re likely doing a good job managing expenses elsewhere in the lineup.