Who has the most expensive defense in the NHL?

Greg Wyshynski

Is there a link between dollars spent on forwards and offensive output? Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press looked at the link this week for the Winnipeg Jets, who have the third-lowest payroll (against the cap) for forwards in the NHL ($25.48 million) and currently have the 25th goals-for average in the League (2.32 per game).

It's not an exact science: The Buffalo Sabres have the highest paid forwards in the NHL ($40.834 million) and the fifth-worst offense (2.31). The Ottawa Senators have the fifth-cheapest forwards ($26.742 million) and the ninth-best offense (2.79).

But Campbell also took a look at the highest paid blue lines, with some interesting results.

Here are the Top 10 highest-paid blue lines via the cap, with numbers via NHL Numbers (what, no Cap Geek?):

Team Defense Payroll (Cap, Millions) Goals Against Avg. (Through 2/7) Goalie Payroll (Cap, Millions)
Philadelphia Flyers 24.027* 2.92 (25th) 7.417
Los Angeles Kings 23.238 2.08 (3rd) 3.05
Winnipeg Jets 22.743 2.72 (14th) 3.00
Washington Capitals 22.562 2.83 (19th) 2.65
Phoenix Coyotes 22.720 2.58 (11th) 3.25
Toronto Maple Leafs 22.036 2.87 (20th) 3.15
Vancouver Canucks 21.225 2.40 (7th) 6.233
Detroit Red Wings 20.958 2.37 (6th) 3.199
Chicago Blackhawks 20.830 2.92 (26th) 3.267
Calgary Flames 20.345 2.64 (13th) 6.696

* Flyers numbers include the cap hit of Chris Pronger. Without him, they're at $18.366 million.

Boy, the Jets must adore their Atlanta Thrashers fore-bearers for investing $13.45 million in three D-men ...

So of the top 10 defenses based on cap hit, three of them are currently in the top 10. Granted, defensemen aren't always paid for their defense — hence the Washington Capitals being on the highest-paid list — and injuries are also a factor — hence the Washington Capitals being on the low-end of the GAA list.

What's interesting here, at least in contrast with conventional wisdom in the modern-day NHL, is that it's not enough to load up the blue-line with high-priced talent and then hope a value goaltender can make it work.

The Red Wings' model of a well-compensated top four and a thrifty netminder worked because the lead defenseman was Nicklas Lidstrom and the goalie — say what you will of Chris Osgood — was one of the most clutch playoff performers in the NHL. Looking at the results this season, here's what the model should be: Invest heavily on a top defenseman and your goalie.

Look at the New York Rangers (second in the NHL in GAA) and the Boston Bruins (fourth). New York has the League's most expensive goalie tandem ($7.963 million) but a defense with a cap hit of $10.8 million. The Bruins have $6.25 million invested between the pipes and $16.995 million on the blue line. The Rangers had Dan Girardi vying for the Norris Trophy that Zdeno Chara might win.

Conditions change, of course: The Rangers are going to see their defensemen's salaries spike in the coming years. The Los Angeles Kings have been very, very lucky to have Jonathan Quick locked into a bargain-of-the-century contract.

But looking at the numbers, we've learned two things: That there's still value in having a valuable netminder, even if you've invested heavily in your defense. (The Flyers being the anomaly at the moment).

And that Winnipeg's Ron Hainsey remains preposterously overpaid.