As a hockey fan, and a fan of the NHL, there’s hardly a sentence more akin to a curse than the title of this article. Try saying that in Canada and see how many guys line up to punch you in the face.
In spite of any potential closed-fisted high fives to the face, I reiterate the title of the article: Gary Bettman was right. What exactly was he right about? League parity, more specifically as it pertains to the hard salary cap.
Prior to the 2004-05 lockout, the NHL enjoyed the distinction of being the only major North American sports league without a cap system, or any form of luxury tax for overspending on players. The league had a “marketplace” type free agency, where teams were free to pay as much as they wanted to whomever they wanted, with nobody to stop them. In what is called a “franchise” league, all teams remain in the same league year after year, as opposed to a “promotion-relegation” league like the ones European soccer leagues use.
The marketplace system allows very rich teams to afford the very best talent, making for a league that often lacks competition outside of the top three to five revenue earners. Yes, each word in that sentence links to a different site, and yes, there is a theme to all of them. All of these leagues do not have a salary cap, and they have a marketplace type free agency system.
If you’re pressed for time, let me summarize: it’s a pretty safe bet in La Liga that either Barcelona or Real Madrid will win; it’s a pretty safe bet in the Bundesliga that Bayern Munich may win; it’s a pretty safe bet in Ligue 1 that PSG may win… you get where I’m going with this. No salary cap, no real parity (the English Premier League is a pretty unique scenario but I digress). The maximum entertainment value in these leagues comes from when these giant teams play each other, but not much else. Sure, these leagues make incredible money; but who will watch a match between Huesca and Sevilla for fun?
By implementing a salary cap, Bettman allowed for teams to have a more-or-less equal shot of landing a big superstar player, and to maintain only a certain number of these marquee type players.
Before the Pittsburgh Penguins won twice in a row, sure, there have been some repeat champions, and some “perennial contenders,” but on any given night, any two teams can be entertaining — even Arizona and Edmonton can have some highlight-reel filled games. Which brings me to my next point:
Because of the salary cap and parity, the league is consistently entertaining. Despite many teams being “perennial contenders,” they can sometimes miss the playoffs (Washington won the cup 4 years after missing the playoffs), or lose early in the playoffs and not win. The system in place has fostered this sense that any team can win any given year (sort of; Edmonton is trying really hard to be perennial draft lottery contenders); take for instance, this year, Chicago is out of sorts, and so is St. Louis, but Toronto may finally win one.
This is in stark contrast to the NBA, where we’ve literally had the same two teams play each other in the finals four years in a row. That’s after getting two repeat finals in a row, not to mention the same player making the finals eight years in a row.
Cool off man, give other people a chance
Fun fact: the NBA became so predictable that last year, when it looked like the Cleveland Cavaliers wouldn’t make the playoffs (before the all-star break), I bet a case of beer that the finals would be Warriors-Cavaliers again. I now enjoy multitudinous beers for my incredible foresight. Sorry, Steve.
There is a word of warning though. As a redeeming quality to my article, and to show you that a hard salary cap does not make a league entertaining, I present to you these two dudes who also need to take a rest:
The point I’m trying to make is this: because of Bettman’s intervention in the lockout and the system currently in place, the league has a purpose for all 31 (soon to be 32) teams. Maybe fewer could be great, but the same one or two teams going for the championship every year do not make me wonder what the purpose of the other teams really is. That, to me is an entertaining league, save of course, for this NBA face:
That’s the face I make when I lose access to a nobody’s wallet too.