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Thoughts on Salary Cap & Parity

According to Bob Duff of the Windsor Star, via the Times Colonist, the NHL has entered a period of parity. I politely disagree with both his assertion of parity, and with his suggested cause of that parity. Make the jump, and let's discuss.


Duff attributes this parity to Gary Bettman's dream of a salary cap coming true. He uses examples from the standings to back up his argument, such as the fact that the Detroit Red Wings are fighting for their playoff lives:

A playoff berth, a Detroit guarantee since 1990-91, is on about as solid footing in these parts as the Big Three.

Agreed, and some of those issues are certainly due to losing players because of the salary cap, but they also have to do with injury and wise decision making such as relying on Chris Osgood to be the #1 goalie for the entire season. Their cap situation has to do with decisions to pay players such as Niklas Lidstrom north of  $7 million and Brian Rafalski $6 million per season in the twilight of their careers.

According to the article, any team can beat any other team on any given night. Do you suppose the Oilers (with $1.685 million in cap space) feel they could win a series against the Washington Capitals (with $3.286 million in space)? I doubt it.

My first issue with the article is, obviosuly, I don't feel parity exists in the NHL. There are still very much haves and have nots, with an awful lot of mediocrity in the middle. The mediocre teams (read "Wild") is not due to the salary cap. It is due mainly to mismanaged drafting and player development, coupled with poor trading and an inability to land prime free agents when they become available.

My second argument with the article is the source of this so called parity. Parity does exist in the middle of the pack. When you take the mediocre teams as a group, sure, they could all beat each other. However, the standings show parity because of the charity point for overtime and shootout losses. Having games that are worth two points, and some worth three, make the standings more congested than they really should be. This is a debate that has been rehashed enough, and we won't get into that at this point.

Just know that the parity caused by the three point games is a false one.

Moving back to the article, Duff points out that seven different teams have won the Cup since 2000.

even different franchises have won the Stanley Cup since 2000.

At the moment, only two of them -- the defending champion Penguins and the New Jersey Devils (2000, 2003) -- are secure in the knowledge that they will get invites to this year's dance.

Detroit (2002, 2008) and Colorado (2001) are on the bubble, but that's a much better scenario than Tampa Bay (2004), Carolina (2006) and Anaheim (2007), who are all on the outs.

Let's look at those teams one by one. The Penguins are a result of excellent draft position, free agent acquisitions, and trades at the right time. The Devils have been a powerhouse for years, with tons of young talent, and draft like clairvoyants.

Detroit is still a solid team, only in the position they are in because of the reasons described above. Colorado has experienced a surge this season unlike anyone could imagine and have fallen on some hard times at the wrong time of the year. They are an aberration.  Anaheim caused their own issues by riding aging vets into the ground and paying them ridiculous amounts of money while doing so.

As for Tampa and Carolina... their issues are not with the cap, but with internal problems. The Hurricanes have talent, as do the Lightning. The Canes seem to be unable to put together two winning seasons in a row. Chalk that up to coaching issues or work ethic. The Bolts have had ownership issues, drafting issues, coaching issues, management issues... how is a team suppose to play hard with the organization imploding around them. Well... they could ask the Coyotes, I suppose.

As for seven teams winning the Cup since 2000, big deal. It has always been difficult to repeat as champs in the NHL. Keep in mind the cap was not around until after the 2004-05 lockout, and there have been no back to back champs in the NHL since the mid 90's.The cap did not make it difficult to repeat, the talent level in the NHL did. The grueling length and physical play of the Stanley Cup playoffs did.

Meanwhile, two teams that recently performed so poorly that they received the first pick in the NHL entry draft -- Washington (2004, Alexander Ovechkin) and Chicago (2007, Patrick Kane) -- are legitimate contenders for the Cup this spring.

Agreed, but what does this have to do with the cap? This is the exact reason why the worst team in most leagues get the first pick. It has been the system for decades.

The best part of this entire article is the quotes from the players about the cap. Noted Capologists Matt Cooke and Mike Rupp are quoted as to the system's legitimacy.

Sorry, Mr. Duff. I respectfully disagree with the entire article. It is rare that I cannot even say "I see where you are coming from," but that is where I'm at with this. This article ignores far too many factors and simplifies the league far too much. The salary cap is working, I'll give him that. It may even lead to parity. However, it is going to take a few more years before that happens.

Right now, a team's payroll does not seem to translate directly into on ice productivity. Check back in a couple years, Mr. Duff, maybe your point will be valid then.