Friday, August 29th, 2014

Pierre’s Mailbag

4

Pierre LeBrun responds to reader questions over at ESPN each week. I have to take issue with a couple of his answers. The first was in response to a concern from a Washington fan about the salary cap:

It’s becoming harder and harder for the Caps to keep all these terrific young players. That’s the thing about the salary cap, you can’t keep everyone. Pittsburgh found that out when Rob Scuderi and Ryan Malone left town over the past two summers. The Red Wings felt it when Marian Hossa, Mikael Samuelsson and Jiri Hudler found richer deals elsewhere this past summer. And the Chicago Blackhawks will have an interesting offseason as they are forced to unload a player or two to fit in all their big contracts.

On the flip side, it creates parity around the league with the talent being spread out more evenly, and you can certainly see that by the intense playoff races every March. Would you rather have no cap like baseball and have the Yankees (Rangers) and Red Sox (Maple Leafs) buy all the best players? I wouldn’t.

The salary cap is doing exactly what I thought it would do when it was introduced. It is turning the league into a boring collection of bland teams. The most interesting story of this season so far has been the Toronto disaster. The two most interesting teams are probably Chicago and Washington – the next two teams that will have to shed talent before they have won anything. It is Gary Bettman’s McHockey league, a celebration of mediocrity.

Furthermore, the league did not need a salary cap to get parity and intense playoff races because it already had parity and intense playoff races. LeBrun – like the rest of the lapdog hockey media – insists on presenting us with a false choice when he delivers up the Rangers and Leafs as bogeymen. Delaying free agency until age 31 did a much better job of insuring competitive balance for the smaller markets than a salary cap. The Rangers bought all the best 32 year old players and missed the playoffs for seven straight years before the lockout. Now they get to buy Marian Gaborik and they’ve made the playoffs every year under the new system. If LeBrun thinks breaking up every good young team that comes along is a good thing, fine, but he should try – if he can – to find an honest defense of this system.

The next issue that caught my eye was about the fairness of the compressed schedule:

Still, your timing is interesting because I was just talking about that very subject with an NHL coach Tuesday. He can’t believe how bad the schedule is this season. And I think you can probably attribute some of the litany of injuries around the league to that. But to be honest, what else are you going to do? Start the regular season in September? End it in July? The league gets hammered for having the Stanley Cup finals in June, so it is sensitive to drag out the season longer. The Olympic break is indeed to blame for the compressed schedule, and that’s one of the chief reasons NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his owners want to reconsider Olympic participation past 2010.

I think LeBrun has this backwards too. The Olympic break is not responsible. The fact that Gary Bettman doesn’t want to go to the Olympics in 2014 is responsible. Why is the schedule so much worse this year than in the other Olympic years? Why have the Canucks had so many days off so far this season? Why is this the best that they could do? I don’t believe this is the best schedule possible.

The players and fans are suffering through a schedule so bad that an NHL coach can’t believe it so that Gary will be in a better position to get rid of the Olympics for once and for all. We can all understand why Bettman wants to dump Olympic participation – it costs the owners money for what they perceive to be little or no gain – but let’s not pretend that this year’s ridiculous schedule and the extra injuries are inevitable consequences of that participation. This is Gary Bettman’s way of punishing players and fans for enjoying the Olympics.

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Comments

4 Responses to “Pierre’s Mailbag”
  1. Cameron says:

    You said: “The salary cap is doing exactly what I thought it would do when it was introduced. It is turning the league into a boring collection of bland teams.”

    Isn’t that exactly what ‘parity’ means? It strikes me that there are two camps, those who think that parity – having the leagues top talent spread around more teams – is better, and those that think having a handful of ‘super-teams’ with another 25 or so mediocre to bad teams is more exciting.

    I guess it would be more exciting if one of the Super-teams happened to be where you live. Otherwise, it sucks. I know, I lived through the Calgary Flames Super-team of the late 80′s and the Freddy Brathwaite/Roman Turek disaster of the mid 90′s. There is no contest which is more exciting.

    As for the ‘boring’ part, I think you are just flat out wrong. Boring was watching the Ducks vs Red Wings go scoreless for an eternity in the dead puck era playoffs. Boring was watching the robotic Giguere win a Conn Smythe trophy.

    Watching Malkin+Crosby vs Datsyuk+Zetterberg in back to back years was anything but boring.

    You make an interesting point about the free-agency age being just as much a method of ensuring parity as a salary cap, but I think that misses the point of why a salary cap makes sense to the league. In an era where there is no cap and salary disclosure exists, the Rangers can cheerfully overpay Bobby Holik because they don’t care about payroll, but the side-effect is that every third line center with size gets to compare their deal to his on the open market – and the net effect is that salary costs for all players escalate.

    Lastly, if the free agency age restriction was such an effective method for achieving parity, then why didn’t we see the boring ‘McHockey League’ you decry earlier?

    Cheers

  2. Tom says:

    I didn’t say the hockey was necessarily boring. It is the teams that are boring. I don’t think I have watched a single game this season that did not involve the Canucks. (And last week I chose curling rather than watch Vancouver play Nashville.) I used to watch lots of non-Vancouver games.

    I suppose that is another way to see the tradeoff. The idea was to increase interest in the marginal markets, to benefit the local. That’s at the expense of interest in the league as a whole. The salary cap makes sense for the league owners for several reasons. It doesn’t make sense for the players and it doesn’t make sense for this fan.

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  1. [...] The salary cap is doing exactly what I thought it would do when it was introduced. It is turning the league into a boring collection of bland teams. The most interesting story of this season so far has been the Toronto disaster. The two most interesting teams are probably Chicago and Washington – the next two teams that will have to shed talent before they have won anything. It is Gary Bettman’s McHockey league, a celebration of mediocrity. – The Great Hockey Blogger Tom Benjamin [...]



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