Special Report

Teams That Won a Championship on a Shoestring Budget

NHL Teams that won a Championship on a Shoestring Budget

Source: Grant Halverson / Getty Images

5. 2005-2006 Carolina Hurricanes
> Payroll: $35.3 million
> Payroll rank: 16 out of 30 teams

The season after the NHL lockout, the Carolina Hurricanes had the second-lowest preseason odds to win the Stanley Cup. The team was loaded with young players with low salaries. Carolina’s payroll was $35.3 million, one of the lower amounts in the NHL that season. The team was spurred by the excellent goalkeeping of rookie Cam Ward. He allowed just 2.14 goals per game in the postseason. He won the Conn Smythe at just 22 years old. His salary for the season was $684,000. The team’s leading scorer in the playoffs was also a rookie making less than $1 million — 21-year-old Eric Staal.

Source: Dave Sandford / Getty Images

4. 2007-2008 Detroit Red Wings
> Payroll: $44.6 million
> Payroll rank: 16 out of 30 teams

The Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1997, 1998, and 2002. Like other title-winning franchises, Detroit’s payroll ballooned as key players helping to win those championships were rewarded with large contracts, and by the 2003-2004 season, the team had the largest payroll at nearly $78 million. Eventually, high-priced stars like Brett Hull, Steve Yzerman, and Brendan Shanahan began to retire or move on to other teams, allowing younger players like Justin Abdelkader and Johan Franzen to shine, while making under $1 million.

Source: Jim McIsaac / Getty Images

3. 2009-2010 Chicago Blackhawks
> Payroll: $48.3 million
> Payroll rank: 16 out of 30 teams

The 2010 Stanley Cup was the first of three Cups the Chicago Blackhawks won during their 2010s dynasty. The team’s continued success was the result of key contributions of many younger players. Patrick Kane led Chicago in scoring, and Jonathan Toews was named captain and would eventually go on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Both were just 21 years old and took up less than $1 million in cap space each.

Source: Rob Carr / Getty Images

2. 2016-2017 Pittsburgh Penguins
> Payroll: $70.3 million
> Payroll rank: 17 out of 30 teams

The 2016-2017 Pittsburgh Penguins were loaded with high priced talent. Superstar players like Evegeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and Marc-Andre Fleury added up to over $30 million worth of cap space. Yet Pittsburgh was still able to have one of the lower payrolls in the NHL that season by saving money on defense. Pittsburgh’s defensemen had a combined cap hit of less than $8 million, by far the lowest in the NHL.

Source: Dave Sandford / Getty Images

1. 2003-2004 Tampa Bay Lightning
> Payroll: $34.1 million
> Payroll rank: 21 out of 30 teams

The 2003-2004 Tampa Bay Lightning became the only team in modern NHL history to win a Stanley Cup while ranking among the bottom 10 in payroll the season they won. The four top spending teams all had player salaries more than double Tampa Bay’s payroll of $34.1 million. The average team payroll was over $44 million that season. The Lightning were able to win with such low payroll largely thanks to Martin St. Louis’ breakout season. The Lightning right wing led the NHL in points, winning his first Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player — all while making just $1.5 million that season.

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