Hockey is the greatest sport in the world, but that doesn’t meant the way the league is run can’t be improved. Like all matters of life, there is knowledge to be gained by learning from your rivals/competitors. In this series of articles I will be discussing things the NHL can learn from the other major sports leagues in America. The premise behind these articles will be that sports are supposed to be fun, and other leagues do things that add to the enjoyment of following the league. The NHL should consider ways to improve their product by making it more fun. First, let’s look at something the MLB does far better than the NHL: the Luxury Tax.
As most of you are likely aware, the most recent CBA in the NHL had a hard salary cap, with exceptions only permitted due to long term injury to a player. This system is designed to increase parity in the league by putting everyone on a substantially similar payroll regardless of market size. The owners like this because of “cost certainty,” the players are okay with it because if you’re going to have a salary cap, then you’re going to have a salary floor which guarantees a minimum amount of money spent on player salaries by every team, and the fans like this because the majority of fans are in smaller markets and don’t want to see the New York Rangers or Toronto Maple Leafs of the world
buy championships outspend them for marquee free agents.
Teams should be able to keep together their core: it’s better for their fans, it’s better for TV, it’s better for the league, and it’s better for the players. TV money is the golden goose of major league sports, so anything that can be done to captivate audiences is better for the sport, and dominant teams are good for TV ratings. Pittsburgh should be allowed to keep Crosby and Malkin and put good players around them, just as Edmonton should be able to keep all of their young forwards while building a team around them if they can afford it. The Flyers shouldn’t have to keep trading away top end forwards for picks and prospects every few years in order to stay under the salary cap. It’s just more fair to the fans, to organizations that have been run well, organizations that have been run poorly and thus have a bevy of young talent, and fans of both.
In the MLB there is a luxury tax, which is like a “soft cap” because teams can spend above the tax threshold, only for every dollar they spend over the threshold they must put an additional percentage into revenue sharing. Obviously this limits spending to some degree, but it also allows clubs the opportunity to pick up an expiring contract at the deadline or to spend more to keep a corps of players together. This is better for the fans of contending teams because they are able to keep the team together if they are willing to spend, and then by paying the tax dollars the teams in the lower tier of revenues would gain money to further improve their teams. Unlike a salary cap and forced revenue sharing, teams have a choice on how much they spend on players. While there would still need to be some sort of revenue sharing in exchange for a salary floor, eliminating the salary cap would be better.