Hockey Headlines

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Serious Money Differences

The salary cap in the NHL features two key numbers: the cap, obviously, and the salary floor where teams must spend a minimum amount for their payroll annually. The cap obviously prevents the big market teams from stacking their rosters with talent because they can pay whatever amount they feel is fair while the floor ensures that teams assemble enough talent or salaries that they should guarantee some sort of competitiveness. In theory, anyway. I happened upon the payrolls of the KHL teams today, and it seems that the KHL might want to look at closing some of the gaps in their salary structures.

Coming in at the top of the payroll list is SKA Saint Petersburg, and that should surprise no one after they signed Ilya Kovalchuk for nearly all the vodka in Russia. They are spending an incredible 1,271,188,649 rubles this season on their 22-man roster. With rubles being approximately 33-to-1 in exchange for US dollars, that would put SKA in at $38,520,868 US for their payroll. I believe half of that is going to Kovalchuk, but that's another discussion altogether.

While it would seem that the KHL have kept salaries relatively low based upon SKA St. Petersburg's total payroll, there is reason for concern when looking at the other side of the coin. Expansion team Medvescek Zagreb has allotted a mere 180,794,388 rubles to its players which converts to $5,882,353. Yes, you read that correctly. There are players in the NHL that make more than the entire Zagreb team does in one season!

There are four teams - Ak Bars Kazan, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Salavat Yulaev Ufa, and the aforementioned SKA St. Peterburg - that will pay their players in excess of $30 million this season, and CSKA Moscow is a paltry $746,000 from that $30 million mark. On the flip side, there are seven teams - Admiral Vladivostok, Dinamo Minsk, Dinamo Riga, Metallurg Novokuznetsk, Slovan Bratislava, Spartak Moscow, and the aforementioned Medvescek Zagreb - that will operate below the $10 million mark with three more teams - Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, and Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk - not paying out more than $11 million. That's more than one-third of the league that is significantly below the league average of $17,510,694 in payroll. Anyone see some disparity here?

It should be no surprise that when we look at last season's standings, we find the teams that have the highest payrolls are at or near the top of the standings.


KHL Standings vs. Payroll
Club Points Payroll Spending
SKA Saint Petersburg
115
$38,520,868
1
Ak Bars Kazan
104
$32,884,463
2
Avangard Omsk
102
$26,121,787
8
Dynamo Moscow
101
$26,229,042
7
Traktor Chelyabinsk
98
$26,626,939
6
CSKA Moscow
96
$29,254,909
5
Metallurg Magnitogorsk
93
$31,333,182
3
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
92
$21,708,470
10
Salavat Yulaev Ufa
88
$30,644,671
4
Barys Astana
85
$17,042,534
13
Severstal Cherepovets
85
$13,502,727
15
Sibir Novosibirsk
84
$12,322,182
16
Slovan Bratislava
78
$5,636,864
27
Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk
77
$13,933,701
14
Lev Prague
76
$22,472,864
9
Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk
74
$10,540,000
21
Atlant Moscow
73
$18,578,939
12
Donbass Donetsk
72
$21,689,923
11
Dinamo Minsk
71
$8,877,091
23
Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod
69
$10,659,706
20
Metallurg Novokuznetsk
58
$5,882,353
26
Vityaz Chekhov
55
$11,881,737
17
Spartak Moscow
52
$9,831,515
22
Dinamo Riga
51
$8,105,264
25
Amur Khabarovsk
44
$11,161,418
18
Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg
35
$10,661,758
19
Admiral Vladivostok
NR*
$8,715,893
24
Medvescak Zagreb
NR*
$5,478,618
28
If you glance down the list, you'll notice that the top-sixteen teams made the playoffs with one exception. First, Yugra, despite having more points than Atlanta Moscow, did not make the playoffs due to the conference they play in. However, Slovan Bratislava was the lone bright spot last season for the teams that operate below the league's average payroll spending. Otherwise, nine of the ten top-spenders this season were in the top-ten teams of the KHL last season. Catching the trend yet?

Now we'll always see one or two exceptions work their way to the upper echelon of teams simply because they work hard, they catch a few breaks, and the players on the ice as a whole are greater than their individual parts. But it's hard to ignore the six teams that pay out less than $10 million occupying six of the bottom-ten spots. Granted, the last two - Admiral Vladivostok and Medvescak Zagreb - are expansion teams this season, but is there any reason to believe they'll get into a playoff spot with a combined payout that is less than 14 other individual teams?

While I appreciate the large markets in the KHL spending money freely, there may have to be some sort of cap placed upon these teams at some point so some of the smaller markets can remain competitive with the big boys in Russia. No one likes losing, and missing the playoffs year after year is a recipe for fan apathy in those cities. It happens here in North America, and I'm pretty sure it happens in Russia as well.

Of course, when you factor in that seven former NHL stars would make up the sixth-highest payroll in Russia at $29,119,985, that also doesn't help. Those seven players include Anton Babchuk (Salavat Yulaev), Alexander Burmistrov (Ak Bars), Ilya Kovalchuk (SKA), Leonid Komarov (Dynamo Moscow), Sergei Kostitsyn (Avangard), Alexander Radulov (CSKA), and Ruslan Fedotenko (Donbass). Not ironically, those teams sit fourth, second, first, seventh, eighth, fifth, and eleventh in payrolls.

Good teams with lots of money attract good players. It's a simple equation. But the KHL may want to look at distributing talent a little more evenly to keep the competitiveness alive between the majority of teams.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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