Not too long ago I found myself with some rare free time and I did with it what any other rabid fan of a particular sports team does. I reveled in the memory of the recent success of my Chicago Blackhawks. By this I mean I sat myself down and watched all three of the Stanley Cup Championship videos (2010, 2013, 2015). This brought back all sorts of great memories. From the great regular season moments such as the historic start to the strike shortened ’13 campaign to the 3-1 comeback against the vaunted Detroit Redwings. It also, however, reminded me of all that has been lost in the very same 7-year stretch.
After each of the 3 Cup winning runs, the Blackhawks had fire sales shipping off some of the most pivotal players to remain within the strict HARD salary cap the NHL imposes. Chicago has lost players such as Dustin Byfulgien, Adam Burish, Troy Brower, Tomas Kopecky, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Tuevo Terravainen, Johnny Oduya, Andrew Shaw and more. These are all individuals who went on to be cornerstone pieces on the top two lines of their future clubs, but could not be retained by the Hawks due to the hard cap. Following the ’10 and ’13 seasons the Hawks were able to re-load their roster with new puzzle pieces around the ever-existing core of Toews, Kane, Keith, and Seabrook. This time around as the cap becomes more stringent they have been unable to regroup after the most recent mass exodus in the summer of 2015.
We are witnessing one of two things after watching the Hawks get embarrassed in their first round bout (if it can be called that) with the previous “little brother” Nashville Predators. Either we are watching the somewhat quick demise of the modern NHL dynasty, or we are experiencing exactly what the owners and commissioner Bettman (queue the boo-birds) intended with the cap: parity. It has taken some time to kick in as 4 teams have combined for the past 8 Stanley Cup Championships, but this year both for the Blackhawks and the NHL as a whole, may be the beginning of something new. This year 5 of the 16 playoff teams had not been in the field the previous year and two of those teams (Senators and Oilers) are still alive. These teams have come back into the fold through the draft as well as signing players who were let go or traded by teams who had some constraints with the salary cap.
If the NHL had a salary cap like that of the MLB or the NBA where the cap simply demarcates the point at which the owner would have to dip into his/her pocket to pay the luxury tax, things may look a lot different moving forward. Teams like Chicago, Boston, St. Louis, Minnesota, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh would have no issue maintaining the supporting casts they build around the core year in and year out. Valued members of championship winning clubs would not be sent out of town via trade or simply not offered the money they deserve by the teams they just climbed the mountain with. But there is a hard salary cap in the NHL, players and teams are forced to part ways as a matter of dollars and cents. And what do we have a result? Only the beauty that is most difficult and entertaining professional playoff tournament. The chase for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Written by: AJ