Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Summer of Hockey - trying to understand the Cap

I have been a hockey fan for a long time; not as long as my husband but I have been following The Flyers pretty consistently since the 1994-1995 season. I was an inconsistent follower before then since I was surrounded by Flyers Fans. However, this is the first off season where I actually paid attention to the entry draft and followed free agency. Of course it is much easier to do this now then it has in years past. Twitter and an IPhone allowed me to check updates numerous times in a day even down in DisneyWorld which is where I was during both the draft and opening of free agency. I had to appreciate that I was in the Canadian pavilion in Epcot on Canada Day when I got the tweet that The Flyers traded for Andrej Meszaros. And signed Michael Leighton, Sean O'Donnell and Jody Shelley. Of course as I was scratching my head over the Shelley acquisition I started to get a nervous pit in my stomach because I realized in the "Cap Era" there was no way we could afford all our new acquisitions and keep all the players I had grown to love and respect. I looked over at my husband (who is the other contributor to this blog) and said "I don't think we'll see Gagne in a Flyers uniform come October." This especially saddened me since I wore my Gagne jersey that I bought in his rookie year to every home playoff game this season. He is my favorite player and I am sad that he will no longer be on the team when I sit in my seats this October. And it's not because of his play or his attitude or that he even wanted to leave (at least as far as I knew). It is because of a "Salary Cap" that is meant to create parity across the league. Because the League believes the players should only be paid a portion of revenues.
As a fan, I don't like the salary cap. The cap means that players I love will have to be traded. The cap means that The Flyers as an organization has to make player decisions that are solely economically related. I respect the NHL as a business and the owners deserve to make money. That's why they own the team. This is not a non-for-profit league. Part of the reasoning for the cap is to create parity throughout the league; so teams in smaller markets can compete with the teams in the larger markets. I personally think that "parity" should never be used in a league where the players are described as warriors and it is a grueling tournament to win it's biggest prize. And if you look at teams that have gone deep in the playoffs since the salary cap as been in effect, most of them have spent close to the cap level. And this year, the defending Stanley Cup Champions will look very different when they open against the Wings in the United Center then they did when Patrick Kane scored the overtime goal to win the Cup. Too bad Chicago isn't opening against Atlanta because at least then there would be more players who won the Cup watch the Banner be raised.
This league appears to be a mess to the outsider. The teams that have money under the cap don't actually have money to spend and the teams that have money to spend don't have room under the cap. There is no legitimate national contract to watch teams outside of your market (2 nights of games on Versus really doesn't cut it and NHL Center Ice is a paid service) so fans don't get to know teams or players outside of their division unless they watch updates on NHL Network. And GMs have become the most creative contract negotiators in sports to get the best talent they can to fit under a very restrictive cap.
So over the course of the summer I have learned alot about the business side of hockey. And I have found it to be confusing and frustrating. And I hope that the fractures and flaws that this summer has highlighted in the league that I love won't irreversibly damage it come the next CBA (Collective Bargining Agreement) negotiation.
And I am still a crazy Flyer's fan looking forward to the beginning of camp on September 17 and the opener against Pittsburgh on Oct. 7 and finally getting to go to our home opener on Oct. 11. And I will be there in my Gagne jersey wishing he was still there.