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Managing in Cap Leagues

The strategies it takes to consistently win a salary cap league are fundamentally different than the strategies that apply to pretty much every other setup.  They need to be treated as the unique animals that they are.

The Framework

The key to winning in cap leagues is to establish $/point budgets and stick to them (or spend less $ for more points!). This usually means taking on high-priced scoring stars who do not score enough to justify their salaries.  In order to offset the stupid amount of money you're spending on top players (and in most leagues, top scorers don’t justify their salaries), you need young players who outproduce their salary to get a team that, on average, satisfies your $/point budgets. It turns out that in these type of leagues, it can be relatively easy to find high-scoring superstars... but hard to find those young dudes that outproduce their salary.

If the league you’re assessing is in its inaugural season, you’ll have to be a little creative to figure out how many points it will take to win.  Ideally, you can get access to the final results from the league in its previous seasons.  The simplest way to describe the approach is this:

  • Find out approximately how many points it takes to win, and add 10% to that.
  • Divide that number into the total salary cap, and that'll give you $/point.
  • Using the League Breakdown, work out how many points the average owned player at each position puts up.

From those averages, you can understand what a player needs to produce for a given salary - if they produce below average for their position, it's OK provided their salary is proportionally less.

This method assumes that if you set budgets in this way ($/point), you need to spend to the cap in order to maximize the points you get. Just to throw a number out there as an example (and it won't be anything like what you actually need in your league), if you had a budget of $1M per point but only spend $30M, you'd only get 30 points. You need to spend to your cap to get more points.

In other words, $/point needs to be translated to the different positions. Defenders almost always produce less than forwards, but their salaries can be similar. This does NOT mean that you should just treat your D as throw aways... it means that you need to work out a "base" salary and cost for each position.

An Example

So that’s enough theoretical talk; let’s show how it’s done in practice.

For this exercise, we’ll take a 10-team points only league that has 12 forwards and 6 defenders per team and uses a salary cap similar to the NHL’s, $58M.

In this league, there are about 120 "active" forwards and 60 "active" defensemen, and using the League Breakdown, we know that the average player at those positions will produce:

F: 62 points… let’s call it 65,
D: 39 points… let’s call it 40.

(We've rounded up because it'll make budgeting harder!)

A team full of “average” players will put up 1,020 points.  Since we don’t have any previous years’ results to check against, to set the target for what the team needs to achieve in order to win, we’ll push it 20% above “average” to 1,224.  Let’s just call that 1,225.

OK, so there’s $58M to spend to get to 1,225 points. For simplicity, we'll call that $50,000 per point.

One more piece of the budgeting puzzle: how much do you spend on an average players? There is $58M for 12 forwards and 6 defenders, which is about $3.2M per skater.

Again, to simplify, since high-end forwards cost more in the real world, you probably want to set your budget for forwards a bit higher at $3.65M and correspondingly 2.35M for defenders. Why those numbers? We’re taking the average defender (40 points) and assigning the same salary as a forward at the same production.

To have a winning roster, you need an average forward to put up 65 P for $3.65M. Using $50,000/P that means that, to be on budget, a forward should fit somewhere into this continuum:

  • 0 P = $0.4M
  • 40 P = $2.4M
  • 50 P = $2.9M
  • 60 P = $3.4M
  • 65 P = $3.65M (the average forward @ budget)
  • 70 P = $3.9M
  • 80 P = $4.4M
  • 90 P = $4.9M
  • 100 P = $5.4M
  • 110 P = $5.9M
  • 120 P = $6.4M
  • 130+ P = $6.9M

A defender should fit into this one.

  • 0 P = $0.35M
  • 20 P = $1.35M
  • 30 P = $1.85M
  • 40 P = $2.35M (the average defender @ budget)
  • 50 P = $2.85M
  • 60 P = $3.35M
  • 70 P = $3.85M

Now looking at these numbers, you can see why it's hard to win salary cap leagues -- where the hell are you going to find a 100 P player for $5.4M?!? Or a 60 FPT defender for $3.35M? Hard to do. But because you still need those expensive, top-end scorers in order to win, you can offset those costly guys with cheap guys.

Let's look at Sidney Crosby as an example. To justify a cap hit of $8.7M, you need him to produce something in the range of 165 P! Not freakin' likely! But a season of 110 points (or say 109 like in the 2009/2010 season), which (if on budget) would be $5.85M.

(65 P @ $3.65M as a basis + 44 P @ $50,000/P = $5.85M)

So, Crosby on his own isn't on budget... but if you offset his obscene salary with a couple overperforming young defenders like Keith Yandle and Michael Del Zotto? 

Yandle put up 41 points in the 2009/2010 season. For that production, you want a salary of about $2.35M. He's LESS than that. That's good! In fact, for Yandle’s salary of $1.3M, you’d only expect him to put up 20 points. 

Del Zotto put up 37 points for a salary of $1.1M… for his salary you’d only expect 15 points.

So between Crosby, Yandle and Del Zotto for their combined $11.1M ($8.7M + $1.3M + $1.1M), your budget says you should be getting a total of 200 P back for that money (166 from Crosby, 19 from Yandle, 15 from Del Zotto). In reality, the return was 187 points (109 from Crosby, 41 from Yandle, 37 from Del Zotto).  Pretty close, but even then hard to meet.

These budgets are daunting. That's why cap leagues are HARD, and players on cheap contracts (rookie contracts, etc) are essential to success.

Steven Stamkos was one of the few top-end producers in the 2009/2010 season that outproduced his salary in this particular league setup.  His 95 points were more than the 67 that his $3.75M salary expected of him.  Having a guy like that on your roster in a salary cap league is critically important.

This is the methodology to strictly manage a team in a cap league. The implication though (and you need to keep this in mind) is that if you're budgeting $50,000 per point, you need to spend as much as possible to get the most points possible.  It can often be easier to get expensive high-scoring players than it is the low-salaried ones you need.


Published Mon, Aug 09th, 2010