The NHL Column: Salary Cap/Floor System Works For Teams, Fans
At a time when the San Diego Padres decide they have to trade a developing star in Adrian Gonzalez to the Boston Red Sox, the Nashville Predators are flourishing behind a true team concept in the Western Conference. At a time when the Kansas City Royals decide they must trade Zack Greinke before it becomes impossible to re-sign him, the Atlanta Thrashers are winning games with style and flash and could lock down a playoff berth in the East.
At Christmas, there are only two NHL teams whose playoff hopes are dire. New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello -- whose team is pushing the salary cap ceiling -- insists the high cost of Ilya Kovalchuk is not to blame for his team sitting 18 points behind eighth place in the East. On Thursday, believing his team can still get back into the playoff picture, Lamoriello fired coach John MacLean and replaced him with Jacques Lemaire. New York Islanders GM Garth Snow -- whose team's payroll is just about at the salary cap floor -- has repeatedly stated he has no financial limitations from ownership. Take both men at their word.
The on-ice misfortunes of the Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs are borne out of hockey decisions that have not worked out. Their failures are not for financial reasons, which is how it should be. Although they are perceived a rebuilding teams, the Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers will likely play meaningful games beyond the All-Star break. In the league where just about every team goes home with points, the Oilers and Panthers (and Wild and Blue Jackets and Sabres and Senators) are close enough to NHL .500 to keep their fans' fire burning.
(Notice that I haven't equated the salary cap to ticket prices. No, that was nonsense when it came from the mouths of team owners during the lockout and has proven to be farcical five years later. Competitive balance, yes. Reasonable ticket prices so any hard-working hockey fan can go to a game without digging deep, not exactly).
Critics point to an abundance of mediocrity, but this seems unfair. We've yet to see a world-class player not find employment in the NHL when he really wanted to. There has still been plenty of room for greatness in the first half of this season from the Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Vancouver Canucks and Pittsburgh Penguins. By the time this marathon ends, a worthy champion will emerge.
And really now, who's to say it cannot someday soon be the Thrashers or the Predators? Fans in every market matter. Unlike the Royals, fans in every NHL city should feel like their team has a chance to develop into a Stanley Cup champion. The salary cap floor and ceiling system, while imperfect, works. Check the standings.
Hero of the Week
David Clarkson of the New Jersey Devils has one of the best charitable programs in all of sports. One of the best parts about it is how he is so intimitately involved. Clarkson started "Clarky's Kids" two years ago with his junior club, the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League. The program raises funds for area families who have a child battling with cancer. The children are also the guests of Clarkson and the team at games and meet the junior players at the arena or at the Pediatric Oncology wing at Grand River Hospital.
-- Never thought I'd see the day when picking Canada to win the World Junior Championships would be going against chalk. I'm picking Canada. Lower expectations, playing outside of the country in Buffalo -- albeit just a bit outside? Canada could bring the gold home again.
-- Islanders owner Charles Wang and general manager Garth Snow are the guests on commissioner Gary Bettman's radio show, "The NHL Hour," on Sirius/XM on Thursday at 6:00 pm. The Islanders beat Tampa Bay in overtime on Wednesday at out-dated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in front of an audience witnesses estimated at no more than 5,000.
-- In a free agent market with so many heart-and-soul bottom-six forwards available, the Vancouver Canucks raised some eyebrows by giving grinder Manny Malhotra a three-year contract at $2.5 million per. Coming into this season, the 32-year-old Malhotra had just 90 goals in 705 career NHL games. However, he has been a vital part of the Canucks' success this season, receiving over 16 minutes of playing time per game from coach Alain Vigneault, and has chipped in with five goals and nine assists.
-- NHL Elite Four -- 1. Philadelphia 2. Detroit 3. Pittsburgh 4. Vancouver
-- NHL Bottom Four -- 27. Calgary 28. Toronto 29. Islanders 30. New Jersey
-- Today's Three Stars -- 1. Phil Myre 2. Guy Chouinard 3. Willi Plett.