Monday, May 26, 2008

And this is good how?

Today, Mirtle has a good breakdown of the Penguins pending cap crunch. Basically he points out what most hockey fans are aware of--that there is no way that a talented team like the Pens can be kept together in a cap system for the long run. Basically Pittsburgh will have two choices once the entry level contracts of Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal expire--allow some of their core guys to move on, or try and keep them all and fill the rest of the roster out with AHL caliber players.

What isn't asked in the piece is this: How is this good for hockey?

When the cap was brought in following the lock-out it was heralded as the great saviour of small market teams. Finally a system was put in place that would allow the Edmontons and Buffalos of the league to compete with the big boys. It was even whispered that a cap system could eventually lead to the return of NHL hockey to a Winnipeg or Quebec City.

The idea of a cap was supported by most Canadian fans. For reasons that are unclear, it remains supported today.

Ironically, the teams that have been most adversely affected by cap economics in the early going have been the small market teams that the system was supposed to help. A great Sabers team was nearly dismantled. Pittsburgh is forced to make a run for the cup a couple years before it is likely ready because it knows that time is of the essence.

But, regardless of whether a great team is in a small or large market it will need to be dismantled prematurely under the current system. Unless there is a change, we will never see another great dynasty emerge in the NHL and that's a real shame. Think about the sports teams that captured your imagination--the '80s Oilers, the '70s Habs, the '80s Celtics and Lakers, the Yankees of any generation, the Jays of the early '90s. Love those teams or hate them, you paid attention and they created interest in their sport.

As a hockey fan, you should want to see the 2011-12 Pens win 60 games. Sadly, you will be denied that opportunity by a system that encourages mediocrity and accomplishes little more than to make more money for the NHL owners.


Dennis Prouse said...

At the risk of touching off the same kind of endless debate that dominated hockey boards during the lockout, I disagree. Everyone talks about how great the Canadiens' dynasty from the 70s was, or the Oilers' dynasty from the 80s. Well, as a Canuck fan in my youth, I thought they both sucked. Dynasties are only great if you happen to be a fan in that city. (There is a particularly hot corner in hell for all those bandwagon fans who instantly attach themselves to whichever team is winning a lot. Just check out all the new Patriots fan in recent years.) Dynasties are bad for competitive balance, and bad for the league overall.

I vastly prefer a system that allows teams to rebuild on the fly, and thus be able to bounce back quickly from a bad year. In the bad old days, when the ownership said they were in, "rebuilding mode", it meant you had about another four or five years of suckitude to endure before your team was even going to get a sniff. Brutal - who can get excited about that? As a Sens fan, you'll have to excuse me if I remain pretty dry eyed at the fact that one of my team's Conference opponents might be denied the opportunity run roughshod over the rest of the league for years.

As for the owners allegedly rolling in cash, the fact is that most pro sports franchises, including the NFL, are simply vanity or personal interest purchases by rich guys. They are not an investment or wealth creation vehicle. Only a small handful of franchises -- Dallas Cowboys, Toronto Maple Leafs, etc. -- generate a large enough return on equity (ROE, as it's known in the business world) to actually qualify as a strong business investment. For all the rest of the owners, they would be better off selling the team and putting the money in blue chip stocks, if money is what it was all about. What the revenue linked cap does is ensure that the losses are at least tolerable, while at the same time making it impossible for teams like the Rangers to pay $2 million a year for a sixth defenceman. (Stand up and take a bow, Sylvain Lefebvre!) The problem with the uncapped system wasn't the money being paid to the top shelf guys, but rather the brutal salary inflation that was taking place for mid-level guys and checkers, the kind of guys for whom big market teams could afford to overpay. That skewed the market for everyone else. The fact that you are no longer seeing $2 million a year backup goalies, fourth line wingers, and sixth defencemen, as you were routinely seeing pre-lockout, is to me the best feature of the new system.

Duane Rollins said...

When I posted, I knew I wasn't exactly going in with new material. Still...we're on far opposite sides of this debate Dennis. Maybe that's because I'm--for the most part--a neutral NHL fan. I want to see great hockey and what I see today doesn't grab me. It's too vanilla. Teams lack individual characteristics and I long for the day when there was clear division between top and bottom. I appreciate what you are saying--and I know there are others that feel the same way--but I just don't get it. I'm sincerely baffled that yo see parity when I see mediocrity.

Anonymous said...

I tend more toward DP's view. A partial solution to Duanne's concerns: A team that makes it to the Stanley Cup final series is rerwarded by giving it more cap room for the next two seasons. Say an extra 10%. A chance at The Cup and more cap room, great incentives to get to the finals.


Big V said...

I agree with DP.
Duane you mentioned that the small market teams are being ripped apart. Well that could have happened anyways. In the old NHL the Brier and Drury's would have demanded and likely got a lot of money from someone.
At least in the new NHL, a good general manager and good scouting will be rewarded and small market teams can rebuild quickly.

Also, in the new NHL do you really believe that the Pens would be the team to spend 80 million on all its players? Last i checked they dont have a lot of extra money to spend and some other team out there would buy the good players away anyway.

Duane Rollins said...

Here the thing: I Don't lose sleep if a team decides to drop players because of a team imposed cap. It's a free market. They had the opportunity to keep the player, but chose not to do so. My issue with the cap is that it takes that choice away.

I also don't buy that the Canadian small market teams, or teams like the Pens that are seeing success, couldn't be near the top of the league in spending. The biggest pre-lockout problem in Canada was the dollar, not revenue streams. The Canadian teams are the richest in the league now.

Pittsburgh is selling its building out now. Why wouldn't it spend more money on salary to keep its players and keep selling the tickets (likely at a higher price point)?

Canadian fans have been convinced that the cap has been a Godsend for their teams--that if the cap had not come in that they would be destined to be bottom feeders, if not in Kansas City. I simply don't agree with that assessment and have yet to see evidence that a cap system does anything to help small markets. Actually, if you believe that the way teams separate themselves is through good management and scouting, and there isn't a cap on how much a team can spend on management and scouting, then I could make the argument that a cap benefits larger markets.

Dennis Prouse said...

I don't see the cap as benefiting either large or small markets, Canadian or U.S. ones. Rather, it is just a tool to help create a more level playing field between teams. It forces teams to make smarter decisions with contracts, as it becomes a lot more difficult to simply buy your way out of player personnel mistakes.

I was struck by something last year, when my Hockey Hall of Fame calendar featured a mid-70s photo of the Habs playing the Capitals. Sports is a zero sum game, meaning that if you have a dynasty like the 70s Habs, you also must have perputual sad sacks like the Caps. Was that an exciting matchup? Only if you are 11 years old, and think that watching your team put the wood to another team 8-1 is a good night. For other fans, those predictable drubbings were incredibly boring.

Duane Rollins said...

Well, we're going to have to agree to disagree. You can do so safe in the knowledge that my desire to see the league return to a full free market has as much a chance of happening as the Leafs winning the 2009 Cup.

sager said...

But look at the Sens. They had two high-dollar defencemen in Chara and Redden. They should have been able to keep both; instead, they had to let Chara walk, and now a Stanley Cup contender (for that and other reasons) is in tatters.

The NBA used to have its so-called Larry Bird exception which allowed players to re-sign without having their full salaries count vs. the cap. The NHL would never be as forward-thinking.

Let's see how everyone feels after a couple more seasons of musical-chair champions.