Why GMs Overpay for Bottom Six Players


Armstrong was somehow injured on this play. 

A lot of the off season moves in the NHL are about “keeping up with the Joneses”. One of the first things a new GM, or a team with a new owner does is open up the wallet and dole out some cash to UFAs on July 1. This sends a variety of messages. It tells their owner and fans they’ll do what it takes to make the team better. It tells opposing GMs that their team will be tougher to play against next year. And it tells me that they may have fallen victim to the Prius Effect.

Social Signaling


The Prius Effect is a form of Conspicuous Consumption identified by Steven and Alison Sexton. Conspicuous Consumption has been around forever, but was first called such by the economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen in the 19th Century. Veblen said that: “in order to gain and hold the esteem of man it is not sufficient merely to possess wealth or power. The wealth or power must be put in evidence, for esteem is awarded only on evidence.” Basically, if you got it, flaunt it. We buy things like fancy cars, big screen TVs, and nice clothes not just to enjoy them, but to show to our peers that we can afford them. We want people to notice all of our fancy stuff.  

Recently, thanks to the heightened importance of environmental concerns among certain portions of the population, conspicuous consumption has become frowned upon. For many people buying unnecessary luxury goods doesn’t carry the same cache it once did. That doesn’t mean we still can’t buy it, according to Sexton & Sexton: “evolving social norms suggest esteem can be attained through the demonstration of certain kinds of austerity–specifically austerity that minimizes the environmental impact of consumption.” What better way to show that you’re green than by buying a hybrid vehicle?

While there are a number of types of hybrid cars available in North America, the Toyota Prius is the most iconic. When people think hybrid car, they think Prius. The reason they dubbed it the “Prius Effect” is that they found that people who lived in more environmentally conscious neighborhoods were more likely to purchase a Prius over other similarly eco-friendly vehicles. They were even willing “to pay up to several thousand dollars to signal their environmental bona fides through their car choices.”

Keeping up with the Sathers

We can apply this logic to NHL GMs. When GMs are looking at players to add they often focus too much on their reputation and not enough on their actual statistics. When Buffalo signed Ville Leino until forever, they talked about how he was a proven playoff performer and a big game player and failed to mention his unsustainable post-season shooting percentage and lack of regular season success.

Many people believe that Burke wants to add some players to his bottom six this summer. The last time he said that he signed Colby Armstrong for $3million dollars. Here are some names that terrify me:

Brandon Prust, Jordan Tootoo, Adam Burish, Gregory Campbell, George Parros.

They are all “name” players who have the reputation for being “Brian Burke” bottom-six type players. All of these players will be massively overpaid. One of the benefits of advanced statistics is that they can help identify comparable players who may not be as well known around the league, and as such would be available for much less money.

While GMs may think they like a player for his skill set, to often they overpay for a particular player when cheaper comparable options are available because of their supposed reputation. I’m looking at you Colby Armstrong. Instead of trying to find the best value, their desire to send a message convinces them they need to buy a Prius.

You can read Sexton & Sexton’s full paper on the Prius Effect here. 

  • Is the whole “July 1 is our draft” thing still even true anymore?

    It’s a cute grenade to lob at Burke, but it’s been at least three years since he said it and the team’s actions the past two summers make me believe it’s not really the way the Leafs are operating these days.

  • I’m all for criticizing Burke for a job poorly done. Just wondering if we shouldn’t be setting our sights on something he said three seasons ago and that his actions since seem to indicate he doesn’t even consider that an option for building the team anymore.