What would Tampa Bay’s future look like without a salary cap?

We’ve all customized our Twitter feeds by this point to our own tastes, though that’s not necessarily a good thing. As a left-leaning hockey fan who likes cats, I get a lot of left-leaning news, tons of hockey information and opinion, and cat pics. This does not make me a more well-rounded person, but it does satisfy my need to see pictures of cats who think they’re people.

What it’s also done, is aggregate a news feed in which I get the impression that everyone feels as I do – “man, everyone totally agrees with me on this!” – is something I probably think way too often.  In the case of the NHL lockout, I strongly get the impression that everyone – my Twitter everyone, of course – is in favour of the NHLPA decertifying and letting the “free market” dictate what it will. (I suppose the free market concept is not entirely left-leaning, so maybe my feed isn’t all that one-sided.) Oddly, on this particular topic, I feel differently.

This week the players that make up the NHLPA are holding a vote to decide whether they should give the PA’s executive board the power to decertify (or more accurately, file a disclaimer of interest). If they get two-thirds of the vote in favour, it could conceivably strengthen the players’ hand in a potential court battle, where a judge could ultimately rule the lockout and all player restrictions null and void, which would trigger mass chaos league-wide. The NHL has even argued that existing player contracts would be torn up in this scenario.

No salary cap, no CBA, no draft, just a complete clusterfuck that would allow the richest teams to sign the best players to the most money, and bury the poor teams that wouldn’t be able to financially compete. They’d fold like cheap tents.

A decent portion of the league (no exact figure of course. Two teams? Six? Ten?) could find themselves six feet under if this mass chaos were to ensue, yet from what I’ve seen, folks still seem eager to prune the NHL’s branches, assuming things will grow back healthier and generally better.

It’s a flowery concept, but I don’t want to see contraction happen. I don’t want mass chaos where all your team’s favourite players are suddenly uprooted and belong to the Rangers and Leafs. I don’t argue that less teams = stronger talent level = better hockey (by how much we don’t really know). I just don’t want it.

Before I get further into why, here’s a chunk of an excellent article written by Cam Cole of the Vancouver Sun on how a PA disclaimer of interest would result in chaos (and why the league never had any innocence left to lose). After contemplating what would happen if the union dissolved and contracts were voided:

But what glorious chaos it would be.

It won’t happen, of course, because the two sides in the ongoing labour war would never give the media a gift so sensational.

Still, think of the stories: A frantic orgy of free-agent madness, rich teams stockpiling talent with no salary caps, mid-market teams scrambling to keep some semblance of what they have, deep-pocketed competitive failures seeing a chance to hit a sudden home run, a few other franchises utterly driven out of business … the competition and carnage would be more interesting than a lot of NHL playoff series.

The league would definitely lose some teams, which admittedly makes it worth fantasizing about.

Interesting, I mean, shit yes. Worth fantasizing about, no doubt. But better for hockey fans? Not for me, anyway.

For my money, hockey fans have become too caught up in the finances of their teams. The salary cap forced us into that, admittedly, because we like to know if our team has the money to sign another player. But it really shouldn’t be our problem.

Fans who want the Coyotes to go down in a desert wildfire make you wonder – why not let the league and ownership worry about the business side of hockey and just enjoy their team? Do you worry about the finances of In-N-Out Burger when eating a double-double animal style (I’m hungry)? That stuff shouldn’t mean shit to us. The ‘Yotes put a great product on the ice last year, and played admirably despite often being out-matched talent-wise. They defended well, got great coaching and fantastic goaltending. They finished third in the Western Conference and won the division. They were a fun surprising story. A hockey story. And fans want them torched because their not impressed with their books. …Que?

Another obvious negative is that contraction would affect a huge number of hockey fans personally. Hearing co-workers list off the teams they’d like to see disappear in a puff of smoke leaves a half-dozen fanbases unable to watch NHL hockey live. It’s romantic to think all Atlanta Thrashers fans still follow the game, but we know better than that. You take a fan’s team, and the NHL suddenly has less people to market to, to sell to, to include. They go away, and we dig deeper into the “niché” hole that some of us find frustrating.

As a hockey player, there’s also the simple fact that less teams equals less jobs, so I’d feel for up-and-comers in that regard.

The main argument for contraction, then, is that the hockey would be better with 24 (or whatever) teams. Sure. But was the pace not good enough for fans last season? I mean holy hell, was hockey too slow? If it’d be faster with 24, it’d be faster than that with 18, and it’d be faster than that with 12, 6, 2, etc. We pick a cutoff that we think can support good hockey and make money, and we’re at 30. Not 36 or 44, we’re at a pretty good number where the hockey is still excellent and as many fans as possible are engaged. And for fans who like that it’d “cut down on goons and grinders,” I say you’re vastly underestimating how many fans like hits and fighting.

I don’t believe that as many teams are losing money as the league and owners would have us believe, either.Friend of the blog @67sound, who I believe is pro-contraction, is on the same page as me in that regard: on top of the teams who don’t show their books or receive public subsidies are the owners who receive the “psychic benefit” of being an owner. Which is to say, some aren’t in it to make money, they’re already loaded, they’re in it for the upper hand in the dick-measuring contest that some rich people like to participate in. CHECK OUT THE STUFF I OWN, IT INCLUDES THOSE HUMANS ON THE ICE AND THE PERSONAL ENJOYMENT OF ALL THOSE FANS. These guys are not hurting as bad as they’d have the public believe.

The NHL isn’t perfect, but no league is. If a team or two has to fold or relocate, I can live with that. But if the system is blown up and we suddenly have the “frantic orgy” of chaos that Cam Cole described, I won’t be too thrilled about it. Every moment will have me rapt, of course, but I’d prefer things stay the way they are.

If the two pig-headed sides of this CBA negotiation can agree on a couple terms, be reasonable here and there, give and take a little, we can have things back to where they were, if not better. I don’t normally fear change, but I do fear the uncertainty of an entirely new NHL.