Level playing field. The phrase is the anthem of small-market teams and their fans who look at the Yankees of the sports world and see what they wish they had; money.
Unlike baseball, the NHL has a different problem, and that is how to keep a team together when restricted by a tight salary cap. Case and point would be the defending champions Chicago Blackhawks. After putting together an impressive team that won the Stanley Cup, upper management was faced with the daunting task of trying to keep the nucleus of the team together. What Chicago is left with is the big two (Toews, Kane) but the loss of key secondary parts that are so crucial to a champion team. Is it possible to win back to back championships anymore? I don't think so.
Gone from the windy city are two players that arguably where the reason Chicago won the cup. Postseason hero Dustin Byfuglien is gone and so are his playoff leading 11 playoff goals, five of which were game winners. He's off to Atlanta. Off to San Jose is Antti Niemi, the rookie who no one thought could be a reliable number one playoff goaltender. Both players are not on the same level as the Kanes or Toews, but they are the reason why teams win championships.
The same can be said for the San Jose Sharks. With key pieces like Patrick Marleau open to the free agent market, the Shards were forced to make some tough decisions to fit it's team under the salary cap. What GM Doug Wilson was able to do was keep the big three intact, but at the loss of starting goalie Evgeni Nabokov. They also had to see C Manny Maholtra leave. Maholtra is not a house-hold name, but he was an important cog of the Sharks team and they will miss his contributions.
This begs the question; just how important is the supporting cast to a hockey team? The answer is very important. If all you needed was a superstar to win a cup, then Washington would have several. The strict salary cap doesn't affect the stars but it affects the players behind the scenes. Without those players coming back, repeating becomes that more difficult.
For the small market, the 59.4 million cap allows them to compete against the likes of Detroit and Chicago, but it doesn't allow teams to keep the squad more then a few years. This creates small windows were a team has the talent and ability to win a championship. Once that window closes and players are lost to free agents, teams must rebuild. Yes, equity is what most feel is right, but equity could mean the extinction of the NHL dynasty.
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