Monday, January 28, 2008

NHL Salary Cap: A Push from the Elite?

Conceptions around the NHL world differ on a newly implemented system – the NHL salary cap. It is a system that guarantee’s hope, even if it is an illusion to some, for less-talented teams that befall the lower class of the league.

The point of this experiment was too create a more competitive and intense league. So the NHL decided to bring in a system that rewards a point for an overtime loss – a tactic giving at least half of the NHL something to lean on. A chance to renew their club and perhaps catch up to more talented clubs like the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs (ahem…what?) to name a few. However, some will argue that this encourages a journey to mediocrity rather than excellence.

The system in place forces team to be more cautious with their spending, thus not being pro-active with their club. When injuries take their toll, teams have a much harder time replacing a woe. This is what often causes teams to wallow in a spiral of wins and losses that come few and far between.

This is something that pushes the truly elite teams out of the NHL. Look at the New England Patriots for example. They are the Mecca team of the NFL, destroying all teams that lay in their path (they will lose the Super Bowl though, this is my wild prediction). They are a team that packages tremendous talent in huge quantity. With the NHL however, we have a more conservative league with less intimidating teams.

But the question pertains, is this a good or bad thing for a league begging for more attention?

For what it’s worth, I think the current system is effective. Here’s why:

While the cap and points system takes away from the more elite teams of the league, it is a process that needs to be fully revved to see its true benefits. Teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets, Phoenix Coyotes and Washington Capitals, to a name a few, or giving a second jump to touch the level of more talented teams quicker. It implements a more competitive league that enthralls 30 teams that all have hope to attain the NHL playoffs. Yes, it inspires some teams to play a 60 minute game to at least attain a point instead of going for all the marbles, but is this really a bad thing?

While the thought of just settling for a point to create an illusion for success can seem like that of a loser league, it is not. While the upper-class teams can’t fully dominate and stand-out as a Mecca among the NHL, the rest of the teams (and fans amongst those teams) are always in a competitive state and all have the sense to win.

Instead of having marquee franchises that emerge from the league, why not have a league that gives everyone a chance at success and ultimately giving them room to grow. Once most of the teams flourish and develop under the new system implemented for them, the league will have a wide-spread display of teams that all have a shot at the Stanley Cup. Instead of having a small batch of favorites, there will be a line-up of teams that will entertain, thrill and excite fans everywhere.

To me, this creates a league with even more excitement because there is no sense of a team that stands out tremendously over another when the top 8 are decided for each Conference. It creates an intense, unpredictable environment that can change based on the spirit of the players, not the money spent on a load of talent.

This is what sports should be about; the determination and willingness to overcome the odds. It is where the poise and determination of the players is truly tested. Don’t get wrong, leagues that boast marquee franchises package all of these important qualities… but not to the same degree. There is no saving grace of expensive, quality -- and quantity -- players to better the odds. They have their limits and they must embrace their true spirit for the respective teams.

In my mind, this is what hockey is about.