The Nashville Model

There aren’t a lot of teams out there trying to follow the Nashville model. Winnipeg is one of them.

For a team that’s willing to acknowledge its small market nature, the Nashville Predators are actually an excellent team to emulate.

Last fall, Derek Zona of Copper and Blue presented a system that he called “Marginal Playoff Efficiency.” He defined it as follows:

MPE measures the spending efficiency on points earned over the minimum necessary to make the playoffs. Because luck is often uncontrollable, I allowed for a 5% underage on points. For example, in 2006-2007 a team in the Western Conference needed 96 points to qualify for the playoffs. My minimum is 91. That number is different each season and different in each conference, so I’ve split the two conferences. The numbers below are the result. I’ve taken the number of points over the playoff minimum divided by cap dollars spent over the league floor. So Marginal Playoff Efficiency is points over the playoff minimum divided by dollars spent over the salary floor.

The Predators have consistently been one of the most cost-efficient playoff teams in the National Hockey League based on Derek’s numbers. They ranked first in the Western Conference three times in six post-lockout seasons, and second in two others. The only year they failed to rank first or second was 2008-09, when the team missed the playoffs. That’s also the only season since the lockout that Nashville has run a negative goal differential. Overall, Nashville ranked third (behind San Jose and Detroit) among Western Conference teams since the lockout.

There are a lot of things related to Nashville’s success that mark them as a unique club. One is the longevity of their coaching/management duo. David Poile and Barry Trotz were the general manager and head coach in 1998-99 when the Predators entered the league; they are the general manager and head coach today.

Payroll is perhaps the most interesting point, however. In 2007-08 – the year Chipman is talking about in the video above – the Predators had the lowest salary cap hit in the NHL. It’s slowly risen from that point to now – the Predators today sit 25th in the NHL in total payroll.

Choosing the Predators as a primary model – as opposed to the Sharks and the Red Wings – fits with what we know about this team and ownership group. Financial prudence is going to be a calling card of the Jets. They are not going to spend their way to success; rather they’re going to run with a low payroll and attempt to ice a consistently competitive club.

We can also gather something on the short-term goals of the club. Winnipeg, today, has a minus-20 goal differential. The last time Nashville finished in that range was 2002-03, when they posted a minus-23 goal differential and finished well out of the playoffs. The next year, they got that goal differential up to minus-1 and made the post-season. They’ve missed the playoffs just once since, and as we have noted have been remarkably cost-effective every year since.

The playoffs next season and a goal differential near the break-even mark are ambitious but attainable goals, and probably represent a reasonable line in the sand when it comes to measuring the Jets’ performance in 2012-13.