Are the Oilers Getting Value For Money?

Stop me if you've heard this one before. In a Salary Cap World (all caps mandatory), what makes a team successful isn't picking up big-name free agents or acquiring magic bullets: players with huge reputations and equally huge cap hits. It's spending money wisely up and down the roster. To win games when your spending is limited, you have to distribute your spending properly; get elite players but not at the costs of gutting the bottom half of your lineup. And at all costs, avoid throwing Hefty bags full of cash at role players like, say, thecaptainEthanMoreau over here.

The Oilers, it is unanimously accepted, struggle at that. Ethan Moreau's cap hit is an I-wish-I-were-making-this-up $2 million per season, signed sealed and delivered until 2010-11 (all figures from NHLNumbers.com). Robert Nilsson, he of the Mini Magic nickname and amazing on-ice disappearing act, shares a $2 million hit. Patrick O'Sullivan tags us for $2.925 million, or about a buck for every muffed pass. To a certain crowd on what Bob Sacamano used to call the number six bus, Shawn Horcoff's $5.5 million a year is the worst financial management since the sponsorship scandal. And to me, rather than paying Nikolai Khabibulin $3.75 million a year you'd be better off letting Jeff Deslauriers start, signing Jocelyn Thibault or somebody for minimum wage, and giving me what's left.

By now, you know me well enough to know how much I love slapping the Oilers around in public. So I had a great idea - I'd blow the dust off my old calculator and work out just how much bang the Oilers were getting for their buck. My methodology was perhaps too simple. I took the NHL cap hit for each team from NHLNumbers.com. I divided it by the number of wins to get their cap hit per win. I then divided that by the number of games played so we could get a per-game figure.

Now, I don't pretend this is a perfect statistical analysis. For one thing, this early in the season, the resolution is wild: if a team wins its next game, that team will experience a considerable swing in its number. I picked wins to eliminate the bizarro world that is the Bettman point, but these obviously won't match up exactly with the standings. It is nothing more or less than a rough guide to who, so far, has spent their money wisely.

The results follow the jump. Higher numbers are worse. Anything below .3 is in the upper echelon, anything above .5 is properly bad and if you're above .7 maybe you should just fold.

 1 Phoenix: 18 GP, 10 W          $41.929        0.232
 2 Colorado: 19 GP, 12 W      $53.652        0.235
 3 San Jose: 19 GP, 13 W       $58.145        0.235
 4 New Jersey: 17 GP, 13 W       $54.831        0.248
 5 Los Angeles: 19 GP, 11 W      $52.334        0.250
 6 Pittsburgh: 19 GP, 12 W       $57.232        0.251
 7 Washington: 18 GP, 11 W       $58.448        0.295
 8 NY Rangers: 19 GP, 10 W       $56.268        0.296
 9 Vancouver: 20 GP, 10 W        $61.138        0.306
10 Calgary: 16 GP, 11 W          $54.520        0.310
11 Columbus: 17 GP, 9 W          $49.757        0.325
12 Nashville: 17 GP, 8 W        $45.022        0.331
13 Montreal: 19 GP, 9 W          $60.320        0.352
14 Chicago: 17 GP, 10 W          $60.851        0.358
15 Buffalo: 15 GP, 10 W          $56.441        0.376
16 Detroit: 17 GP, 9 W           $59.099        0.386
17 Edmonton: 19 GP, 8 W          $60.858        0.400
18 Philadelphia: 15 GP, 10 W     $61.334        0.409
19 NY Islanders: 18 GP, 6 W      $44.257        0.410
20 Dallas: 17 GP, 7 W    $49.650        0.417
21 Boston: 18 GP, 8 W           $61.170        0.423
22 Ottawa: 16 GP, 8 W           $55.962        0.437
23 Atlanta: 15 GP, 8 W           $53.080        0.442
24 Minnesota: 18 GP, 7 W       $56.722        0.450
25 Tampa Bay: 16 GP, 7 W        $52.643        0.470
26 St. Louis: 17 GP, 6 W       $54.420        0.534
27 Anaheim: 16 GP, 6 W           $54.610        0.569
28 Florida: 16 GP, 6 W           $55.224        0.575
29 Toronto: 16 GP, 3 W           $60.238        1.255
30 Carolina: 17 GP, 2 W          $56.204        1.653
-----------------------------------------------------
League Average: 17.3 GP, 8.8 W   $55.212        0.363

Well, then.

A few observations immediately recommend themselves from this list. First off, Brian Burke should probably go ahead and learn carpentry. Second, the Maple Leafs and Hurricanes are really, really, remarkably, historically, amazingly, Ryan O'Marra bad in the "wins and losses" department (Leafs fans commenting on all their overtime and shootout losses will be mocked). Third, I've defended Wayne Gretzky as a coach before but looking at what the Coyotes are doing, maybe I'm just stupid.

Fourth, the Oilers are below average, but they're really not doing that bad. It's early in the season so the sample size is small. To put it in perspective, if they win Sunday they'll be better than the current average.

I repeat that this formula isn't perfect or even that good. It is an indicator, nothing more. But I distrust using statistics as a fine-toothed comb to find out which player is 2% better than that other player, so I consider a great big glob that throws teams in pretty much the right order and leaves you to figure out the rest a feature, not a bug. Bear in mind that I went into journalism in university.

Moreover, measuring only wins has obvious flaws. Somebody more ambitious than I might come up with a metric using shots or scoring chances. The Oilers, who have been outchanced to a shameful degree this season despite coming out only three games below .500, would certainly come off worse by this measure (and the Maple Leafs considerably better). But so far, as Oiler fans, it's possible to cautiously hold our breath. We might just be average. I think most of us would take that.

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