NHL Lockout: What Effect Would No Salary Cap Have on the NHL?

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NHL Lockout: What Effect Would No Salary Cap Have on the NHL?
Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images
NHL commissoner Gary Bettman (left) and former NHLPA leader Bob Goodenow fought over the salary cap in 2005, and Bettman won.

In its first seven years with a salary cap, the NHL has attained record revenues and has seen seven different Stanley Cup champions.

The league is much different with a salary cap, and in many ways, a lot more enjoyable, but what effect would no cap have on the NHL?

As I mentioned in my column from last week, titled "Why the Players Cannot Put the Salary Cap on the Table," the salary cap has been a major reason why the NHL has enjoyed much more parity over the last seven years than in the many seasons prior to the cap being introduced.

Just eight of the 29 teams that have made the playoffs in the cap era have not won at least one playoff series. The seven different Stanley Cup champions have also included three teams from southern or non-traditional hockey markets (Anaheim Ducks, Carolina Hurricanes and Los Angeles Kings).

A salary cap is obviously something that contributes to the success of small-market teams, but it can only help these teams so much. If they just aren't in a good enough hockey market and/or continue to make the same mistakes, the franchise will fail with or without a cap system in place.

Without a cap, player salaries would grow far beyond what they have reached under the current model.

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Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli (left) and Canucks GM Mike Gills have enjoyed a lot of success in the cap era.

There would be nothing to stop teams such as the Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers from signing guys to astronomical contracts, which, in turn, would raise the value of all the other players in the league. This is why the sports leagues such as the NHL, NBA and NFL operate with salary caps.

Would Zach Parise have chosen to go home to Minnesota and play for the Wild if he could have received much larger offers from the Flyers and Red Wings? Maybe, but without a cap, rich teams could have made Parise an offer that he couldn't refuse.

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Although removing the cap would allow teams to spend much larger amounts of money on player salaries than they are now, the current system helps prevent teams from giving out ludicrous contracts that they will one day regret.

Sure, there were loopholes in the previous CBA that allowed teams to sign players to large contracts that they now regret, but the cap has also forced teams to be more fiscally responsible because signing players to long-term deals with a huge cap hit are difficult to move via trade. These deals also make the challenge of building a well-rounded roster under the cap a lot harder. 

If there was no cap, it's quite possible that teams would spend beyond their means and rack up debt. Many NHL owners can't control themselves from spending large amounts of money on contracts that are bad for their teams, so if there were no cap restrictions, these teams would be in an even worse financial situation than they are now.

A cap system also puts a larger emphasis on building a winning team through the draft. If teams could spend whatever they wanted on free agents, what incentive would there be for rich teams to take the time needed to develop talent? The cap prevents teams from throwing money at all their problems and forces them to develop talent to win consistently.

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
The St. Louis Blues are an example of a low-payroll team that has built a contender by developing draft picks, including T.J. Oshie (left) and Alex Pietrangelo (right).

Some teams are still reluctant to build important parts of their roster through the draft, such as the Philadelphia Flyers, but for teams who have developed young talent very well over the last few years, like the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers, the future is very bright.

Without a salary cap, the game would become more boring because most of the top-tier players would likely be playing for a handful of large market teams. This means that before the season starts, most fanbases would have little reason to be excited about the upcoming season.

This is a scenario that the NHL and every other sports league should avoid.

The salary cap has its advantages and disadvantages for all 30 teams, but it's hard to disagree that keeping it is the best move for the NHL's long-term success.

 

Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also the organization's on-site reporter for the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. Follow him on Twitter.

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