Prior to the lockout, only the rich teams had success, or so the NHL has claimed.

[We] believe we’ve had seven years of incredible competitive balance. Twenty-nine clubs have made the playoffs. We’ve have seven different Stanley Cup champions. The game on the ice has never been better. That’s a function of this system. The system, as originally negotiated, in our view, needs some adjustments.

So said Gary Bettman. Either he’s lying, fully aware that he’s lying, or he’s completely unaware of what NHL teams have been up to in the last seven seasons.

Take the Edmonton Oilers, the smallest of small markets in the early 2000s. In the seven seasons leading up to the 2004-05 lockout, the Oilers made the playoffs five times. Since, after a system was put in place that was designed to help them, the team has been terrible. As Black Dog Pat suggested of the Oilers’ playoff run in the Puck Daddy Essentials, the period between 1996 and 2006 was “a fun decade of those little teams that could that culminated in the Finals run of 2006″.

No mention of competitive balance or the lockout, just the natural progression of a team over that period of time. The Phoenix Coyotes may be a better example. They were awful, in both capped and uncapped eras, until Dave Tippett came along and suddenly turned the league’s poorest team into one of its best over the last three seasons, despite no owner, no budget, and, as Bettman has indicated, no adjustment to the collective bargaining agreement that has become a haven for rich teams to spend money.

The league’s richest team prior to the lockout, the New York Rangers, did not make the playoffs between 1997 and 2004, or the seven seasons prior to the 2004-05 lockout. The league’s richest team after the lockout, the Toronto Maple Leafs, did not make the playoffs between 2005 and 2012.

The only other two teams who didn’t make the playoffs in the seven years prior to the expiration of the previous CBA were the Columbus Blue Jackets and Atlanta Thrashers.

So, congratulations Gary Bettman and his competitive balance, that ensured the league’s two most mis-managed teams over the last decade would each make the playoffs once and get swept right out.

But Bettman is probably not stupid. He wears a suit lined with money for a reason. He knows that the competitive balance between the NHL, Major League Baseball and the National Football League, three leagues with wildly different collective bargaining agreements, is virtually identical when it comes to top four finishes over the last seven seasons.

MLB has qualified 21 of 30 teams to the playoffs. If the NHL had baseball’s playoff system, it would be 23 of 30 teams. The NFL has had 24 of their 32 teams win the division. A team’s success, ultimately, comes down to the structure of the teams themselves, with coaching and management playing a key factor. In the NHL, having money has helped, but teams without have found ways to be successful, and teams with money have found ways to not be.

This isn’t about competitive balance. Gary knows this is about the $1-billion that separates the players from the owners at this point. A not insignificant amount of money, Bettman is determined to milk every penny he can out of the players before the NHL really starts to make money once the football season has wound down and the league really starts to make money.

Without revenue sharing, it really isn’t. The current agreement, the one the NHL simply wants to see continue with slashed costs, provides no incentive for Toronto to help Phoenix grow, or for Phoenix to help Toronto grow. Every playoff game the Leafs missed over the course of this previous CBA saved the Coyotes about $60K in player costs. Phoenix not making as much as a mid-market franchise saves the Leafs about $1.5M a season in player costs.

we could construct an agreement in which, as revenues grow, the players’ compensation would be protected, but it would grow significantly more slowly than revenues in an effort so that, after a few years, the league could grow out of any perceived difficulties that it had. It does require the owners to grow revenues.

That one is Donald Fehr.

The onus is on the NHL players to grow revenues. The NHL needs to promote a system that brings the needle closer to centre, if Bettman is going to make wild sweeping statements about “competitive balance”.