Lists & Rankings

Puck Money 2013: Hockey's Best for the Buck

 

Jonathan Quick (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

When lanky 25-year-old Claude Giroux was told by SportsNet he was the most valuable NHL forward for the money he made heading into the 2011-12 season, the Philadelphia Flyers winger replied with a modest, “That’s interesting.”

Giroux’s selection as one of hockey’s most cost-effective commodities—read, underpaid—was a harbinger of great things to come, interesting fact or not. During the 2010-11 season he was 13th in NHL scoring at a bargain price of $765,000 a year, but both his goal totals and paycheque would soon grow (all figures are US dollars).

In 2011-12 Giroux came third in scoring with 93 points and certainly would have scored more if he hadn’t missed five games. He was a major force in the playoffs, becoming the fourth-highest scorer overall with 17 points in 10 games. For his efforts he received a three-year contract giving him $2.75 million last year, $3.5 million this year and $5 million next year.

Also on the eve of the 2011-12 season, Puck Money calculations identified the most valuable goalie as Jonathan Quick of the L.A. Kings, an outperforming, underpaid star who was due for a breakout season. Quick went on to have a dramatic influence on the Kings’ bottom line; with an annual paycheque of $1.9 million, Quick was at the bottom tier of goalies in regard to salaries but his performance earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy for best player in the playoffs and propelled the Kings to their first Stanley Cup.

Contrast Quick’s value with that of the Roberto Luongo who makes $10 million a year. In the first round of the playoffs, the Vancouver Canucks goalie was pulled in two games and benched in a third. The Canucks, who were heavily favoured to make a Cup run, went out in the first round. For the record, Puck Money ranked Luongo 13th most valuable out of 25 of his peers.

Puck Money uses a ratio and ranking method of on-ice stats and salary figures for goalies, forwards and defencemen to determine the best players by the dollar. The players’ stats are normalized so that all skaters are measured fairly, and then each player is ranked against their peers. Each position is calculated based on a different selection of on-ice stats. Players who do not play a sufficient number of games, like Sydney Crosby last year, are not included in the rankings. Check out the full methodology.

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Our pick for the most valuable defencemen last year, John Carlson of the Washington Capitals, didn’t fare so well. Carlson was selected because of his tiny salary, $800,000, and his impressive plus/minus numbers—+21 in 2010-11—good for 10th best in the league. However, in the following year his plus/minus tumbled to -15, mimicking the fate of the Capitals who squeaked into the playoffs and exited after seven games.

Whether you’re looking at an accounting spreadsheet or watching a game, the stats and on-ice play of Giroux and Quick prove they were their hockey teams’ most valuable players for the money. But did they make their franchises more valuable?

It’s hard to say, but in the case of Quick there is some compelling evidence. Forbes in November 2012 valued the Los Angeles Kings at $276 million, reflecting a one-year increase of 19%. The Kings are rated the 10th most valuable franchise in the NHL (7th most valuable American team). Last year American teams lost 1% of their value on average, so drawing a line between Quick’s puck-stopping, Stanley Cup performance and the Kings’ large jump in value is interesting. Further, Giroux conceivably had an impact on the Flyers’ value which jumped 16% over the past year.

Heading into 2013’s abbreviated 48-game season, Puck Money boldly announces its picks for the most financially valuable players.

2011-12 Puck Money Selections

(Figures in brackets are rankings against peers.)

Ray Whitney

Forward
Salary: $3 million (43rd)
Points (Normalized): 77 (11th)
Plus/Minus: +26 (5th)

This year’s selection of the most valuable forward is not an up-and-coming youngster but a grizzled veteran in his 22nd season. Whitney, 41, has been among the most consistent performers throughout his career, last year tying his personal best with 24 goals and 77 points with an amazing plus/minus of +26. He’s also one of the most-travelled players, having suited up for the Sharks, Oilers, Panthers, Blue Jackets, Red Wings, Hurricanes and, last year, the Coyotes. (The lockout-shortened season now finds him in a Dallas Stars jersey.) Last year Whitney made $3 million, making him a bargain for Phoenix. With no retirement in sight, Whitney’s sojourn with the Stars is a new two-year contract valued at $4.5 million a season.

