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The Biggest Casualty of NHL's Reduced Salary Cap

Goalie Ryan Miller fears for the NHL's middle class.
Goalie Ryan Miller fears for the NHL's middle class.Rob Carr/Getty Images
Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2013

If you are a superstar player in the NHL, you are still going to get paid.

While the salary cap will be reduced starting with the the 2013-14 season, big-name players who can put the puck in the net, attract fans to the stands and draw eyes to the television set are going to get theirs.

You want proof? The lockout just ended and Travis Zajac signed an eight-year, $46 million deal with the New Jersey Devils.

If you are a lower-end player who is trying to make a roster, you are going to get your chance to play in the NHL.

With a lower salary cap, every NHL teams is going to be looking for bargain players. During the 2013-14 season, the cap will be $64.3 million (source: SI.com).

That means veteran players who are productive and valuable but not all-stars could price themselves out of existence.

This is a pattern that has been familiar to the NFL. General managers in the NFL want game-changing superstars, but they know they have to make a sacrifice. That sacrifice often comes in the form of veteran depth.

Teams are often forced to say goodbye to proven players and let young, promising players have a chance to come through.

It's going to come down to the money that it costs to keep a solid veteran against the number of younger or inexperienced players who can make a team.

A veteran player who has scored 25 goals or more four times in his career may cost $2.5 million in salary.

That's a good player to have who can make key plays at big moments.

However, if his team does not re-sign him, they can bring in three rookies who earn $850,000. They don't all have to work out. If one of them can play and score, the team is even on the deal. If two can play, then the team is ahead.

When one $850,000 player doesn't work out, he can be cut from the roster and a new player can be brought in to take his place.

Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, one of the leading voices for the NHL Players' Association during the recently ended lockout, talked about how middle-class players would be at risk with the Buffalo News.

“A star player will always command dollars,” Miller said during the lockout. “So as cap hits increase for star players it creates a smaller pool of money for a large group of players below. Something has to give. ... It will be a league that gets younger and has more player turnover.”

The gains the players made in the final days of the negotatiions (source: globeandmail.com)—thanks in large part to the work of Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes—probably means that each team will be able to keep one or two more so-called middle class players.

However, the NHL will likely see fewer of the older, productive players who are not at the superstar level.

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