Monday, June 27, 2011

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

What the hell was the point? When the NHLPA and the owners went to war over labour issues in 2004 which ended up wiping out the entire 2004-05 season we were promised a different NHL. We were promised an NHL where it wouldn't be just the big market teams that could compete financially and that all 30 teams would have a chance to be a Stanley Cup contender. Here we are, 6 years later, and absolutely nothing has changed. The big markets are still the winners and the small markets are still the losers.

After the 2005-06 season where everyone was scrambling to figure out the new NHL and two small markets in Carolina and Edmonton made it too the cup final, things began to balance out. The Stanley Cup winners from then on where Anaheim, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and now Boston. All five of them are high payroll/cap teams that (at least when they're playing well) tend to earn money (not as much as the Canadian teams except Ottawa) except for Detroit who can't sell out anymore because no one in that city can afford tickets. To make up for that though they are owned by Mike Ilitch (owner of Little Caesers) who doesn't mind losing some money to put a winner on the ice.

When you look at the teams that have been at the top of the NHL during that time period and at the bottom during that period the picture of the leagues landscape begins to take shape and it's drawn with dollars and cents (except for Toronto who are the kings of revenue and still totally suck).

Florida is rumoured to lose around 25 million dollars a year and they haven't made the playoffs in 10 years. Columbus is in the same range in terms of losing money as Florida and they've only made the playoffs once in 10 years, same with Atlanta (now Winnipeg). They were both swept in the first round. Phoenix went through an 11 year cap between playoff appearances and they were swept by Detroit this past year. Carolina has made it three times in the last 10 years (although one included a Stanley Cup victory). The New York Islanders have been awful for 15 years. The Dallas Stars are starting to fall now that former billionaire and owner Tom Hicks is desperately trying to sell off all of his assets and Buffalo was bad for a long line until new billionaire owner Terry Pegula took over this season. The only relative success story in this regard is Nashville where GM David Poile and head coach Barry Trotz would be Stanley Cup champions right now if they had bigger budgets, they're that good.

If we look at the consistent winners post lockout, they strikingly resemble the winners pre-lockout. The Philadelphia Flyers have only missed the playoffs once in a fluke awful season and continue to be at the top of the league standings, same with New Jersey. Detroit is still the model of consistency that they've been since the mid 90's, The Rangers big spending ways are starting to pay off in the form of regular playoff appearances. Montreal has once again become a league financial powerhouse and have only once. The Vancouver Canucks have only missed twice and are fast becoming a major financial power, same with the team they just lost too in the Stanley Cup final the Boston Bruins.

Now, with the salary cap going up to 64 million, this gap is going to be as bad as it ever was. Only 4 teams payrolls were higher then next years cap ceiling before the lockout (Detroit and the Rangers at 77 million, the Flyers around 68 million and the Leafs at 66 million). So it begs the question, what was the point? What the hell was the point of the owners and the players union going to war? The players are making more money then they ever did as a whole (the big stars made more before. Anyone else remember Bill Guerin getting a 9 million a year deal from Dallas?) then they ever had. And the poor owners and teams are still unable to compete with the big boys. With the CBA expiring after next season, are we heading towards another lockout or is the NHL going to become like Major League Baseball with only 6-8 teams who can compete year after year?

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