October 14, 2010
Steve Simmons had a provocative column Thursday that collects the different strands of salary cap hell we've seen in the last 60 days -- from the Chicago Blackhawks sell-off to Wade Redden's(notes) burying to the New Jersey Devils' 15 skaters -- and weaves them into this thesis: The NHL's salary cap is putting a damper on the entertainment of its product.
Whether you agree or disagree with this likely comes down to this personality test: Did you play RBI Baseball or Baseball Stars on the Nintendo Entertainment System, and if so which one did you enjoy more?
RBI Baseball was officially licensed by the MLB Players Association and therefore had MLB players. You could pitch as Roger Clemens or bat as Andre Dawson. There was no waiver wire, there were no trade proposals; it was your best vs. their best and it was all about the action on the field.
Baseball Stars had solid game-play and a goof sense of fun (sample team name: The Ninja Black Sox), but the focus was more on the front office. You create, or trade for, players; then, based on how often you win and how prestigious your team becomes, you earn money that can be used to strengthen your players as you see fit: Add power to a slugger or speed to a pitcher or fielding to a short stop.
(You could also create a team of lovely ladies who threw softball style by answering the question "What is a Wren?" But we digress.)
The point is that you either yearn for the days of uncapped, star-laden teams with 150-point players and no consequences, or you appreciate the added intrigue of a game that's played under the watchful eye of accountants.
One's sharkskin and the other's tweed. One's Michael Bay and the other is Darren Aronofsky. One has Sidney Crosby(notes) skating with Marian Hossa(notes) and Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) this season; the other has him with Pascal Dupuis(notes) and Chris Kunitz(notes).
Ginger Rogers should dance with Gene Kelly. And Crosby, the most accomplished centre in the National Hockey League, should not be forced to carry around plodders, also-rans, wannabes, and those who can't possibly comprehend or take advantage of his immense talents.
And how do I say this nicely? This is what the salary cap era has done to the National Hockey League. It has stepped all over the toes of the greatest players in the game. It has, in a very serious way, choked the life out of hockey, at least in the big picture, out of the game I love.
One night, Crosby was with Tangradi and Comrie. Last night he began with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis as his linemates. And somewhere Bryan Trottier must be thinking about how good he had it -- having Mike Bossy on one side and either John Tonelli or Clark Gillies on the other.
This is part fallacy, but mostly about preference.
The fallacy is that Ray Shero couldn't find a Mike Bossy for Sidney Crosby. One could argue he had one in Hossa. But Shero decided to hang on to Jordan Staal(notes). He decided to sure up the blue line this summer with Paul Martin(notes) and Zbynek Michalek(notes). He made tactical, team-building decisions that didn't involve Sid's wing (outside of removing Bill Guerin(notes) from it).
And there's every chance he would have made similar ones with or without a cap, and Crosby still wouldn't have been given his Bossy because of budget.
(The other aspect of the fallacy is that because Crosby doesn't have his wingman now, he never will. Which, knowing Shero, will not be the case come the trade deadline.)
The "preference" part is about seeing Crosby make magic with his Jari Kurri, and that magic being more entertaining for a fan than cap management.
On the surface, that's a losing argument for the nerds among us. But face it: The salary cap, for all its problems for the on-ice product, has helped turn the NHL into a 365-day sport. Every team is facing a ticking clock in the summer that requires constant tweaking of the roster. Players move on, players drop out, new players arrive.
The cap has simply made life more interesting. Take the Devils. For all the demonization of Lou Lamoriello's cap management, who among us isn't intrigued to see how Harry Lou-dini is going to escape next?
Simmons isn't necessarily wrong that the cap has adversely affected the on-ice product; although certainly not more than expansion has, if we're talking concentration of talent.
But for many of us, seeing the NHL go from an all-you-can-eat buffet to a more limited menu has its own entertainment value. Even if the mathematically challenged among us (raises hand) owe our lives to sites like Cap Geek post-lockout ...