Is Spending Big on Defence a Sound Strategy in the NHL?

Updated: January 20, 2010 at 2:12 am by Ryan Campbell

One of the big stories off the off-season (at least on TSN) was Brian Burke’s insistence on building a strong defensive core on the Leafs blueline.  He spent big to acquire Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin to compliment the already high-paid Tomas Kaberle, Jeff Finger and Mike Van Ryn.  In related news, the Leafs have allowed the most goals in the NHL and own the league’s third worst record.  This got me thinking; is it wise for NHL GM’s to eat up a ton of cap space with their defenseman?  I decided to compare the dollar value of each team’s top 6 defenseman (info from nhlnumbers.com) with their goals allowed and point totals in the standings.  I realize this is incredibly simplistic, as goaltender strength and the team’s style of play can sway the results, but I think it is interesting nonetheless.  Strength of schedule is also no factored in, which helps out Western conference teams in terms of points because the East is a joke.  Before you get in a huff, know that only 5 Eastern teams have winning records against the West, while 11 Western teams are above .500 against the East.      

The top 5 spenders:

1. Calgary

2. Detroit

3. Edmonton

4. Toronto

5. Philadelphia

As you can see, only Calgary is currently in a playoff position, tied with Vancouver for the 6th playoff spot in the West.  The list also includes two bottom-feeders in Edmonton and Toronto.

The 5 cheapskates:

1. Dallas

2. Columbus

3. Nashville

4. Ottawa

5. New York Islanders

Well look at that, three playoff teams.  Overall, there is a negative correlation between top 6 defenseman payroll and points, as well as goals allowed.  The results are not statistically significant, but I still think it is pretty funny that the more money you spend on defence, the more goals you are expected to allow and the worse off your team will be in the standings.

Obviously, a lot can change before the end of the year, but right now it looks like paying Steve Staios $2.7M and Mike Komisarek $4.5M is not a good idea.

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