The collective bargaining agreement
The NHL's changing salary structure
... and what it all means
My apologies, but this is going to be a beast of a post. Grab a snack.
It's something we've heard more than a few times since the lockout ended two years ago: How will the league's new CBA and the salary cap affect which players are paid?
With younger unrestricted free agency and a limit on just how much the big-budget teams can spend, we've seen quite the shift this off-season in who gets the big payday. Thomas Vanek gets a $50-million deal at age 23; Dustin Penner signs an offer sheet with the Oilers for more than $4-million a year after his rookie season.
Sure, we've certainly heard about the trend towards younger stars receiving more of that "cost certainty" pie, but how pronounced is it? And whose pocket are those dollars coming from?
In order to get a closer look at how the NHL's salary structure is evolving, I took the 20-man rosters of all 30 teams from two time periods — early in the 2003-04 season and at the end of the regular season of 2006-07, this past campaign — and ran that 600-player sample through a spreadsheet.
So, what's the difference between salaries prelockout and postlockout?
The average team's 20-man roster in 2003-04 cost approximately $41.3-million; last season, it was down to $38.5-million (based on individual player cap hits). That 6.5-per-cent dip wasn't a uniform one, however, as goaltenders and forwards felt the pinch (to the tune of close to 10 per cent) and defencemen didn't.
But the biggest trend, by far, was the jump in salaries of the five youngest players on the average 20-man roster, who increased their take by 31 per cent over 2003-04.
A look through the results:
|Top $ player||$6.43||15.57%||$5.99||15.55%||-$0.44||-6.84%|
The top player on the average 20-man roster is still getting the same share of his team's salary — about 15.5 per cent — but the high-end forwards and starting netminders have seen their salaries drop. Snipers, in particular, have been brought back to the pack because of the team maximum, as back in 2003-04, several players were receiving $10-million+ per season (Fedorov, Forsberg, Tkachuk and Jagr). The top-paid forwards last season were Brad Richards and Alexei Yashin — the only two to top $7-million.
On the flip side, more defenders were the top-paid players on their teams this season, including Scott Niedermayer, Nicklas Lidstrom, Rob Blake, Ed Jovanovski, Jay McKee, Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden and Sergei Gonchar. This is part of the reason the top defenceman total is the only figure to have remained relatively static.
'Top goalie' in this data refers only to the highest-paid netminder on a team — not necessarily the player who started the majority of his team's games. Only four netminders were the highest-paid players on their teams this season (Khabibulin, Turco, Luongo and Kolzig).
How much goes to the high-end talent?
|Top $ player||$6.43||15.57%||$5.99||15.55%||-$0.44||-6.84%|
|Top two players||$11.47||27.78%||$10.67||27.69%||-$0.80||-6.97%|
Note the percentages here are almost identical to prelockout numbers. The high-end players have all taken a small paycut, but percentage wise, remain in the same territory of their team's salary structure.
The average team still spends more than 53 per cent of its 20-man salary on its top five salaried players, and this was a group led by Tampa Bay this season at 64.9 per cent spent on just five players. Prelockout, Colorado spent approximately 69 per cent of its salary on its top five paid players.
This year's Stanley Cup champs, the Ducks, were right behind the Lightning at 64.6 per cent.
That's not much of a shift.
A breakdown by position
|Goaltenders (2) ||$4.51||10.92%||$4.09||10.62%||-$0.42||-9.31%|
|Defence (6) ||$11.92||28.87%||$12.00||31.14%||$0.08||0.67%|
|Forwards (12) ||$24.87||60.23%||$22.43||58.21%||-$2.44||-9.81%|
Ten per cent for goaltending, 30 per cent for defence and 60 per cent for forwards seems to be a fairly uniform breakdown. But this one calls for a chart:
Again, you can see the influence of the top-end defencemen getting higher salaries last season compared to three years ago. The average goaltender received $2.26-million in 2003-04 and $2.05-million three years later, while forwards went from $2.07-million to $1.87-million (partly a result of more checking liners being given minimum contracts) and defencemen stayed at roughly $2-million apiece.
Backup netminders took a backseat under the new agreement, as their salaries declined from an average of $1.1-million to $860,000 — a 22-per-cent drop that makes up most of the goaltenders' paycut.
The fountain of youth
This is the biggest swing, one that's going to become even more pronounced after the 2007-08 season and the wave of big deals signed by the 25-and-under set. Some teams last season even had youngsters as their highest-paid players (Hemsky, Gaborik, Kovalchuk and Staal), something that was virtually unthinkable back in 2003-04 when old man John Leclair was still pulling down $9-million.
The so-called legacy contracts we saw prelockout from higher-salaried teams have all but vanished, and it's common for players in this 'five oldest' group to be on a league-minimum contract. (That said, there are more than a few oldtimers still among the top two highest-paid players on their team, a group that includes Sakic, Fedorov, Norstrom, Roloson, Blake, Weight, Naslund, Kovalev, Brodeur, Yashin, Jagr, Shanahan, Hatcher, Gonchar, Sundin and Kolzig).
The 10 players on the average 20-man roster that aren't represented here — the middle men we'll call them — went from an average salary of $2.1-million to $1.9-million.
Here's a look at the average salary for players falling into the three age ranges on their teams:
What I didn't get into was how the top producing players are paid; perhaps that can be something to look into at a later date (although there's certainly been enough said for how valuable producing youngsters can be under a cap system).
All of this gives us, I think, a decent idea of where the league's headed, and makes you wonder just how tilted the salary landscape can get in favour of the younger set. There's certainly something to be said for paying for an established veteran, and that apparently still holds weight, but how far away are we from seeing players on entry-level contracts catching up to more established players? And why has unrestricted free agency not tipped things in favour of the middle group, where you'd expect most 26- to 30-year-olds would be?
Comments and queries welcome.