Remember back when the new economic order was established in the NHL, how the league trumpeted it as a new era of promise for franchises that operated on a budget?
Well, we’re not about to say that has always been a bunch of hogwash. It was actually the case for a very short time. But now it’s a bunch of hogwash.
Five years after what can only be described as another disastrous collective bargaining agreement for the owners, the league has once again divided itself quite dramatically among have and have-not teams. In order to have a true, legitimate contender in the NHL, you pretty well have to spend to the upper limit of the salary cap, the way the Chicago Blackhawks did this season.
It actually wasn’t that way…at least for one year. In the first season after the lockout when everyone was finding their way, the Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup despite having a payroll of $27.2 million, which put them 28th in the NHL. Their opponent in the final that spring was the Edmonton Oilers, who spent $33.6 million and were 19th in the league. The salary cap that season was $39 million, meaning the Hurricanes spent to just less than 70 percent of the cap and the Oilers slightly more than 86 percent.
But since then, there have been four Stanley Cup finals and of the eight teams that played in them, all but one spent to at least 95 percent of the cap.
In the second post-lockout season, the Anaheim Ducks spent to 95 percent of the $44 million salary cap and the Ottawa Senators spent to 96.6 percent. In 2008, the Detroit Red Wings spent to 95.8 percent of the $50.3 million cap, while the Pittsburgh Penguins spent to 82.9 percent. In 2009, the Penguins spent to 98.6 percent of the $56.7 million cap and the Red Wings 98.2 percent. This season, the Blackhawks actually spent more than the cap, while the Philadelphia Flyers spent to 98.2 percent of the cap.
The more disturbing trend for teams that can’t spend that kind of money is that there’s no doubt the upper end of the cap has become a magnet for teams. The Flyers, for example, were just $1 million under the cap, but 13 teams had higher cap figures than they did this season. In 2009, the Penguins were seventh in the league in spending and the Red Wings were eighth.
So where does that leave budget teams? On the outside looking in, which is precisely the way it was not supposed to be. We were led to believe if a team managed its assets well and spent wisely, its payroll would not be a determining factor in winning.
Yeah, tell the Nashville Predators that.
Better yet, tell the Buffalo Sabres, a team that is still waiting for all of these post-lockout benefits to start kicking in for them. Another feature of the CBA was supposed to be that teams would have a better chance of keeping their players, but the Sabres have lost at least one significant player each summer since the lockout – Jay McKee and J-P Dumont in 2006, Danny Briere and Chris Drury in 2007, Brian Campbell in 2008 (they traded Campbell to the San Jose Sharks at the deadline because they knew they wouldn’t be able to sign him) and Jaroslav Spacek in 2009.
Aside from that and a bunch of other things, this CBA is working out great.
BRIERE WAS ROBBED
One more word on the Conn Smythe Trophy: Jonathan Toews was a bad choice.
Despite proclaiming prior to Game 6 that my first-place vote would go to Chris Pronger, my final ballot had Duncan Keith first, Pronger second and Toews third. Pronger’s play faded badly in the final two games of the series and that prompted me to change my position.
But if I had the opportunity to cast a ballot again, it would look like this: 1. Danny Briere; 2. Duncan Keith; 3. Chris Pronger.
The way I see it, the playoffs are like a college course, with the Stanley Cup final the equivalent to the final exam. That’s worth 50 percent of the mark and the other three rounds of the playoffs combine for the other 50 percent.
And Briere was terrific in both. In the final, he scored 12 points, which was one shy of the all-time record for points in a final. He scored huge goals and was the offensive catalyst on a team that saw some of its top offensive players dry up in a big way at the most crucial time of the season.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.