Chip McCleary has the final season cap numbers up over at Cap Central. Atlanta appears to have spent $44.1 million in cap space which puts them 2nd from the bottom of the league.
At the start of the season the Thrashers were just slightly above the cap floor of $40.7 million but then they added Mathieu Schneder's $5.6 million contract (and subtracted Larsen and Klee's money). The Schneider acquisition pushed them closer to a $45-46 million cap hit for the year.
Half way through the season the Thrashers began shedding older and more expensive veterans and their cap numbers began to fall. As the Thrashers got younger they also saw their cap number fall: Jason Williams ($2.2 million) was replaced by Rich Peverley ($0.5 million); Havelid ($2.7 million) was replaced by Salmela ($0.8 million); and Schneider ($5.6 million) departing opened the door for regular ice time for Valabik ($0.9 million) and Oystrick ($0.6 million).
The Thrashers youth movement caused their final cap number to drop. On the other side of the ledger the amazing play of Zach Bogosian in the 2nd half may have resulted in him hitting his bonus clauses. A high first round pick like Bogosian has a base salary of more than $1 million with league-defined bonus clauses worth roughly $2.
Many NHL rookies fail to trigger the bonus incentives because the thresholds are difficult to achieve. At this point I don't know if Bogosian wil receive his full bonus money or not but the $44.1 million cap hit assumes that he will qualify for all his bonus money. If that assumption is false the Thrashers final cap number might be closer to $42 million which would drop them to 30th in the league.
Now it is worth noting that when the Thrashers went with younger cheaper players they actually played better hockey on the ice. For a revenue poor franchise like Atlanta getting high production from players on their 1st or 2nd contract is a necessity--if they wish to contend on a budget.
How strongly is cap spending related to making the playoffs?
Below is a chart showing the cap spending by each team with a notation next to the playoff qualifiers.
The relationship between cap spending and making the playoffs was strong in the 2008-09 season. A team can still make the post-season without spending the cap maximum as CBJ, CAR, VAN and STL demonstrated. What do all four teams have in common with each other? Unusually good performances out of their netminders in 2008-09. Poor teams have to rely on defense and outstanding goaltending to steal a playoff berth from the bigger spending club.
Why is it that we see a strong relationship between spending and making the playoffs--and yet when the Thrashers got young and cheaper they actually played better? The answer is that poor teams have roster holes. In the case of the Thrashers they played better in the 2nd half--but even that 2nd half pace would have left them just shy of the playoffs. And the Thrashers still have significant holes, they are missing a scoring forward, a good PK and solid backup goalie. Filing all those holes will require money--but filing those holes might make the Thrashers a playoff team next year.