Monday, July 18, 2005

No more excuses for small markets

It's a theme that has begun to creep into the hockey media. What with the purported leveling of the playing field, small market NHL franchises will no longer have the crutch, so to speak, of their meagre payroll to fall back on.

Because, with a cap of $39-million, every team in the league will be eyeing a budget that is roughly sized at that of a mid-level franchise from 2003-04. For appearances sake, there's little separating the little guys from those with more financial might, and a GM's well-worn exercise of crying poor when their team does poorly won't carry much weight.

Both ESPN freelancer Scott Burnside and About's Jamie Fitzpatrick made just that point this week in the wake of the announced CBA agreement.

It has been, for many teams, an easy out to blame the economics of the game. But, as is noted by the fellows mentioned, expect such complaints to be a thing of the past. Granted, many teams will still hover around the $30-million range — Atlanta, Florida, Minnesota, Nashville and Pittsburgh fell below this number the last time hockey was played — but the gap has been considerably narrowed from the $48-million separating it from the Red Wings bloated $78-million salary base. Will fans buy similar complains when the only thing separating the teams on the balance sheet is one, perhaps two players?

There were, of course, some teams for which the complaints were valid. Teams that, despite decent drafting histories and managerial competence, were still continually left behind under the old CBA.

One of the main reasons fans can be excited for this new deal is — and I'm sure Tom Benjamin is cringing right now — that it should mete out the well-run teams from the also rans.

That said, even under the old CBA, well-managed small market teams could flourish. The new deal is simply about increasing the odds that it will happen (in spite of a liberal decrease in the age for unrestricted free agency, which won't help a club with a $30-million payroll one bit — but I'll save such talk for a separate post).

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