October 20 2012 03:13PM
One of the things that the salary cap is supposed to do in the NHL is provide competitive balance. In the AHL, there is no salary cap, which results in the top-spending teams having a payroll almost twice as high as the bottom-spending teams. Because many of the best players in the league (i.e. players on entry-level contracts) still have their salaries restricted (the current maximum for a player on his entry-level contract is $70,000), a team's payroll isn't exactly the same as its quality. Still, all of these teams are filled out by veterans, and the teams who spend more have a major advantage.
The information presented below is the salary of each player who was in his team's opening-night lineup, and it comes mostly from Capgeek, which has provided all of the non-speculative salary numbers. Sadly, Capgeek doesn't keep the salary information for players who don't have an NHL component in their salaries, and I haven't been able to find this information anywhere else either. The result is that players highlighted in yellow in the charts below have their salaries estimated rather than reported.
Of the 600 players listed, I've had to make estimates for 86, or about 14%. This time around, some of those estimates are particularly difficult because many players who should be making pretty good money (including Dan Ellis) are on try-out deals, and I wasn't too sure what to estimate for an annualized salary. Furthermore, NHL teams haven't buried any salaries in the minors yet, so some of the AHL's top earners (like, say, Jeff Deslauriers) haven't yet arrived.
Nevertheless, I think these charts give us a pretty good indication of what these teams are actually spending. In the first chart I'll share, we'll look at the totals are each team, and the number of players on each team earning at least $105,001 (since, in the previous CBA, players earning $105,000 or less don't need to clear re-entry waivers, this is a nice line in the sand for guys who are earning big money).
The Big Spenders
One of the more interesting things here is looking at which teams have made a substantial change in their level of spending. Compared to last season, Adirondack, Houston, Oklahoma City, Portland, Springfield, and Syracuse have all fallen out of the top ten. In the case of Houston and Portland, they've fallen all the way into the bottom ten spenders. At the top of the list, Chicago and Connecticut are spending much more this year than last.
The Cheapskates...Sort of
There has also been an increase in the amount that the poorest teams are spending. Last season, the cheapest opening night lineup was Manchester's at $1,123,000. This year's lowest is Bridgeport's $1,352,500, an increase of 20%. Will that bring more competitive balance to the league? Maybe. But it's worth noting that the three teams with the lowest payrolls on opening night in 2011-12 (Manchester, Bridgeport, and Milwaukee) all went on to make the playoffs, with one of them (Bridgeport) even winning their division. In other words, spending in this league hasn't been particularly efficient.
Next up is the data dump. I won't offer any further comment after this next set of charts, which is just the opening night lineup of each AHL team (with their salaries) listed in alphabetical order.