There are always NHL teams that spend to the salary cap and others that barely meet its floor. But the money spent does not always tell the tale of success and failure on the ice.
Using salary information on CapGeek,com is not without its flaws. For instance, it includes Chris Pronger on Philadelphia's payroll. It has 26 active players for the San Jose Sharks, including goalie Antero Niittymaki who has been on injured reserve all season.
However, not professing to know all such details about all teams, their content was used for salaries to be consistent. Statistics used for that and point percentage (taken from NHL.com) are as of December 18th, 2011 at midnight Pacific Standard Time.
What we find is that of the 16 teams that currently project to make the playoffs, three are at least $10 million under the salary cap, five more are in the bottom half of the league in spending. Four each are in the top half or among the six the site shows as over the cap, forced to use their long-term injured reserve space.
In other words, money spent is not making much difference in who makes the playoffs.
In fact, six of the 10 teams projecting to finish with over 100 points are in the bottom half in payroll. Five of those teams project a top-five seed in their conference just like every Cup-winner at any time in any active player's career.
The teams that win the most for the least player salary spent are the ones that offer their owners the most bang for their buck. However, making the playoffs is everything, not only because it gives them a chance to earn additional revenue in the spring but because it keeps them alive for the only goal that matters: Winning a Stanley Cup.
Thus, there are the eight teams on pace to earn a playoff berth for the least payroll, listed in order of their projected seed and thus, Cup-winning chances. Six of those teams are in the Western Conference, and four in the Central Division.