Salary Capped Rosters Should Be Balanced – Why A Post-Parise Roster May Work BetterAnalysis September 11, 2012
NHL teams operate under real resource limits because of the salary cap. They have a certain amount of money to spend on a set number of players, and must choose how to apportion that money. The Devils are currently not constrained by the salary cap as much as they are by real, hard payroll, but the concept is still the same.
This means that every dollar allocated toward one player comes at an opportunity cost. For every $7 million player, a team may need to fill spots with two $600,000 players. The Devils already have one of these players – Ilya Kovalchcuk, and he is best used at left wing. Once the Elias contract is up, they probably would have room for two more such players on their roster. Parise would make one more big contract – and another left winger, and the cost would have been a potential big-dollar center for defenseman.
But what’s the cost? In baseball, a 4-win player is generally a 4-win player, no matter who else is on the roster. But at some point, opportunities are limited. We saw this in a limited way this season in Parise’s power play goal total. The Devils built a power play largely around Kovalchuck’s shot from the point, limiting opportunities for (and goals from) Parise. His power play points total dropped from 26 in 2009-10 to just 14 in 2011-12. Parise contributes in important ways off the power play, but in no way does a reduced role on the power play allow him to do more of those things. The second-best winger on the team is actually less valuable to the team because than he would be in the counter-factual without the best winger on the team.
A center, on the other hand, could contribute in ways that Kovalchuck can’t: by taking faceoffs, or contributing on defense. Ditto for a defenseman, but in even more ways. These players aren’t necessarily limited by being the second-best player at their position.
Long term, the Devils are better off allocating their big-dollar contracts to a distribution along the lines of one star center, one star winger, and one star defenseman, with maybe a goaltender thrown in somewhere. An efficient roster would be constructed and paid some way like this:
7 million LW – 7 million C – 5 million RW
4 million LW - 4 million C - 4 million RW
2.5 million LW - 2.5 million C - 1.5 million RW
.5 million LW - .5 million C - .5 million RW
7 million D – 5 million D
4 million D - 3 million D
1 million D - .5 million D
5 million G
1.5 million G
Total = 58 million (Roughly equal to the current Devils cap payroll)
Obviously, this is an ideal distribution. Talent, both free agent and internal, is not always available in neat batches. But by committing to a decade-plus term contract, the Devils would be locking in an uneven distribution of resources for a long time. Signing an equally good player who is a center to a deal for the same money, someone like, say, Ryan Getzlaf for example, would result in a better team long term.