NHL Not Sharing the Wealth…Yet

Sam Donnellon had an interesting column, writing that the NHL should have a revenue-sharing model rather than a salary cap.

Donnellon makes the case that hockey is similar to baseball, in that individual teams negotiate their own TV contracts. Baseball teams share revenue and have a luxury tax for those who exceed certain levels of salary. In theory, a team that is spending a huge amount on salary is also getting a huge TV deal, so they can send more money to lesser-spending teams. In other words, the more some teams spend on salary, the more revenue they generate, and the more money other teams get via revenue sharing and/or luxury taxes.

Donnellon raises an interesting point. One huge problem with the salary cap is that GMs need to be very skilled. That isn’t always the case in the NHL. And even if they might be skilled, sometimes it can take years to correct the problems of a previous GM (or GMs, in Dallas’ case). Look at Joe Nieuwendyk in Dallas; the poor GM hasn’t really been able to make an imprint there because of how the salary cap limits his moves.

Ratings for the NHL Classic were down this year, which some people attributed to a lack of on-ice starpower. Without a salary cap, perhaps a team like the Flyers would have had some big stars on the ice, as they have in the past.

Or maybe not. Donnellon conflates spending a lot on salary with having great players. Before the lockout, teams spent a ton on players who weren’t always very good. Without the salary cap, teams might be spending more, but there’s no guarantee the teams would be any better.

The NFL has had tremendous success with revenue sharing and a salary cap but within baseball, with only a revenue-sharing/luxury-tax model, there can be huge disparity between the haves and the have-nots. Also, you have teams like my beloved Mets, who spend a ton and still don’t win very much. Toward the end of last season Citi Field was a veritable ghost town. Spending more doesn’t mean spending better or smarter.

Donnellon is frustrated not so much by the cap, but by the inability of many NHL GMs to successfully and skillfully work with the cap. Still, I’d like to see the NHL consider revenue sharing in addition to perhaps a more flexible cap. It would be interesting to see if large market teams took advantage of the flexibility at the upper end of the salary spectrum and if that flexibility translates to wins and post-season success.

And of course, it would also be nice to see smaller-market teams get a little something from their larger-market friends, to help lesser-earning teams remain or become competitive.