The recent disposal of Dany Heatley and subsequent article about the possibility of bringing Alex Semin to San Jose made me want to have a (hopefully) intelligent discussion about the value of wingers in today's NHL. My personal theory is no player that plays strictly left or right wing is worth more than 5.5 million dollars against the cap (an admittedly arbitrary number, but one that to me separates a well-paid player from a very high-dollar player), and my evidence is the following:
The cap hits of the highest paid wingers on the last eight Stanley Cup finalists:
08-09 Loser Detroit Red Wings: Marian Hossa - $7.45M
07-08 Winner Detroit Red Wings: Tomas Holmstrom - $2.25M
07-08 Loser Pittsburgh Penguins: Petr Sykora - $2.625M
Only two of these teams carried a winger that was making more than $5.5M against the cap. One was the 08-09 Wings who paid Marian Hossa $7.45M for his production to drop from 0.96 PPG in the regular season to 0.65 PPG in the playoffs that year. Interestingly, when he took a pay cut to join the Hawks the following year he experienced a similar regular-to-post-season production drop, but the $2M less salary he got from the Hawks allowed them to add other pieces that helped Hossa finally get the cup he was chasing from team to team for the previous several years.
The other was the 10-11 Canucks who were forced to pay Daniel Sedin the same amount as his centerman brother Henrik, namely $6.1M. Was that large amount worth an Art Ross-winning and near-Hart winning regular season? Probably so, but it was still followed up by a drop from 1.27 PPG and +30 in a dominant season to a 0.8 PPG and -9 effort in a playoffs in which his team was eventually disappointed by a much grittier Bruins team whose highest paid winger was a bruiser making $4M.
I think the perennial contenders in the league are demonstrating that when you're talking about bang for buck, spending lots of money on flashy wingers yields the most highlight reel goals during the regular season, but if the desire is playoff success that money is much better spent on defense, centers and goaltending.
I also believe the acquisition of Burns and the Heatley/Havlat swap is evidence that Doug Wilson is also learning this lesson.