Cornwall Ontario – I’ve been a big fan of the salary cap, especially as I created one of the first Rotisserie style hockey league systems way back in the late 80’s. It makes a lot of sense.
However the NHL under the long tenure of Commissioner Gary Bettman has changed the game dramatically.
Yes, Bettman has made owners a lot of money and helped build the fanbase, but he’s done so at the expense of traditional hockey.
As a wee d man in the 70’s I remember being told that if a forward came close to my goalie he ended up on his thinking end. That doesn’t happen any longer. Sometimes you can see a forward standing in between three defenders with barely a bump.
While you’d think things like that would lead to more goals it seems like it hasn’t. Today’s product frankly is brutal to watch many times. Parity means that most teams simply don’t have two strong lines to roll out which has created a lot of employment for muckers and grinders.
Looking at today’s emphasis on speed seems to be turning the game into pinball.
Old Time hockey it definitely is not. And while pugilism and some of the nastier elements of the game, that some of us older folk grew up on, are leaving the game, the question is if that’s truly for the better?
When I worked for the Habs in the 90’s and had my stats lab set up there were clear differences between AHL and NHL performances. Now…not as much. We’re seeing KHL players excel in the NHL that probably would not have as easily a few decades ago. Many of our better talents get ground down by defensive systems and far too long a season.
But that is grist for another column. Today’s focus is for poor fans who have to endure far too long of the season knowing that their team isn’t going anywhere and the spin offs from that. And there are a lot from less tickets sold, less beer sold, weaker ratings and interest in the teams.
Right now with the way the draft is set up it seems it’s a lot easier to get a good draft pick than win Lord Stanley’s Cup. That’s not a bad thing, but the problem is that there simply is too much incentive to hit the abort button like the Rangers essentially did this season by telling their fans they’re rebuilding.
A team like Arizona frankly shouldn’t be in the league. There really is enough talent to have 18 teams in the NHL, but we know the money folk will not contract and after the success of the Vegas expansion are drooling at the next cheque from Seattle.
Nothing against either of those cities or their teams, but the net result (pardon the pun) will be more weak sauce.
Now there’s nothing wrong with parity, and with the cap there’s more pressure on GM’s than ever. Frankly it’s surprising that more don’t get fired, but I think we’ll see more of that happening in the future as some of the “Old Boys” retire. We’re also seeing more owners become more visible in their leadership on their teams and while some may have an issue with that, this writer does not. Frankly when you write a cheque for nearly a billion dollars you have every right to drive your team into the ground if you wish. But then again some of our billionaire owners didn’t become billionaires by not being intelligent and shrewd.
And contrary to what some might think, today’s professional sports is a lot closer to what Rotisserie GM’s make decisions on all the time. Managing your cap and contracts can be as critical as drafting the right players. Just look at the Rangers and Chicago who’ve handicapped their franchises for years with bad player signings.
And that’s the focus of this column. It’s time to rethink the headspace in the cap age.
It’s time to give a true incentive for teams to win. IE The team that finishes first overall gets the first draft pick and down the line. This will give management’s incentive to push through every game of the season.
But won’t that mean that Arizona will forever be Arizona? Nope. Because there’s more to this plan than simply reversing a draft.
Right now there’s max that you can sign a player to on an entry level contract. Any changes have to be positive for the players and ownership, although frankly it should be what’s best for the fans as they pay for the sport. More competition through the year with more at stake though should lead to far better value for fans, and the more fans the more cash for owners and players.
Right now the max salary is set at $3,775,000 including bonuses for the first three years of entry for players 21 or younger.
My proposal would raise that total for the 1st Overall Pick to $7,500,000 and the following maximum earnings for the first round.
Right now most UFA’s are players who have reached 27 or 7 seasons of experience and whose contracts have expired. I would suggest dropping that down to 6 years or 6 seasons. Likewise I’d drop one year off the maximum a team could sign its own players to 7 from the current 8.
This plan wouldn’t impact RFA status as it’s rare that a team signs a restricted free agent.
Right now watching how the races are unfolding would a team like St. Louis trade away a Paul Stasny if they were fighting for their play off pick? Would Montreal be where they are if it meant getting a bad pick? We need to stop giving an incentive for anything less than the best. And the trade deadline would be more about winning that dumping UFA’s.
The league owes it to the fans and frankly it leads to better hockey and in the end everyone wins with a better game.
Of course this is just a blueprint and if the NHL and NHLPA embraced this change they’d negotiate the final numbers and terms, but the status quo of teams essentially tanking and playing for the draft pick or simply rolling out players they wouldn’t normally be giving as much ice time to would diminish.
When you pay as much for tickets as Montreal fans to you expect nothing but the best. A change to a system like this would put pressure on ownerships to up their back game from management to trainers, and all support services, especially as they are not part of the cap.
As for the players, forcing them to push through the regular season will lead to more scoring and better numbers.
While the NHL may never be in the glory days of my youth, living through Dynasty days of the Habs, Flyers, Islanders, and Oilers, there are always ways to improve the game.
What do you think hockey fans? You can post your comments below.