The feel-good narrative about Vegas’ success on the ice in their first year has another side to it, of course, though you’ll not read much about it.
And that is, that the Golden Knights (who may have to change their name if they lose the trademark lawsuit brought against them this week by the Department of the Army) have benefited at the expense of the NHL’s other 30 teams, all of whom were weakened by the exceedingly generous rules attached to the expansion draft.
So even as remarkably talented teenagers enter the NHL on an annual basis, the product already harmed by the hard cap is further diluted. And just wait until Seattle, which will pay $650 million to enter the league as opposed to Vegas’ $500 million ante and is thus likely to benefit from even more liberal expansion draft regulations, gets its hooks into everyone else’s roster.
Gary Bettman and the folks on Sixth Avenue love the fact the NHL’s 31 teams are largely indistinguishable. That’s been the objective since the 2004-05 Owners’ Lockout II proposal that the league office be a central clearing house to disperse players to the then-30 clubs. They forever confuse parity with mediocrity, forever conflate close games with good games and tight standings with exciting races.
There is no rising tide here, no high bar to clear.
This is the ultimate grade on the curve league.
Seriously, what is the point of playing 82 games to prove that there is no difference between teams? If every game is important, then none is more important than the one before it or the one that follows. Rivalries and passion have been extinguished by this balanced schedule that features seemingly endless streams of games involving intra-conference matchups.
Plus, if it is true that fans want a league in which every team has an opportunity to win every year, then the NHL has failed to execute its plan about as miserably as possible.
Because since the dawn of the hard cap era in 2005-06:
The Wild have won two playoff rounds in 12 years.
The Flames have won one round in 12 years while missing the playoffs six times.
The Islanders have won one round in 12 years while missing the playoffs eight times.
The Maple Leafs have failed to win a round in 12 years.
The Panthers have failed to win a round in 12 years while missing the playoffs 10 times.
The Oilers have won one round in the past 11 years while missing the playoffs 10 times.
The Canucks have not won a round in six years.
The Jets/Thrashers have not won a round in 12 years while missing the playoffs 10 times.
The Flyers have not won a round in five years.
The Devils have missed the playoffs the past five years.
The Sabres have not won a round the past 10 years.
The Blue Jackets have not won a round in 12 years.
The Stars have won one round the past nine years.
The Avalanche have not won a round the past nine years.
The Coyotes won two rounds in 2012, the only time in 12 years they advanced.
The Hurricanes have missed the playoffs the past eight years.
Viva Las Vegas!
Listen, there is no denying that owner Bill Foley, the executive staff, general manager George McPhee, coach Gerard Gallant, the scouting staff and the hockey department all deserve massive credit for taking advantage of rules that were stacked in the new organization’s favor. The organization is to be lauded across the board for its work on and off the ice.
But the Cadets — oops, confused there for a moment — started with a clean slate, without the “bad” contracts that come with the territory. It will be fascinating to track the way McPhee responds to his club’s pending free agents the next couple of summers in the wake of this year’s success. Let them go because of the back-end risk, or sign deals that all but inevitably will turn sour?
He only gets a clean slate once.
How is it that in baseball, the only uncapped major pro sports league in the States, free agents languish for months as teams establish the market whereas in hockey, there is a six-hour feeding frenzy in which players essentially set the market for themselves?
What do you think the price for, say second-pair defensemen and third-line forwards would be if there were masses unsigned in late August?
In recognition of No. 95, Vinni Lettieri, our teams’ top nine Nineties: 1. Wayne Gretzky, Rangers, 99; 2. John Tavares, Islanders, 91; 3. Butch Goring, Islanders, 91; 4. Doug Gilmour, Devils, 93; 5. Michael Nylander, Rangers, 92; 6. Petr Nedved, Rangers, 93; 7. Markus Naslund, Rangers, 91; 8. Ryan Smyth, Islanders, 94; 9. Keith Yandle, Rangers, 93.
New rule: Teams that “forget” which players were on the ice during an icing infraction shall be charged with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
It would be too easy to crack wise about Canada’s Olympic Team reaching into the tub to find Wojtek Wolski, but the truth is that No. 86 — who was 86’d by John Tortorella soon after going minus-three in 6:20 of ice time in a Jan. 13, 2012, 4-1 defeat in Montreal — is an inspirational story after working his way back from a broken neck he sustained crashing into the boards during a KHL game in October 2016.
Finally, Gary Bettman to Candy Canes fans at Friday’s press conference: “As I repeatedly told you over the years, this franchise wasn’t going anywhere and isn’t going anywhere.”
After the final 3:08 on Friday, who could disagree?