Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cup For Sale

Don't you hate it when teams with the most money use their wealth to "buy" championships, making it difficult for the poorer teams to even compete much less win titles? I'm not talking about baseball either. I've long maintained that spending is usually equated with success in the NHL. Yesterday's WSJ had the data showing that the NHL Is Where Dollars Buy the Most Wins (sub req):

Many sports fans assume baseball is the game that's most driven by owners' pocketbooks. For proof, they could point to the 2009 playoffs, where the final four teams were all near the top of the league in payroll. But the sport where spending money most closely equates to winning games is played on ice, not grass and dirt.

From 2000 to 2008, NHL teams' winning percentage has a 0.49 correlation to their payroll (where 1 represents a direct correlation and 0 represents no correlation at all). This number doesn't suggest an airtight relationship, but it's a stronger correlation than the three other major sports leagues. Major League Baseball has a 0.43 correlation, and the NFL is at a nearly meaningless 0.15, according to a new study by Dave Berri, a professor of economics at Southern Utah University.

The numbers make sense when you scan the standings. In hockey, the Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins have consistently made the playoffs in recent years, and they're the teams willing to use the league's salary cap to its full extent. The data are a bit skewed by the spending binges some teams thrived on before the cap was implemented during the 2004-05 lockout, but even since then, the correlation has held true.

This correlation does not bode well for Minnesota Wild fans. While the team has loosened the purse strings a bit of late, they still rank in the middle of NHL payrolls. In hockey, more often than not, you get what you pay for.

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