In 1992-93, the Pittsburgh Penguins sported a roster that consisted of names like Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Kevin Stevens, Tom Barrasso, Ron Francis, Larry Murphy, and Rick Tocchet. A virtual all-star team, consisting of several future Hall of Famers. What was more remarkable? The entire Pittsburgh payroll that season added up to only $15, 200,000. What a bargain for all those players!
In 1992-93, the average NHL team payroll worked out to be $10,000,000. So what has happened to salaries now, in 2011??
The NHL has watched salaries escalate out of control for the last decade and a half, at least. In fact, in 1994, the league imposed a lockout in order to try to gain some control over these ever-increasing payrolls in its early stages. While not much was accomplished during that lockout, ten years later, in 2004, the NHL lost the entire 2004-05 season in a bitter labour dispute, with the league taking a hard stance against the players in order to implement a salary cap that would ensure each team would be on the same playing field. At the time of the lockout, the league’s highest payrolls had skyrocketed to $77,000,000 plus, with money makers such as Detroit and the New York Rangers leading the way.
After almost a year long bitter dispute, the league got their wishes. The owners and players agreed to a salary cap that capped every team’s payroll at $39,000,000. Consider that before the lockout, fifteen of the league’s thirty teams had a payroll under that 39 million mark. It appeared as though the NHL had finally gotten the salaries under control…the new cap allowed all teams to function under the same guidelines, regardless of revenue brought in by each team. The Pittsburghs and Nashvilles of the league could compete with the Detroits and NY Rangers of the league, and it appeared as though all was well.
I thought the purpose of a salary cap was to CAP salaries.
In 2011, the news broke that the new salary cap for each team would now be approximately $64,000,000. When you consider that in 2004, the top payrolls were in the 77 million and 67 million ranges, how has the salary cap helped?
Teams like Phoenix and Florida, aided at first by the reasonable cap, are now hampered by the ever escalating salary cap. Teams now have to spend up to $48,000,000 to meet league requirements to reach the cap floor. When you factor in low attendance, uncertain ownership, and lack of corporate sponsorship in many markets, it is a struggle to spend enough to reach the required floor, let alone reach 64 million to be competitive.
So after losing a season due to a fight to control salaries, salaries are now spiraling back out of control. Even though the cap is linked to league revenue, do we really need to see salaries return to pre-lockout heights? As the cap goes up, so do ticket prices. The average family will soon be priced out of regular NHL attendance. With another CBA expiration date looming, the potential is high for another lockout, and with another lockout, it will be twice as difficult for fans to return to a league that cares more about dollars and cents than it does about ice, sticks, and pucks.
What’s next? Holding the Stanley Cup for ransom? The NHL is already holding its fans ransom. Why not everything else with it?