Moneypuck: The Pens Aren’t Buying a Cup

Stanley Cup Finals - Pittsburgh Penguins v Detroit Red Wings - Game Seven
As the Pens gear up for their series against the Bruins, talk has inevitable tuned to the Iginla deal at the trade deadline. Personally, I don’t think people should focus on the trade as much as they are. Iggy chose Pittsburgh and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. He’s one of the best players to play the game and is respected across the league. It’s a shame some individuals are bashing him over his decision. However, what I wasn’t expecting was to hear people accusing the Pens of “buying a cup.” First, I’d like to point out it’s impossible to buy a cup with a salary cap. It’s not baseball. There isn’t a large gap between rich and poor teams. Trust me, being a Pens fan that had to endure the financial struggles of the early 2000s and the hardship of building the new arena, I know some teams are not as well off financially. However, it’s a level playing field. All teams can spend the same amount of money and some teams are just better at using that money efficiently. Pittsburgh is one of them, if not the best. I’ve also seen a lot of people bewildered over how the Pens manage to sign everyone they have. I hope to break down some numbers to show how the Pens get the most production from their wallets. So here is my version of moneyball, moneypuck if you will.

The most common question surrounding the Pens contracts is how the Pens manage to sign as many star players as they do. Let’s take a look at their contracts from this past year.

The players with the highest cap hit are Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and rightfully so. In the 2012-2013 season they each had a cap hit of $8.7 M, or a total of $17.4 M. This is only $1.2 M more than the combined cap hit of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. I don’t know anyone who, given the choice, would choose Ovi/Backstrom over Sid/Geno. It is also only $2.2 M more than the combined cap hit of Lecavalier and Stamkos. Again, the pair of Sid and Geno is worth a lot more than Lecavalier and Stamkos. Note: I’m not necessarily debating who the best overall player is, but rather the tandem of both players. So yes, Sid and Geno make a lot of money (more than anyone individually except for Ovechkin) but for a superstar pairing it’s not unreasonable.

Now let’s move on to the Norris Trophy candidate, Kris Letang. Letang has a cap hit of $3.5 M. Let’s be honest, he’s worth way more than that. This is another reason Pittsburgh can afford all their stars; because not all of their stars are making “star” amounts of money. To compare, Ryan Suter, also a finalist for the Norris Trophy, has a cap hit of $7.5 M. While a great defenseman, Suter is definitely not worth $4 M more than Letang.

More Goals for Your Buc: The Efficiency of the Pens
Despite the past season being shortened due to the lockout, the Pens still had three players with at least twenty goals. James Neal, Pascal Dupuis, and Chris Kunitz combined for 63 goals…..and only a $10.225 M cap hit (Neal=5 M Kunitz=3.725 M Dupuis=1.5 M). That’s approximately $162,000 per goal. There were only twelve other players in the league to score at least twenty goals. If you combine the three smallest cap hits of players that have scored at least twenty goals (Tlusty, Voracek, and Couture) you get $8.725 M, or $1.5 M less than the three Pens players. But remember, while Voracek, Couture, and Tlusty are great deals as far as efficiency goes, none of them are on the same team. The only team besides the Pens to have multiple players score at least twenty goals is the Blackhawks with Kane and Toews. Their combined cap hit? $12.6 M. In other words, Chicago is paying more money on two twenty goal scorers than the Pens are on three. (Again, not saying Dupuis, Kunitz, and Neal are better than Kane and Toews, but as far as money goes, they’re more cap efficient).

Advanced Stats
If you’ve kept up with my posts, you could probably guess that advanced stats would creep their way in here somehow. If you want to read my explanation of the advanced stats categories please refer to my post about the Hart Trophy. Anyway, here are some interesting points combining advanced stats and cap hits.

