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Numbers Game

In last week’s Numbers Game, I looked at team defence salaries to see if spending more leads to better team success. While teams that had a high defence salary faired no better in overall team standings and team goals against, they did receive higher offensive production from their defence than teams that spent below the league average.

In today’s Number’s Game, I looked at individual defense salaries to see if defensemen that had higher salaries actually outperformed defencemen that make less. For the purpose of this analysis, I grouped the top 6 defencemen from each team into 4 salary categories: 5 million +, 3 million to 5 million, 1 million to 3 million and less than 1 million.

Offensive production from defencemen
(Click on image to enlarge)

As expected, defencemen, like Zdeno Chara and Chris Pronger, who had salaries over 5 million had the highest average games played, goals, assists and points (71.75 GP, 12.38 G, 34.38 A, 46.75 P). Offensive production consistently decreased with lower salaries with defencemen earning less than 1 million having, on average, 3.62 goals, 13.59 assists and 17.21 points.

However, high priced defencemen aren’t your best bang for your buck! For example, for every million that a team spends on defence, they get 7.02 goals from the 5 million + defencemen, 7.61 points from 3 mill to 5 mill, 11.73 from 1 mill to 3 mill, and a staggering 26.53 points from the defencemen that earn less than 1 million.

Does this mean that teams should stay away from high-priced defencmen? Not necessarily. If you had a team defense composed of players that earn between 1 million and 3 million who all perform at the group average (4.63 goals, 17.52 assists, 22.15 points), for example, that team would certainly rank among the league leaders in offensive production from team defence. However, that’s not realistic. In fact, players who earn a higher salary are more consistent and are less likely to underperform (for the purpose of this analysis, a player underperformed in a statistical category if they scored less than the average of the salary group below theirs. For example, Adrian Aucoin, who earned $4 million last season, underperformed in goals, assists and points as he only scored 4 goals and 12 assists which was less than group average of the 1 million to 3 million group). Last year, only 1 defencemen (Pavol Kubina) in the 5 million + group underperformed in points, as opposed to 47.62% of the players in the 3 mill to 5 mill group and 45.33% of the players in the 1 mill to 3 mill group. Further, out of the 172 defencemen who earned less than 5 million last year, only 15 (8.7%) scored more points than the average point production (46.75) from the $5 million defencemen

Obviously teams are limited in terms of their ability to bring in $5 million defencemen. There is only so much money, so much power play time and so much ice time to go around. I also demonstrated that more offensive production from team defence does not lead to greater team success. That being said, when the market dictates that a defencemen is deserving of a $5 million salary, like Dion Phaneuf will likely get at season’s end, then expect him to consistently put up 45 + points per season and expect him to rank among the league leaders in all offensive categories.

For Illegal Curve, I am Adam Gutkin.