Monday, July 26, 2010

Fun with Letters to the Editor: Blackhawks Whinging Edition

As a subscriber to The Hockey News, I get the digital issues delivered by e-mail before they hit the shelves. A letter in the upcoming August 2nd issue caught my eye. Mr. Scott Saxton of Lasalle, Ontario, has a rather, shall we say, innovative solution the Chicago Blackhawks off-season woes. Follow along with me!

I hate the NHL salary cap. I am not a Blackhawks fan, but what is happening to their club frustrates me as a hockey fan.

Strong words to start off with. The NHL salary cap certainly has its flaws, as has been adequately proven by the Ilya Kovalchuk fiasco of the past couple weeks, but clearly, Mr. Saxton has his eye specifically on the dismantling of the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup winning roster that has seen Byfuglien, Ladd, Versteeg, and others all shipped out of town.

The NHL should reward greatness and allow it to run its course. The salary cap only serves to dismantle progress and promote athletic communism.

Wait, athletic communism? Clearly we have leapt from the foothills of discourse into the lofty peaks of gross hyperbole. Even in the post-salary-cap NHL there are the haves and the have-nots. And yet, a team like the Nashville Predators continues to perform better than teams with significantly higher payrolls, such as the New York Rangers or Minnesota Wild.

And no one seems to be advocating “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” or else we might get some bizarre attempts from second-tier NHL players attempting to establish their need for a comically oversized diamond ring as if they were factory workers in Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.”

Why punish the clubs who excel and get it right? Why not reward them?

Yes, let’s reward the Blackhawks for the absurd contracts they gave to Cristobal Huet and Brian Campbell, the ones that necessitated shipping out so many players. Huet, after all, played such an integral part of the ‘Hawks Stanley Cup run, earning every penny of that $5.625 million contract. And those bonus-laden contracts given out to so many of their young stars, giving them a carry-over cap penalty of $4.2 million is completely an example of a team “get[ting] it right.”

Example: the Stanley Cup champion could get an exemption to exceed the salary cap by $5 million during the season of their defense.

You know, like the Blackhawks did last season when they won the Cup, essentially exceeding the cap by $4.2 million in bonuses.

And really, nothing says dynasty like allowing a team an unfair competitive advantage.

This would allow them to re-sign integral parts or even further bolster a championship-caliber team. Don’t think this idea has legs?

This idea has many things, but definitely not legs. Maybe a couple armpits and half a buttcheek.

Well, at least let’s get this conversation going.

Let’s not.

Something must be done.

Something was done. The Chicago Blackhawks fired Dale Tallon.

The NHL is in the entertainment business. Watching a whole slew of middling teams slog it out each spring to see who is the best of a homogenous bunch is not entertaining.

Personally, I appreciate that the salary cap forces teams to get creative with how they build a team. With the salary cap, you can’t just fling contracts indiscriminately at free agents anymore, as if you were building a house by tossing a bunch of bricks in a pile and hoping for the best. Of course, that doesn’t stop some general managers, but building a team in the new NHL requires intelligence, foresight, and a solid plan. Dale Tallon demonstrated none of these things.

We want to see greatness. We want to see champions. The last team standing doesn’t necessarily give us this.

And yet, year after year, the San Jose Sharks have been on top of the Western Conference, the Red Wings have competed for the Stanley Cup, the Washington Capitals have exerted regular season dominance, and the Pittsburgh Penguins keep pissing off the rest of the NHL by being good, allowing for more marketing of Sidney Crosby.

Heck, even the Chicago Blackhawks have managed to keep their top-six forward unit intact this off-season, still have a formidable top-four defensive corps, and are a waive of Huet away from being neatly under the salary cap again.

Again, the reason the Blackhawks have had deal out their Stanley Cup winning team like a deck of cards isn’t because the salary cap is bad for certain values of badness; it’s because Dale Tallon gave out some terrible contracts while he was a GM. Huet was paid $5.625 million to be a backup goalie last season and Campbell was paid $7.14 million to be the third defenceman.

Don’t cry for the Chicago Blackhawks, Scott. They got what they paid for: one year with Lord Stanley. And only one.


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