January 25, 2020

-6° C, Overcast

Full Forecast


Advertise With Us


Payroll equity means NHL's smaller markets can compete with the giants

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/5/2011 (3160 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Pop quiz: The Pittsburgh Penguins have arguably the game's two most electrifying stars on their roster, relocation talk is swirling around a pair of franchises, the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings were towers of power during the regular season, an ageless wonder is one of the league's top three defencemen and Teemu Selanne finished eighth in league scoring. What year is it?


"What? Is this the first question on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" you say. "Simple, 2011. Now ask me who the Jets played in their first WHA game in their inaugural season and where it was held."

Ah, not so fast. You're just 15 years off. Back in 1995-96, Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr turned defencemen and goaltenders all over the league into pretzels, the Quebec Nordiques had just moved to Denver with the Winnipeg Jets about to follow suit to Phoenix, the Flyers and Red Wings finished atop their respective divisions, Chris Chelios won the Norris Trophy and the Finnish Flash scored 40 goals on his way to a 108-point season.

(Oh, and by the way, the 1972-73 Jets played their first-ever game against the New York Raiders at Madison Square Garden.)

Yup, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Despite the similarities between the two eras, there are many differences, too. And it's those differences that will make things noticeably better for both the owners of a new Winnipeg franchise and the fans.

First, there's a salary cap. This is arguably the most crucial element for small markets because it allows them to compete with teams in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Toronto. Without it, Winnipeg would still be a minor-league city. By forcing all teams to keep players' salaries within a particular range, management in all markets has the most sought-after of commodities — cost certainty. Prior to the salary cap, only the richest teams could afford to sign the game's biggest stars.

Second, the rules have been overhauled to allow the skilled players to flourish. Obstruction is out and firewagon hockey is in. If a lazy backchecker wants to water-ski behind a puck-carrying opponent, he'll find himself in the penalty box. Fifteen years ago, that was just good defence.

Some other changes included legalizing the two-line pass, reducing the size of goalies' equipment and deciding tie games with a shootout.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said he believes the NHL brand of hockey has never been faster or more exciting than it is today. He said much of the credit is due to the "dramatic" rule changes that followed the lockout in 2004-05.

"I think the game is far more wide-open, there's far less interference tactics and there's far more skill today than there was 15 years ago," he said.

The salary cap has also had a direct impact on the quality of the on-ice product and entertainment because it promotes a competitive balance, he said.

"I don't think we've ever had a more competitive league, top to bottom, in our history than we do now. A large part of that is payroll competitiveness on both ends. Clubs have to spend in the same range as one another. It allows all teams to have skilful players and it totally eliminates the disparities we had between teams with $20-million payrolls and teams with $80-million payrolls," he said.

"(Back then) the only way to compete was to hook, hold and play interference." geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Brother, can you

spare a dime?



If you think Winnipeg can compete more effectively in the National Hockey League because of the salary cap that was imposed after the lockout six years ago, imagine if the city had a team back in the Great Depression.

During the 1930s, the league was under financial pressure to lower its salary cap to $62,500 per team and to $7,000 per player. The restriction forced some teams to trade away well-paid stars in order to fit under the cap.

To lower costs even further, team rosters were reduced to just 13 players. The league even cut its officiating expenses in half by eliminating one of the two on-ice referees.

The salary cap in the NHL last year was $59.4 million, or roughly $2.83 million per player on a 21-man roster.


Advertise With Us

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.


Advertise With Us