After years of youngsters growing up watching their hockey heroes play, they had two things in mind: I want to play in the NHL and make a lot of money...
Before the insanity that is greed crept into the NHL, there were kids that were saying, "I want to play in the NHL and be like my hockey hero."
Now before people start jumping on me, saying, "Live in the now," let me tell you—I am.
Before the cap era, NHLers were playing a sport that they loved and were paid handsomely...in some regards, too handsomely...
This greed placed a lot of NHL clubs in peril and deep-sixed some clubs. Who is to blame for it? Players, owners, fans? Try all of the above.
The players because when the NHLPA came into play, the goal was to get what is right for the players. Before, it was the owners that were getting rich while the players were not and were virtually abused and thrown out when no longer needed. The goal of the NHLPA was to get what is right for the players. And they succeeded...too well...
When players were getting top dollar as far back as the '70s, about one million dollars, rookies are getting just shy of that now.
Some may argue that the cost of living had gone up, that professional sports are making more money now, and I get that. The salaries that some players were demanding were astronomical to say the least.
But when you get players like Joe Sakic playing for $16.45 million for the Colorado Avalanche in the 1997-1998 season, and Jaromir Jagr topping $17.4 million when he played for the Pittsburgh Penguins back in the 1999-2000 season, it was easy to see that the salaries were out of control, and whoever had the biggest bucks got the best players.
The New York Rangers were infamous for their payroll topping $76 million twice in the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 seasons. Although they didn't win the Cup numerous times with a roster full of stars, it goes to show that star players demand the star bucks.
To a degree, I don't blame them, but when does a team sport center around one player and cause the sport's teams to be so lopsided? When do players, who all say they love the sport, stop to think that, collectively, they are harming it by removing the competitiveness of it?
It seems that economics took over and forced a lockout in the 2004-2005 season, effectively cancelling the season.
The new CBA then brought us the cap era, which was welcomed by the owners and fans, as this created more competition and forced players to think about the actual goal of the game: the Stanley Cup.
While most players still want top dollar, most have come to grips with the new reality that is the NHL today. Some came to realize it so much that they left the NHL to play overseas in other leagues, most notably the newly formed KHL in Russia—players such as Jagr, Sergei Fedorov, Alexei Yashin, etc. The motive? More money. Players had once enjoyed superstar status but were no longer producing superstar numbers.
Some stars in their day did realize that they are not bringing in the numbers they used to and for the most part did make their money and now are looking for glory before they shut the door on their careers.
Mark Recchi used to command $4-5 million per year for six years. With just over $50 million earned in his 21-year career, he knows that players his age cannot produce the same numbers as they did in their younger years. Knowing that the youngsters of today are the future and are producing the numbers, he is now playing it year by year earning $1-2 million a year.
Keith Tkachuk, who at one point commanded a $7.6-11 million salary for six seasons, dramatically dropped to about $4 million and then to $2.1 million in his final season. Approximate total earnings: $80.5 million.
Mike Modano was earning $5-9 million for six seasons, and he was last making $2.5 million in his last two seasons. Approximate total earnings: $74.5 million.
It seems that the older players get it. They now want to play hockey and get a number that is low by the average standards, but still acceptable, as there is no replacement for veteran experience.
Now we need to discuss the younger players—players like Ilya Kovalchuk, who is reportedly getting ready to sign a seven-year deal worth $60 million. That's nearly one-sixth of the entire payroll of the 2010-2011 salary cap of $59.4 million.
Phil Kessel wanted a large jump in his pay when he had a great year in just his third year in the NHL and with the Bruins, but the cap space didn't make sense to pile the cash based on one good year when there were other players on the roster that have proved to be consistent. GM Peter Chiarelli passed on it, understanding the cap and that there is no guarantee that it will be that high as the years go by.
Now don't get me wrong. I think the best players should get the most money. But I also think the best hockey players should think about the team, see what the other players should be getting, and take a fair share of the pie.
Now that moving players isn't as easy as it was in the past, a smart player will not only get a fair share of the cap, but get to play in a place where he wants to play as well. To do that, they need to work the numbers to make both points a reality.
Marc Savard saw this by taking a cap-friendly salary that will earn him about $7 million to start, but it will dramatically reduce as the contract moves along (about $14 million for the first two years and the remaining $14 million in the last five years). That brought the cap hit to $4.2 million—a decent hit for his caliber.
The fans are a large part of the problem. We fans demand our teams win. To do that, the owners are pressured to bring in marquee players to sell tickets.
Markets like Montreal and Toronto needn't worry about this, as they fill the house no matter what happens.
Southern markets like Florida, Tampa Bay, Phoenix, and Nashville have tons of cap space but tend to waste it on a few players rather than getting the team built properly. It's a combination of fans that don't know, owners desperate to fill the seats to please the masses, and players that want to watch their own cup overflow rather than overflowing THE Cup after winning it.
Like it or not, sport fans, owners, and NHLers, the Cap Era is here and most likely will stay.
You want the Cup? Fans need to be patient, owners need to be smart with their rosters, and players need to think a little more about winning on the ice and not so much in the pocketbooks. You make that combination happen, and you will see a very exciting and highly contested NHL in the future.
This is Cory Ducey saying, "Hit Hard, But Keep It Clean."