Nov 21, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Nashville Predators center Colin Wilson (33) lines up against Toronto Maple Leafs right wing David Clarkson (71) before a face-off at Air Canada Centre. The Predators beat the Maple Leafs 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Is There More Parity In The Salary Cap Era NHL?

The NHL, its players, its ownership and its fans lost an entire season to an NHL labor stoppage in 2004-05, with one goal being cost certainty and another one to get parity among the teams with more chances of success for the “little guy”.

Well, while the success of achieving the first part is debatable (the rich getting richer while the poor still muddle along ) what about the parity part.

If you look at the nine years since that landmark introduction of the Cap system, and compare it with the 9 years leading up to it, I am not sure you could argue that it has.

Taking an appearance in the final four as a benchmark for success, it doesn’t appear as though there is a greater equality due to the salary cap.

Of the 36 final four teams from 2006-2014, there were 19 different franchises represented.  Prior to the lockout over the same number of seasons, 20 teams made a final four appearance.

Basically, the Salary Cap can’t be looked at as a big factor when the following happens:

  • The previously free spending New York Rangers made the playoffs twice in 9 years before the cap and 8 of 9 times since the cap was put into effect
  • The Edmonton Oilers, one of the poor teams that the cap was supposed to help, made the playoffs in 6 of 9 seasons pre-cap and twice in 9 chances post-cap.

True parity, when 16 of 30 teams qualify for the playoffs, would mean each team should be in the playoffs around 4 or 5 times in any 9 year period.  Before the cap, there isn’t a true figure because of the expansion that occurred partway through that segment of time, so the odds should have been better, so assign a target of 5 appearances for those teams that were around the whole time and a target of 4 for after the cap came in.

Pre-cap, taking out the expansion teams that joined the league partway through that time period (Nashville, Columbus, Minnesota and Atlanta/Winnipeg), 17 of 26 teams reached the threshold of 5 playoff appearances in 9 years. Two teams made it 2 or fewer times while 8 teams had 7 or more.

Post-cap, just 15 of 30 teams have made the playoffs at least 5 times over that 9 year period.  Seven teams made the post-season 2 or fewer times while 8 teams had 7 or more playoff appearances.

Evin if you factor in the fact that the odds of making the playoffs were better in the pre-cap era just based on the number of teams in the league and the fact that the number of playoff spots didn’t increase with more teams, there isn’t much evidence to suggest that the Salary Cap really made it easier for the “poorer” teams to compete.  All it did was put money in the pockets of the rich owners who couldn’t previously control their spending while forcing the lower salary teams to end up spending more than the would have on their own and lose money in the process.

In conclusion, the Salary Cap might have saved the rich owners from themselves, but really did little to help the small market teams or to increase the parity around the league.

Basically, it doesn’t matter if it is a cap era or not, the better organizations are going to find a way to get to the playoffs, while those who aren’t so smart will continue to flounder, and that often comes in cycles.

Now, that being said, when it comes to getting to the ultimate prize, a team has to spend to the max and get the most out of their roster to raise the Stanley Cup. So unless you spend to the cap, a successful season might just mean playing in late April and getting through the first or second round.



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