  • The Pens leader in Relative Corsi QoC, Mark Eaton, has a cap hit of $725,000
  • The leader in On-Ice Corsi QoC, Robert Bortuzzo, has a cap hit of $525,000
  • Bortuzzo is under an entry level contract
  • Pascal Dupuis, second in On-Ice Shooting %, has a cap hit of $1.5 M
  • Mark Eaton also leads the team in On-Ice Save %
  • Dustin Jeffrey, second in On-Ice Save %, has a cap hit of $575,000
  • Chris Kunitz leads the team in PDO. His cap hit is $3.725 M
  • Mark Eaton and Pascal Dupuis are second and third in PDO
  • Craig Adams, cap hit of $675,000, is third on the team in drawn penalties per 60 minutes
  • Joe Vitale ends 9.4% more shifts in the offensive zone than he starts there.
  • Vitale has a cap hit of $550,000. It’s the lowest on the team.

Offseason Deals
While all the talk about the Pens cap space seems to be centered around the deals made at the deadline, it seems that people forget that the Pens made deals in the offseason to set themselves up for big moves. In a way, not getting Parise and Suter was a blessing in disguise. It gave us the cap space to go after big names at the deadline. By sending Michalek to Phoenix and Staal to Carolina, the Pens freed up plenty of cap space. Since they didn’t make huge moves in the offseason, they were able to make their moves at the deadline instead. As for offseason moves themselves, the move that has paid off the most is the signing of Tomas Vokoun. The Pens got Vokoun from the Capitals for a seventh round pick. Better yet, Vokoun’s cap hit is only two million. He’s leading our team through the playoffs and was solid in the regular season, and we signed him for just two million.

Deadline Moves: Buying a Cup?
As I stated in the previous section, the Pens had plenty of cap space at the trade deadline due to their offseason moves. Therefore, when the time came for moves to be made, Ray Shero wasted no time in getting in on the action. At the time of the deadline the Pens were in the middle of their fifteen game winning streak. While the belief that they could win the Stanley Cup was always present, I believe they really felt they had a great chance to do so this season during the streak. Think of it from Shero’s point of view. Your team is dominating and you’re sitting there with millions in cap space. So you see what could made a good team great. And that’s when Shero left all other teams in the dust. He signed Morrow and Murray before anyone had time to even think about signing them. He then went on to sign Iginla. Is this buying a cup? Absolutely not. Like I said, we had it in mind to make big deadline moves from the beginning of the season. Also, Shero didn’t just go and buy these players. Morrow and Iginla chose to waive their no-trade clauses to play in Pittsburgh. They chose to play here because they wanted to win the Cup. It was never about the money. Also, almost every team that has won the Cup has made moves at the deadline. It’s what you’re supposed to do. The trade deadline exists so GMs can make their teams better. Why shouldn’t they take full advantage of it?

Some points as to why the Pens have cap space:

  1. They have the cheapest twenty goal scorer in the league (Dupuis)
  2. They were able to sign Neal for $5 M before his contract was up last year
  3. We’re paying an amazing goalie 2 million
  4. Crosby could have made a lot more and chose to take less to help the team
  5. We got rid of expensive contracts in the offseason
  6. Three players who have played in the playoffs are under entry level contracts
  7. Our penalty killers are cheap…..and good

I’d like to spend some time on just one of the above points. Last year (2011-2012) James Neal was a 40 goal scorer. He was an all-star and made the first all-star team. Shero was able to resign him midseason. I’m not sure how many people realize how important this was. Had we waited until the end of the season, there’s a good chance we would have had to pay a lot more to resign him. Can you imagine how many teams would have been willing to pay big bucs for a forty goal scorer? He would have been a hot commodity to be picked up if a team were willing to pay enough. However, the Pens didn’t let it get that far. James wanted to stay in Pittsburgh and Shero was able to take care of resigning him during the season. Thank goodness.

So no, the Pens aren’t buying a Cup. They just make the most out of the money they spend. They sign underrated players such as Dupuis and Kunitz and get them to produce. They practically stole Neal and Niskanen from Dallas. But most of all the Pens can get players to sign with them, at times for less money, because the Pens provide the chance to win the Cup. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.

If you’d like to check out all the numbers for the Pens cap hits and salaries they can be found here:

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