For whatever reason, it seems there are some GMs in the league that feel the need to spend as close to the cap as possible in order to make their team competitive. I was curious to see if spending to the max actually makes a team competitive and as it turns out, spending wisely is more important than spending generously. Just for fun, I took a look at the top and bottom 10 spending teams in the league. Here they are along with their records this season. All salary cap numbers are according to capgeek.com. The team money is based on what they spend, not what their cap is and players are based on their cap hit, not salary.
Top Spending Teams
New Jersey Devils-$65,809,882 (15th in East, 33GP-9W-22L-2OTL-20PTS)
Calgary Flames-$63,348,520 (14th in West, 35-14-18-3-31)
Vancouver Canucks-$62,768,893 (3rd in West, 32-19-8-5-43)
Philadelphia Flyers-$59,945,049 (1st in East, 35-22-8-5-49)
Pittsburgh Penguins-$59,204,785 (4th in East, 35-23-10-2-48)
Boston Bruins-$59,011,472 (8th in East, 32-17-11-4-38)
Detroit Red Wings-$58,933,778 (1st in West, 33-21-8-4-46)
Montreal Canadiens-$58,434,472 (3rd in East, 34-19-13-2-40)
New York Rangers-$58,390,542 (7th in East, 35-20-14-1-41)
Minnesota Wild-$58,359,940 (13th in West, 32-15-13-4-34)
Combined Record: 336-179-125-32 Average Points: 39
Bottom Spending Teams
Atlanta Thrashers-$41,086,800 (6th in East, 36-19-12-5-43)
Colorado Avalanche-$42,974,086 (4th in West, 34-19-11-4-42)
New York Islanders-$43,077,879 (14th in East, 31-7-18-6-20)
Edmonton Oilers-$45,635,027 (15th in West, 32-12-15-5-29)
St. Louis Blues-$45,945,147 (12th in West, 33-16-12-5-37)
Tampa Bay Lightning-$48,850,554 (5th in East, 34-19-10-5-43)
Nashville Predators-$49,488,527 (7th in West, 33-17-10-6-40)
Carolina Hurricanes-$50,080,770 (9th in East, 32-15-13-4-34)
Phoenix Coyotes-$50,185,551 (10th in West, 32-15-10-7-37)
Florida Panthers-$50,754,990 (12th in East, 32-15-17-0-30)
Combined Record: 329-154-128-47 Average Points: 35.5
That makes seven teams in the top group and four in the bottom that are in playoff position. However, with the exception of the Islanders and Oilers who are either at or tied at the bottom of their respective conferences, three of the four other teams on the wrong side of 8th are within four points of jumping into playoff position. Don't let the Coyotes and Blues fool you, each are only three points out of a spot and five points from jumping to 4th in the ultra competitive Western Conference.
The teams spending the least amount of money are spending wisely, many going with the common trend of spending little money on goaltenders. The Thrashers have spent a combined $3 M on Chris Mason and Ondrej Pavelec, the Avs have spent $3,062,500 on Craig Anderson and Peter Budaj, the Oilers $4.550 M on Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk, the Lightning $3.7 M on Mike Smith and Dan Ellis, and the Predators $4.275 M on Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback. Only three of the bottom 10 teams, the Islanders, Hurricanes, and Panthers spend more than $6 M on goaltenders. On the contrary, six of the top 10 teams spend more than $6 M on goalies: the Devils, Flames, Canucks, Bruins, Rangers, and Wild. Only three have gone cheap with goaltending and they are among the top teams in the league. The Canadiens spend $3.750 M on Carey Price and Alex Auld, the Red Wings spend $2,133,333 on Chris Osgood and Jimmy Howard, and the Flyers split $4.225 M between Sergei Bobrovsky Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton. Spending as little money as possible on goalies allows GMs to make the team in front of them deeper and more competitive. If the 18 position players on the ice are good enough than all they need is a goalie that won't lose them the game rather than one that needs to steal each one from the opposition.
When it comes to the positional players, it is probably better to have two $3 M players, rather than one $6 M player. Depth is key in today's NHL and having one player take up the majority of the cap space is likely to put teams into tight spots. Having a player who does well enough to earn upwards of $6 M is nice, but not when GMs can't afford to give them quality teammates. the exception here though would be the Penguins whose centers Crosby and Malkin each make $8.7 M and have the ability to won game by themselves. Of the top 10 teams, only the Wild are without at least one player making over $6 M leaving some teams, most notably the Devils and Flames, with weak teams that have cap problems. Quality players are nice, but over-paying them at the expense of team depth can kill a team. Not every team in the bottom 10 are sure things to make the playoffs, but all have room for improvement thanks to smart spending.