A close second was last year’s winner, Claude Giroux. The defining stat seems to be the plus/minus ratio. Whitney had an outstanding +26 while Giroux’s dropped to +6 from +20 the year before.

Erik Karlsson

Defence
Salary: $1.3 million (35th)
Points (Normalized): 74 (1st)
Plus/Minus: 16 (16th)

The ability to get on the score sheet was also a major factor in determining best value among defencemen. The Ottawa Senators’ towering 22-year-old Erik Karlsson had a plus/minus of +16 but broke out in his third NHL season with a career-high 78 points and 19 goals to lead all defencemen in scoring. Coupled with his salary of $1.3 million, he represented the best value among his peers. By comparison, Boston’s Zdeno Chara collected $8.5 million in salary and was ranked 9th on our list.

Jonathan Quick (again)

Goaltender
Salary: $1.8 million (10th)
Goals against (Normalized): 125 (15th)
GAA: 1.95 (2nd)

Returning for the second year in a row as the league’s best-value goalie is Jonathan Quick. Quick earned slightly less last season during his cup-winning run than the year before ($1.8 million vs $1.9 million) so his exceptional stats continued to outpace his peers. The runner-up as most valuable goalie was Brian Elliot of the St. Louis Blues who made $600,000 last year and had a league-leading goals against average of 1.56. At the other end of the scale was Ilya Bryzgalov who made $10 million but had a GAA of 2.48. The Flyers goalie ranked 31st among his peers.

Franchises

Puck Money also examines how economically efficient franchises are at icing successful teams while providing fans with a great—but too expensive—experience. We measure how well the teams performed in the season and in the playoffs and what the payroll was. We also include the Fan Cost Index of Team Marketing Report which measures how much it costs for a family of four to attend a game based on ticket prices, parking, caps and food and refreshments.

It turns out that the best place to watch a hockey game is not in the Air Canada Centre or the Rogers Arena but in the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. St. Louis is an up and coming team that placed well last year with a relatively low payroll. Moreover, a night at the rink costs a St. Louis family a mere $249.

Contrast that expense with hockeyland in Canada where a family can pay $374 in Calgary, $485 in Winnipeg, $486 in Montreal and a whopping $626 in Toronto to watch their favourite team. Needless to say, a combination of poor seasons and high prices placed the Canadian teams at the bottom of the index. The only exception was Vancouver which had a successful year on the ice in 2011-12.

How the stars did

What are superstars worth? Not the value of their contracts, or so it would seem. Most would agree that if you’re the best paid player in the league, you should perform at the highest levels year in and year out. But few players consistently reach league-leading stats the equal of their gargantuan salaries. And if they have an off year—ouch—nothing is worse than a multimillion-dollar underachiever.

Alexander Ovechkin

Salary: $9 million
Ranking: 91/138 forwards

The second lackluster season in a row for the Caps’ centre makes his paycheque more glaring.

Joe Thornton

Salary: $8 million
Ranking: 9/138 forwards

Thornton’s salary looks perfectly respectable for this veteran who finished 14th in scoring with a plus/minus of +17.

Dion Phaneuf

Salary: $6.5 million
Ranking: 103/143 defencemen

The Toronto captain’s $6.5 million salary seems a tad overpriced when compared with his -10 plus/minus record last year and the Leafs’ annual numbing performance.

Vincent Lecavalier

Salary: $10 million
Ranking: 135/138 forwards

Lecavalier had one of his worst seasons since he was a rookie which makes his annual salary of $10 million a burden for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Mikka Kiprusoff

Salary: $6 million
Ranking: 6/35 goalies

After 13 years in the big league, Kiprusoff had a workman-like season, starting in 70 games and winning 35.

Evgeni Malkin

Salary: $9 million
Ranking: 11/138 forwards

The top scorer last season has one of the top salaries in the league. Is it justified when the Penguins get bumped off in the preliminary round of the playoffs?