One word consistently ran through Ryan Suter’s mind during a recent meeting prior to a game against the San Jose Sharks.
“We look at their top six forwards and we’re like, ‘Wow,’ and then you look at their top four defensemen and it’s like, ‘Wow,’” the Nashville Predators defenseman said. “It’s always been that way [in San Jose].”
The local National Hockey League franchise never has been built on big names. Although with Suter, his defense partner Shea Weber and goalie Pekka Rinne that has changed slightly in recent years.
Likewise, the Predators never have been known for big money.
When it comes to bang for the buck, though, no franchise in any of North America’s four major professional sports leagues has gotten more from the teams it has fielded over the past five seasons, according to a recent study by Bloomberg Businessweek.
The study used payroll information and wins and losses to develop an average cost per win in the NHL, National Football League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball. Franchises then were ranked based on how much higher or lower they were than the norm.
The Predators, who averaged less than $1 million in salary per victory, were No. 1 overall by a slight margin over MLB’s Florida Marlins. The NFL’s New England Patriots (fourth overall) and the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs (fifth) were tops in their respective leagues. Oddly, San Jose, with all of its big-names, was second to Nashville among NHL franchises.
In contrast, such venerable institutions as the New York Yankees, New York Knicks, Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Flyers were among the bottom 10 in least efficient use of their payrolls.
“We take a lot of pride in what we have in this locker room,” Weber said. “We don’t have the most skilled team. We don’t have the highest salary team but we come to work, and we have to play like a team in order to win.”
General manager David Poile has worked with financial constraints since the start of the franchise, and even before. As GM for the Washington Capitals before he helped launch Nashville’s effort, he worked for notoriously cash-strapped owner Abe Pollin.
Last year, for example, he traded for the rights to forward Sergei Kostitsyn and then signed him to a one-year deal for $550,000. Kostitsyn led the team with 23 goals and shared team-high honors with 50 points.
Poile signed Joel Ward as a free agent prior to 2008-09 for $500,000 and Ward scored 17 goals with 18 assists. The following year Marcel Goc was brought on board for $550,000 and immediately produced a career-high 12 goals.
“David did that from Day One, and for many years before that,” former center Greg Johnson, an original Predator, said. “Just look at the players the team has lost or has not been able to sign — [Kimmo] Timonen, [Scott] Hartnell, [Dan] Hamhuis, [Tomas] Vokoun — I mean, you just go down the line.”
Two weeks ago Poile signed Rinne to a seven-year, $49 million pact, which begins with the 2012-13 season and said he has been authorized to sign Weber and Suter to, in relative terms, similar big money deals.
If Poile does sign all three to long-term contracts, the ability to find bargains likely will become that much more important.
“He does a very good job of doing what he has to do and finding those guys — guys like Joel Ward and Marcel Goc in past years — that came in and really contributed on low salaries,” Weber said. “I’m sure he’s going to continue to do that.”
Some have even said he’s the best at it.