Costs of man-games lost to injury for National Hockey League teams

Each man-game lost to injury costs a National Hockey League team an average of $35,000 in salary paid to a player who cannot play. This adds up to $7.6 million and 10 points over the course of a season.

Eight teams in the National Hockey League lost fewer than 150 man-games to injury in the 2016/17 season. All eight of those teams qualified for the post-season. Among those eight were four of the top five teams in total points won, including President’s Trophy winner (most regular season points) Washington Capitals. Teams that did not qualify for the post-season lost an average of 75 more man-games than those who did.

Of the remaining eight playoff teams, three are at the other end of the NHL’s man-games lost table. The Pittsburgh Penguins had the second-highest points total in the NHL, and Anaheim won the Pacific Division. These clubs accomplished those feats despite losing 278 and 322 man-games to injury, respectively.

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However, the clubs at the bottom of the man-games lost table are among the least cost-efficient per point. The data reveal cost-efficiencies related to man-games lost in the National Hockey League that are the opposite of trends in Major League Baseball (MLB).

Teams that spend more on salary tend to win more in both leagues. In the National Hockey League, 11 of the 16 playoff teams had an approximate total salary above the league median.

In the MLB, each win cost marginally more, with a visible jump in cost per win for all but two teams winning more than 85 games. However, in the NHL, the cost per point decreases as the points won increases.

This relationship holds even when removing the outlier Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche earned 21 fewer points than the next-lowest team at a cost of $400,000 per point more than the next least-efficient team (Vancouver Canucks). Eleven teams with a cost-per-point lower than the NHL median of $767,000 qualified for the playoffs.

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Beyond the direct financial costs of salaries paid to unavailable players, man-games lost to injury cost teams points, places on the table and potential playoff berths. In the Eastern Conference, the second wild-card team had 95 points. The Western Conference’s second wild-card had 94 points.

Two teams in the Eastern Conference – the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning – finished the season with 94 points. They lost 7.6 and 19.2 point-shares due to man-games lost to injury. Four other teams cross the 94-point threshold when their point-shares lost to injury are added to their actual 2016/17 points total.

Similarly, three of the four wild card teams could have earned a play-off spot based on division standings if they had lost fewer point-shares to injury. Toronto, New York Rangers and Nashville would all have closed the gaps based on lost point-shares. Toronto and Boston tied on 95 points, with Boston taking the advantage on goal differential. The Rangers were six points out of a divisional spot, but lost 12 point-shares due to injury.

The Pittsburgh Penguins could have overtaken their rivals the Washington Capitals for the President’s Trophy by reducing their point-shares lost due to injury. The Penguins finished the season with 111 points, but lost 20 point-shares due to injury: twice the NHL average. Recovering eight of those point-shares would have moved them ahead of the Capitals for the regular-season lead.

The teams in the top 20 arguably have the most to gain from reducing their man-games lost to injury. Recovering a few points lost to player injury can have its greatest impact when that team is on the edge of a play-off berth or a better play-off seeding.

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However, any team benefits financially and on the ice from reducing player injuries and improving return-to-play times. The data here only considers losses due to salaries paid to unavailable players. It does not factor in medical and rehabilitation costs. The money saved across all sources by reducing man-games lost to injury can enable a team to invest in new players and contracts. This allows the team to increase their total salary expenditure while reducing their cost per point, both of which track with success in the final standings.

Data compiled from Man-Games Lost and Sporting Intelligence. Cover photo credit: Keith Allison / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0