It’s looking like it will be a long winter for NHL fans.
The league and the NHLPA aren’t really talking, the first few weeks of the season have been cancelled and even the Florida Panthers mascot — “Stanley C. Panther” — was given a pink slip.
Thinking back to the last lockout in 2004-’05, the main issue was the salary cap. Owners wanted “cost certainty” and the only way to achieve that was implementing the cap. The players steadfastly refused to ever accept a salary cap. Ever.
Until they did.
Of course, the salary cap forced general managers to become inventive and devise ways to screw the system. Want to give a guy a $100 million contract? Sign him for a bunch of years (See Roberto Luongo, Ilya Kovalchuk and Rick DiPietro) and make it so his cap hit per year is manageable, knowing that he will retire long before the contract ends.
And that’s the issue: General managers are really the problem behind the lockout. They will sign anyone to any amount of money to save their job and the shortsighted nature of so many ridiculous signings cripples teams for years. Teams want to win now and small-market teams like Columbus and Nashville are forced to sign players they may not necessarily want to big contracts to reach the salary cap floor. Big-market teams like Toronto, New York and Philadelphia are free to sign players to silly contracts and can always buy them out or bury them in the minors.
Which is why, if I were in the NHLPA, the first thing I’d put on the table is the abolition of the salary cap. At the very least, the NHL needs a soft cap like the NBA where teams can spend over the limit, but have to pay penalties. Let’s face it: The longer the lockout drags on, the fewer bargaining chips the players have and if the NHL wants a clean slate in the new collective agreement, why not start with a truly clean one?
There are fans who love the cap, touting the parity it’s brought to the league, but really, the parity has eroded the identity of so many teams. Fans love and love to hate dynasties, which have now become a thing of the past. We love to hate the Yankees, the Lakers and the Cowboys, but who is there to root against in hockey… everyone’s the same. No team is really better or worse and the playoffs every year are a crapshoot.
Someone tell me how not having a cap helped teams like the Rangers and Leafs. High-priced players don’t necessarily mean championships in hockey. Instead, it’s all about team chemistry.
So let the general managers run wild and sign players to as much as they want in the new CBA — it’s going to happen anyway. We might as well let the teams who want to spend money, spend it.
It’ll make for an entertaining product and give Leafs fans one less excuse for not winning the cup.