Stephen Brunt’s won more accolades in his profession than I’ll ever win in mine but stuff like this is terrible:
By design, the Team Canada hierarchy is a mirror of the wildly successful, collaborative brain trust of the Detroit Red Wings, the single biggest reason why they are near-perennial Stanley Cup contenders even in a dynasty-busting salary cap era.
The Wings are kind of crap this year – hovering on the cutline of playoff contention, their hopes could go either way. It’s kind of interesting, I think, to look at the share of the salary cap that gets eaten up by Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg since the lockout. I’ve put their percentage as a share of the cap beside the number.
2005-06 – $6.55MM (16.8%)
2006-07 – $6.55MM (14.9%)
2007-08 – $9.35MM (18.6%)
2008-09 – $9.35MM (16.5%)
2009-10 – $12.78MM (22.5%)
Obviously, the increase in the cost of Datsyuk/Zetterberg has blown away the increase in the salary cap – these guys make about twice as much now as they did in 2005-06; the salary cap has only increased by about 46% in that time. Their contracts prior to this one were contracts of the type that don’t seem to exist anymore – the sort of mid-value contracts for stars who are restricted free agents.
If the Wings front office foresaw what seems to me to have been a reduction in the discount that players take while they’re RFA’s, that’s impressive and they deserve a significant amount of credit for protecting the Wings over these past few years by getting these fellows signed to cheap contracts. I’m not entirely convinced that they saw that coming though and, in any event, they’re now running into the cap head on – they have players who need to be paid something approximating market value in order to be retained. If this season has been a look into their future – and I know they’ve suffered injuries – the future doesn’t look all that good.
The new challenge under this CBA was not finding good hockey players – that was always part of the challenge – it was figuring out a way to do it cheaply and efficiently. The Wings have figured out part of that – they don’t have the goalie habit that so many teams do (there really ought to be a twelve step program for that), which enables them to save some money, although Osgood is looking distinctly finished. Where the Wings have had some luck in that department, they’ve ended up turning around and paying the guy – great for Dan Cleary, but it puts a pinch on the team’s ability to ice a great hockey team because what they really need are three $1MM players who produce like him.
The Wings have been trending the wrong way since the lockout – goal differentials of +95, +55, +73, +51 and, at present, they’re +1. As I pointed out during the summer, the Wings lost a lot of goal scoring during the offseason, although I didn’t expect them to struggle as much as they have. Here’s what I had to say:
31 goals is a lot of goals though. Five wins. With that said, if you’re trying to figure out how things changed from the previous season (I would assume that some smart guy could come up with a pretty decent modelling system that would beat the “experts” more often than not), you need to consider more than just the changes; you need to look at the things that are unlikely to repeat.
In the Wings’ case, that’s probably the goaltending. Detroit had an .894 save percentage last year. The Wings allowed about 2300 shots last year. If they bump it up to a .905 next year – which isn’t unreasonable, given how save percentage swings and is nothing special – they’ve made up most of the decline that they’d suffer in goals for.
In effect, I was saying that it didn’t seem unreasonable to me that the Wings would get 30 goals better with a bump in save percentage. As it so happens, that’s largely come to pass so far – the Wings have seen their save percentage improve from last year’s .894 to a .912, which is certainly respectable. The problem is that falloff in offence has been a lot worse than expected – they’re on pace to score 207 goals, 88 fewer than last year, which is not offset by the fact that they’re on pace to allow only 205, 35 fewer than last season.
The cause of the falloff in goal scoring is arguable – the Wings have seen some key players suffer some key injuries this year. What’s inarguable is that the salary cap played a significant role in it – the Wings lost a ton of players last summer and were not well placed to deal with injury problems. As bright as their management group might be – and it seems to me to be sort of a fad thing, like the idea of ghost rosters with roles that was so popular with Team Canada’s in the 1990′s and led to Shayne Corson and Rob Zamuner going to the Olympics – they’re in the process of becoming another casualty of the salary cap.
So Brunt is wrong: the single biggest reason that the Wings are near-perennial Cup contenders is not, as far as I can tell, the ability of their management team. They had some players signed to nice deals that enabled them to spend the money those players ought to have been getting elsewhere, bolstering their team. The salary cap caught up with them (coincidentally, right around the time they had to pay market value for those players) and the Wings are, for the time being, just another team.