The New York Islanders are a frugal franchise. It doesn’t have the financial resources of its city rivals the New York Rangers, but yet they remain competitive. For now.
The New York Islanders don’t spend to the salary cap. This isn’t telling tales out of school or anything, but the Isles don’t have the financial muscle of some of the big guns in the league.
Teams like the New York Rangers, the Montréal Canadiens or the Toronto Maple Leafs, to name a few, routinely land at the top of the leagues valuation listing at over a billion dollars. These teams can routinely afford to spend up to the cap. The Islanders don’t have that luxury.
The Isles have the second smallest arena in the league and can only fill up the Barclays’ Center to 86% of its capacity. It’s a tough sell to ask owners to throw money at this team if it won’t be coming back their way.
But there’s a saying that I’m sure we’ve all heard before: You need to spend money to make money. And that’s precisely what the Islanders need to do.
Making the Case for Spending
It’s easy to say that the Islanders owners need to spend money. But does spending actually equal success. If a team can win without breaking the bank then it’s certainly in their best interest to do so.
But when you look at recent league history the evidence shows that spending equals winning. And in sports winning equals more fans, which in turn means more money.
This graph shows how each team ranks on average in terms of its league standings as well as its rank in terms of spending to the cap over the last five season; from 2011-12 to 2015-16. (All cap data was taken from stats.nhlnumbers.com and league standing were taken from NHL.com)
Looking at the chart shows that the more you spend the better your rank. Look at the trend line pointing to the origin of the graph. The closest to the top rank in spending translates to how well that team does in terms of standings.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and the St. Louis Blue are standouts in that argument. The Pens are sixth in average spending to the cap and rank an equal sixth in terms of league standings over the same period. The Blues fare even better with an average cap spending of tenth, but a league standing of fourth.
As with every analysis, there are certain anomalies, like the Anaheim Duck who spend well under the cap but rank near the top of the league every year. And then there’s the Edmonton Oilers that spend near the top of the cap but rank and the bottom of the league year-after-year.
The New York Islanders rank very low in terms of average cap spending at 25 but achieve a higher than average rank at 17. They overachieve just slightly when it comes to their standing in the league.
The Proof is in the Pudding
When the Isles spend they get results, as do most teams in the NHL. The next graph shows how the Islanders have fared year-after-year in both their rank and their spending habits.
When the Islanders spend near the bottom they finish near the bottom. Increase that spending and performance go up accordingly. From 2013-14 to 2014-15, the Islanders went from 26th in the league to 10th in standings.
The difference between 2013-14 and 2014-15? The Islanders acquired free agents Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, and traded for Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk and Jaroslav Halak. Adding skill and talent in every single position.
The acquisitions of Grabovski and Kulemin look a little foolish, especially with a combined $9.187 million cap hit. But trading for the likes Leddy and Boychuk had and continues to have a profound positive effect on this franchise.
Continuing down the path of paying bottom dollar would only have brought bottom dollar players. The Islanders ownership aided by GM Garth Snow knew this and spent to bring in talent to push this franchise forward. Taking the next step means spending more.
Taking the next step means spending more. The Islanders might not be able to do so until they get their financial house in order and can fix that anemic attendance record. Until they can do so, don’t expect the Islanders to progress further.