If there’s one thing the NHL office is obsessed with, it’s competitive balance. Parity rules hockey, and the league often emphasizes that it treats its 32 teams equally. This is facilitated by a hard salary cap. There’s a fixed amount that teams can spend on players, and as the league recovers revenue lost due to the pandemic, that salary cap remains largely unchanged, jumping to $82.5 million this season after three consecutive seasons. at $81.5 million.

However, there is an unspoken secret in the NHL: there is no salary cap in hockey operations. And behind the scenes, there is an arms race between the teams that determines where to spend the extra money and how much to spend to find a competitive advantage.

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“No one is going to say that out loud,” said one NHL assistant general manager. “But the gap between the haves and have-nots in the league is quite large. Not everyone plays with the same deck of cards. spend, you are deceiving yourself.

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What does this gap look like? Two dozen front office executives, coaches, agents, players and people closest to the game shared their thoughts to get an idea of ​​what spending is going on behind the scenes. They help explain how money is spent (and saved). Headcount is the easiest start.

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NHL teams are not required to register employees in the league – and the league does not track this and has no rules. There is not even a rule on how many coaches a team can hire. The Colorado Avalanche just won the Stanley Cup with the smallest coaching staff in the league; Jared Bednar has two assistants as well as a goaltending coach, a video coach and a skills coach.

New Philadelphia Flyers employee John Tortorella has the largest coaching staff (eight people). Some teams are figuring out how to surround their players with even more resources. The Flyers are one of four teams in the league whose skill coaches travel on the road, along with the Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers.

But when it comes to the number of people involved in hockey operations, everyone interviewed for this story pointed out that one team spends far more than the rest: the Maple Leafs.

“If the salary cap was $140 million, Toronto would have a salary of $140 million,” one agent said. “These are the Yankees or the Dodgers of our league. [GM] Kyle [Dubas] seems to get carte blanche from possession.” Toronto players sometimes joke that they could spend every day introducing themselves to another member of the team. Members of the rival headquarters joke that Dubas has more assistant general managers than they have connections; Technically, the Leafs have five AGMs. , plus eight people in hockey operations with the title of director.

At the bottom of the list is Carolina, which has the most modest front office in the league. There is a small circle around CEO Don Waddell and they are all tasked with multiple tasks. Waddell also holds the title of team president. Multitasking works throughout the organization; in the playoffs, public relations manager Mike Brown assisted with video reviews of goals.

Canes owner Tom Dundon said his philosophy is to spend money on players – find the best players, pay them and treat them well. But in hockey operations, he has fewer people with big voices. “I like to work lean and hungry,” Dundon said. “In my opinion, there is a limit to how many people you need. I don’t pay attention to what other people do. But I know that when there are too many people around, not only for hockey, but in general, layers, and people don’t know whose job it is. I want to be clear: if someone is there, they matter.”

Staff Compensation

Compensation varies by league. Depends on the team and the market, as well as how much the owner is willing to spend. CEO salaries have been rising slowly over the past few years. Coaches salaries all over the map. Assistant coaches in the NHL earn between $200,000 and $750,000, mostly depending on experience level. Head coaches receive between $1 million and $5.5 million, depending more on market dynamics.

Not everyone is on the same page with treatment. “We all talk and know what’s going on in other organizations,” said one of the assistant coaches. “Teams with the best culture value their employees.”

Some teams are happy to cover the cost of visiting coaches’ families if they move for work. Teams that are said to have a good staff culture do things like pay for after-game meals and cover things like cars, parking, work visas. Top teams fly with their best scouts in business class; but for most teams, even the Director of Amateur Scouting relies on his airline status to get promoted.

Low-level teams are trying to save money on things like medical benefits by offering young coaches and staff the same plan as part-time employees. “This is despite the fact that coaches work 100-plus hours a week and spend weeks without family,” one executive remarked.

Analytics departments

The fastest growing area in the NHL front offices is analytics. Difficult to track as many teams hire consultants or have full-time employees with separate roles. The Flyers and Maple Leafs are commonly referred to as the largest analytics departments in the NHL. Seattle Kraken, already with a strong analyst staff, is expected to hire even more this season.

“When I started [in the NHL in 2015]it was, “Oh, if they have one person in analytics, they’re such innovators,” Kraken assistant CEO Alexandra Mandrycki said. “Now if you don’t have more than one person, you fall behind.”

Consider: When Pat Verbeek was named general manager of the Anaheim Ducks last season, he took inventory of his legacy staff and realized it needed to be restructured to better match his previous stops in Detroit and Tampa Bay. The Ducks only had one full-time analyst last season. This off-season, Verbeek quadrupled his workforce.

Scouting departments

Scout headquarters in the league vary in size and mission. Prior to COVID, some teams were already shifting to a strategy more focused on video intelligence. This saves costs as they don’t fly scouts around the country. However, most top scouts still believe that live scouting from arenas is optimal. You may notice things that are not in the video, such as the body language of the players between shifts. In addition, video streams for youth leagues can be highly inconsistent in quality.

“For years, the two teams that saved the most money on scouting were Buffalo and Ottawa,” said one amateur scouting director. “They would have a small staff and would really believe in video intelligence. It was a few general managers ago. Now they are more on par with everyone else. because of their reputation, but they actually have a good department. Now this is a priority for them, during the restructuring.

Teams prioritize where they want to look for talent and how much money they are willing to spend looking for it. The teams with the largest presence in Europe are the Chicago Blackhawks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Rangers and Detroit Red Wings.

“I think that’s the only area you need to cover your areas, but you don’t necessarily need the most people, you just need the best people,” one GM said. “For me, Tampa is the best player in its class. [Assistant GM and director of amateur scouting] Al Murray hosts a great program; just look at their track record.”

The Lightning wouldn’t have had their recent success if they hadn’t revealed draft gems such as Nikita Kucherov (second round pick), Briden Point (third round), Anthony Cirelli (third round), or recent player Ondrej Palat (seventh round) .

Player Development

All teams have the opportunity to recruit promising players every year. But once they are in their system, the approach changes a lot. “Kings are great at working with their potential clients,” one agent said. “Though some teams aren’t quite there yet. I don’t want to name a team, but I have one player who was selected in the second round in 2020. text to check.”

The Kings, Rangers, and Maple Leafs have consistently been cited for investing the most resources in player development, while the Montreal Canadiens and Red Wings have been cited as “rising” teams in this area.

Los Angeles general manager Rob Blake said he inherited a large development staff from his predecessor, Dean Lombardi, who was inspired by MLB models. Today, the Kings have a seven-person player development team, and they travel around the world during the season to test prospects.

“We are very structured in our visits and communication with potential clients,” Blake said. “Our player development staff never teach them any structure or system – we leave that to the coaching staff. It’s all about developing relationships and building trust with the #1 goal of making them better hockey players.”

Goalie Resources

Several teams are trying to find an advantage in goalkeepers. “Honestly, I’m surprised more teams aren’t focusing on this area, given the huge impact a goaltender can have on a team’s success,” said an NHL team analyst. Goaltending coaches in the league are consistently underpaid compared to their counterparts, and many goaltending coaches are tasked with overseeing NHL and AHL personnel, according to several people interviewed.

Several commands have been honed here. The Florida Panthers, Calgary Flames, and Vegas Golden Knights have created “goaltending departments,” while the Rangers, New York Islanders, and Kings have informal goaltending departments because they also invest a lot of resources. to this position.

Panthers general manager Bill Zito said the formation of their “goalkeeping excellence department” was “accidental” as Roberto Luongo and his brother Leo in the organization supported…