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A complete breakdown on why the NHL’s “hard” salary cap is stunting the growth of the league.
By Chris Yackel
The NHL’s current salary cap system has been around since the 2005-06 NHL season. It was implemented after the 2004-05 full season lockout that hurt the game of hockey immensely. However, since that lockout the NHL has increased revenues as the health of the league has never been better for the most part. The league’s financial success has continued even with a half season lockout for the 2012-13 season. This financial growth has seen the leagues salary cap rise from $39 million in the 2005-06 season to $79.5 million for this upcoming season.
The salary cap in theory I think is great for the NHL, but I also think it is holding back the growth of the league and the game. It also is holding back the players from making more money. Take Connor McDavid for example. The 21-year-old Oilers star who is arguably the best hockey player on the planet.
Last summer McDavid signed a massive deal for 8 years and $100 million dollars. The deal has a cap hit of $12.5 million dollars. Although that is a lot of money, McDavid could easily make more with a softer cap. He was originally going to make $14 million a year (at the time the most possible money McDavid could have made based on cap percentage) on that massive extension, but once the news of the deal came out, McDavid allegedly took less money to not seem selfish.
It was a great gesture by a great player, but one that I think is prosperous. The salary cap forced McDavid to take less money so it didn’t hurt the rest of his team. I believe if the NHL switched to a softer salary cap system like we see in the NBA this would no longer occur.
Limits on how much money a player can make is ridiculous. McDavid in reality should make $20 million dollars a year. However, the salary cap and contract limits strip the players of maximizing full financial potential. This occurs as many owners still reap the benefits of revenue sharing.
Many will defend the salary cap’s place in the game for various reasons. Ultimately, the system has been useful, but I don’t think it’s the most effective as far as growing the game. This doesn’t mean all arguments for the “hard” salary cap make sense.
You will hear the word parity a lot in the defense of the salary cap. The beauty of a hard salary cap is it keeps a good completive balance in the league. Any team can make the playoffs any given year. We saw this last year with both the Colorado Avalanche and the New Jersey Devils making the playoffs after finishing last in their conference during the 2016-17 season.
This sounds great on paper and is a great argument, however I don’t think this parity is great for the growth of the game. You see in the NBA how Golden State has won 3 titles in 4 years. Some may say that’s a bad thing, but since Golden State’s dominance in the NBA began the league’s financial success has been seismic.
People talk about it over all sports media networks and sites. You see people all over the place with Golden State gear and Steph Curry jerseys all over not only the country, but the world. Dynasty’s grow the game globally and financially. Love it or hate it, it sells.
All of this occurs under a salary cap. It is a much softer salary cap, but its one that has been working in the NBA for not only the league, but for the players as well. Their deals are amazingly large. Numbers like of $200 million over 5 years are given to players such as Steph Curry. Now I’m not saying the NHL are at that level financially as the NBA clearly they are not, but the deals given out now in the NHL are not even close to what players can potentially make.
You will hear the argument that if the NHL didn’t have a strict, “hard” salary cap all the rich teams (pretty much all the original six teams) would sign all the star players. I disagree completely. This is something I think would happen more with no salary cap at all. I by no means am saying in this article that their shouldn’t be a salary cap, there should absolutely be one. All I’m saying is it should be a lot softer than it is now.
Ultimately, we will not see the NHL implement a soft salary cap anytime soon as Gary Bettman and company are obsessed with having a parity driven league. However, if the NHL seriously wants to grow the game and make it more popular having a softer cap will do that.
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