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Tuesdays With Hildy: Gonna Put a Cap in Yo...

Imagine, if you will, a world without restraints. A world where people could spend goo-gobs of money on a hockey team, and create the greatest team known to man, hoarding all of the best players on one squad. No, this isn't NHL94, where you shoved Lemieux, Gretzky, and Hull together on the same line. This was pre-salary cap NHL, where if your team made the money, then you got the goods. Capitalism at its finest. And then came expansion teams...

If You've Got it, Flaunt It.

There is something to be said for having no restraint on spending. The more wealthy nations in the world get what they need to supply their citizens, and get the best of it, by spending money. You get the best, it leads to happiness, contentment, and productivity from your citizens, and everyone's happy.

If you're a nation like Zimbabwe, though, you're probably not going to have innovative goods and technology. You won't have the newest cars, and best food (or any food, really). You'll be lucky to maintain any sort of literacy rate. Basically, you struggle to survive.

There's a point to this metaphor, I promise. Look at two teams: The Toronto Maple Leafs (or any Canadian team) and the Florida Panthers (or any other weird market team). The metro populations might be similar in size, but one team rakes in money hand over fist. The Maple Leafs are the top tier "western nation" kind of hockey club. They have a rabid fan base who will pay insane prices for tickets, even when the product is mediocre. Their merchandising is out of this world. They have corporate sponsorship that actually gives the fans a free preseason game every year. They have their own TV station, for God's sake. Imagine if there were no salary cap and they were allowed to stack their team with whoever they can afford. You can't tell me that they would make insane offers to players like Ovie, Crosby, Malkin, Luongo, Green, Pronger... their team would be out of this world. Hell, they might have even won another Cup by now. How would it feel to be a fan of an unstoppable team like that? How would the rest of the league react to having the modern version of the dynasty that were the Edmonton Oilers?

How would a team like Florida keep up? Phoenix? Atlanta? Tampa Bay? Carolina? They wouldn't. Poor marketing, disinterested fan bases (or fans from other cities who refuse to not cheer for their home teams). Horrible TV deals. The league would contract. Some would view that as a horrible thing. Others would see it as a return to what it was before the 1993-1994 season (EDIT: the Flames notwithstanding, because for whatever reason they slip everyone's memory... including the memory of yours truly who LIVES in Atlanta)... the first season for a true Southern hockey club. Hockey would move back to its roots, to cities where it thrived and flourished, and who have fans who can afford to shape the product that they see.

Everyone Deserves a Fair Shake

Some have said that the salary cap that came around as part of the strike was put into place for parity. To make every team in the league equal. To give those weird market teams a fighting chance. With a salary cap, teams don't get stacked. They won't have four lines of the top offense in the league coming at your team of mighty-mites. Teams that aren't necessarily the strongest can still show up and give a little bit of a challenge to the big boys, in theory.

Having the salary cap takes the onus of failure off of the players and onto the team's management and owners. A team can't have a horrible season and say "Yeah, well, we're in the division with so-and-so, and they win every game because of who they're paying!" They can pay as much as you do for their players - why didn't you go out and spend some money to pick up some talent? Why didn't you get a GM who can draft and cultivate cheap talent?

Not having a cap puts more responsibility on intelligent decisions. You better pick the right kid as the top draft pick - NHL talent at an entry level price is always a bargain. Not having a good season? Already have a couple superstar players clogging up your roster? Look at who is in your farm team that you can call up for a minimal cap hit. These guys can plug into a third or fourth line for some NHL experience, and if you chose good talent, they'll grow in their role with the potential to sneak up the ranks in the coming years... on the cheap. Detroit is an excellent example of intelligent drafing and scouting out players in the later rounds, getting them into the farm, and then working them into the line-up. They have been a solid team for a very long time because of their farm system, and it has been only recently that they're getting a bit of a salary cap log jam.

If you have a team who has ownership not willing to spend up to the cap, well, then you have a problem. The teams HAVE the money thanks to revenue sharing (the NHL's gone Socialist! NOOO! Bettman = Stalin - it's not a jump... Tampa Bay is pretty much a gulag), but some owners just don't care about the team. Maybe they have other holding interests. Maybe they like *basketball* of all things better than hockey, and they just don't want to cough up the dough? What happens? The team falters, gets concerned that if the ownership doesn't care, then the fans won't care, so why should THEY care? It's a frustrating, sad situation, and probably the worst thing about the cap - teams aren't REQUIRED to spend to it, so therefore the parity that's intended is gone, and you get stuck with the Islanders (sorry, Dom). Maybe if teams had to spend the $58 million, you wouldn't have a situation like there is in Phoenix. Shane Doan and... um... those other guys that no one's heard of? Oh, wait - they got that one dude... wait...