In what should come as a surprise to no one, for the first time in history the NHL will spend in excess of $1.5 billion in salaries this season. And early indications are the average team payroll will go up by $5 million from 2007-08.
According to nhlnumbers.com, the 30 NHL teams combined will spend $1.535 billion this season, compared to $1.383 billion last season. That shouldn’t come as a shock, considering the salary cap went from $50.3 million per team last season to $56.7 million this season. Teams are projected to spend an average of $51.17 million on player salaries this season. Based on a 23-man roster, the average NHL salary will be about $2.2 million, which would be $400,000 more than it was before the lockout the owners forced upon hockey fans to put an end to runaway salaries.
And with just more than a week before the NHL season officially begins, there are still six teams – the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitals – over the salary cap limit. Meanwhile, there are three teams – the Atlanta Thrashers, Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes – who have some work to do in order to get up to the salary floor of $40.7 million.
Spurned on by a summer of wild free agent spending and a number of big-money, long-term contracts beginning to kick in, the league is spending money like never before. As the NHL has always thought, the upper limit of the cap has turned out to be a magnet for spending, with 12 teams within $2 million of the cap.
In a stunning reversal, the usually big-spending Toronto Maple Leafs are closer to the floor than the ceiling at $46.3 million, with between $6 million and $7 million set aside for prodigal son Mats Sundin, should he decide to return to the team.
It’s hard to argue with the Maple Leafs’ way of thinking. The reality is that with the Leafs’ personnel this season, they shouldn’t be anywhere near the salary cap.
Recently when I was a panelist on a talk show, former NHLPA counsel and current player agent Ian Pulver argued payroll and performance have nothing to do with one another. So it’s probably just a coincidence this season that all the teams expected to contend for the Stanley Cup are high-payroll teams, while the Thrashers, Kings and Islanders, the three teams most likely to compete for the first overall pick next June, are three of the lowest-spending teams in the league.
Ken Campbell is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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