"You are taking all the damn fun out of hockey with your math mumbo-jumbo." Thus began a conversation with a very good friend about the spending efficiency columns I've published over the last few weeks. So for those of you that like to watch hockey for the hockey, this is the last one, I promise. For those of you that like the business side of the game, this should be the best of the bunch.
The issue with the first three parts of this series was centered around actual on-ice performance. With Marginal Cap Efficiency, or the Marginal Cap Efficiency with Rolling Averages, or even Marginal Floor Efficiency, a club can spend exactly to the floor and still be efficient using those formulas just because they've spent so little. One way to counter that is by using the playoffs as the base of efficiency. After all, the playoffs are the goal for every team in the league, not just because they want to win, but because of the revenue opportunities that come from the playoffs. Players are playing for free, attendance is higher, and those attending the games pay higher ticket prices. After the jump, we'll delve into a metric where the playoffs matter. Let's call it Marginal Playoff Efficiency.
To make sure that the playoffs matter, I'm measuring the spending efficiency on points earned over the minimum necessary to make the playoffs. Because luck is often uncontrollable, I allowed for a 5% underage on points. For example, in 2006-2007 a team in the Western Conference needed 96 points to qualify for the playoffs. My minimum is 91. That number is different each season and different in each conference, so I've split the two conferences. The numbers below are the result. I've taken the number of points over the playoff minimum divided by cap dollars spent over the league floor. So Marginal Playoff Efficiency is points over the playoff minimum divided by dollars spent over the salary floor.
Listed below are the results of each team since 2005-2006 when the salary cap was instituted. PLO AVG stands for post-lockout average. I've used the heat map concept to categorize similar seasons, where the darker colors are the more extreme values. The table is sorted by PLO AVG.
As it's been in every efficiency article I've written, the San Jose Sharks rise to the top, once again joined by the Predators and Red Wings. Columbus is far and away the least efficient team in the conference. Phoenix, even with the most efficient season in the table last season, is still at the bottom of the list.
The Eastern Conference as a whole has not been as efficient as the Western Conference, in fact, only the New Jersey Devils have been as consistently efficient as the top teams in the west. The table is sorted by PLO AVG.
Last season's Islanders' result is goofy because Capgeek.com lists the Islanders as being under the floor. It's possible that they were under the floor because there is no punishment prescribed for breaking that rule in the CBA. The Devils have been the model of Eastern Conference efficiency since the lockout, trailed closely by the Sabres. The Capitals and Penguins have the three least efficient seasons (not including Long Island's sub-floor season) but parlayed those into cheap ELCs for superstars.
Something of note - the bottom teams in these tables are the franchises first mentioned when attendance woes are discussed. Perhaps it's not the hockey market itself; rather, the problem is poor franchise management.
As I did with Marginal Cap Efficiency, I put together the rolling averages for each team; both tables are sorted by the most recent period.
The Eastern Conference is below.
There are a number of different types of successful teams on the list: the first are those teams that drafted superstars and took advantage of those cheap entry-level contracts to become successful. The Capitals, Penguins and Blackhawks rode this strategy to the top. But there are also teams like the Sharks and Devils that have spent near the cap with regularity but have done so extremely well and the results speak for themselves. On the flip side of the ledger, the teams that have wasted cheap entry-level contracts trail the pack. The Thrashers, Panthers, and Blue Jackets have burned through first round picks with nothing to show for it. Other teams at the bottom like the Oilers and Leafs have spent near the cap, but have been completely inefficient in doing so.