Which NHL Playoff Team Gets the Most Bang for its Buck?

For NHL fans, seeing their team hoist the Stanley Cup is what matters most. But now there's some pride to be had by winning the Fiscal Cup, the award that goes to the most cost-effective use of the money spent on players' salaries.

Money is what drives professional sports, and hockey is no exception. Teams pay players based on a fixed salary cap, which has a basement and a ceiling. Teams have to spend a minimum of around $44 million, but they can spend up to the projected 2013-14 cap of $64.3 million, according to CapGeek.com.

The money that goes into the cap is largely based on the league's television rights deals with Rogers Communications Inc.  (NYSE: RCI  ) in Canada and Comcast Corp.  (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) in the United States. Rogers has a $5.2 billion, 12-year deal with the NHL while Comcast paid $2 billion for a 10-year deal to air games on NBC and NBC Sports Network.

All teams share equally from the TV revenue pool, but all teams do not spend their money equally.

Which team paid the least per win?

I examined the eight teams to make it past round one of the playoffs (all salary numbers come from CapGeek unless otherwise indicated) to see which one had the greatest chance of winning the Fiscal Cup. Turns out the strongest team on a dollars-per-playoff-win basis might not be the team that wins it all.

I compared each of the teams' total salary to the number of wins they earned in the postseason. Unsurprisingly, big spenders like the Chicago Blackhawks and the L.A. Kings are doing well, although two other high-salary teams -- the Boston Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins -- fell much earlier than expected to teams that paid significantly less per player and, consequently, per win. The Bruins, with a payroll of nearly $62 million, paid dearly for each postseason win -- $8,854,234.71 per win. 

Meanwhile, the Montreal Canadiens had the lowest overall payroll of the eight teams left after round one, coming in at approximately $45 million. That means the team paid $4,464,833.30 for each of its 10 postseason wins, by far the cheapest per win of any of the eight teams that made it to round three. If I declare a Fiscal Cup winner right now, based on the current win/loss record for all four teams in the Conference finals, the Canadiens would have clinched the title.

The season is not over, however, and Montreal can still be caught.

Projecting out into the Stanley Cup Finals, the Canadiens are officially done with hockey for the 2013-2014 season leaving the New York Rangers as the best bet for the Fiscal Cup winner. Should the Rangers win three games in the Stanley Cup finals, they will have paid a projected $3,599,500 per win, lower than either the Blackhawks or the Kings could come (after winning all 16 games and the actual Cup, by the way).

Here is a look, as of Friday, May 30, with at least one game left in the Western Conference, where each of the eight teams that at least escaped the first round of the playoffs stand on a dollars-per-win basis:

  • Boston Bruins: $8,854, 234.71 per win
  • Minnesota Wild: $8,062,542.67 per win
  • Pittsburgh Penguins: $7,874,166.71 per win
  • Anaheim Ducks: $6,949,761.85 per win
  • Chicago Blackhawks: $6,642,929.50 per win
  • L.A. Kings: $5,269,717.63 per win
  • New York Rangers: $4,499,375 per win
  • Montreal Canadiens: $4,464,833.30 per win

It's not all about how much you spend

It is important to keep in mind, however, that simply looking at overall salaries versus wins will not tell the whole story.

As teams advance, not only does their cost-per-win decrease, but their potential for other earnings increases. Merchandise and ticket sales over the next few seasons will increase as more fans become further invested in their team's narrative, and teams have the opportunity to raise ticket prices for each Stanley Cup round. Alternate revenue sources rise as well, such as requests for appearances by teams and team members, articles written, links clicked, and so on.

Popularity for a sports team is the greatest revenue source it could ask for. It leads to more money pumped into their system in various ways over the next several seasons. 

With games left to play, the Rangers are the most likely to kiss the Fiscal Cup, but the Kings still have a chance. Sadly, the Blackhawks won't crack $4 million per win, even winning all 16 games and the Stanley Cup. Though they still may be Stanley Cup winners, they are Fiscal Cup losers. However should the Kings advance to the Stanley Cup Finals and hold the Rangers to two wins or fewer, they will win the Fiscal Cup and have paid a mere $3,622,930.88 per win.

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