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Hockey Capped

by on January 15, 2013

Dang, we shouldn’t have let the ice melt. Still, it’s finally the most joyous time of year: hockey’s back, and just a few months late. Your fix was delayed by owners trying to keep some of their group from making the rest look bad.

The previous salary limits apparently weren’t limiting enough, which is why the new pact reduces the cap next year and the revenue percentage players receive. It’s not like the other side earns it: those who play don’t do anything but put the hockey in the National Hockey League.

But at least Buffalo teams have been aided by salary caps, like when Chris Drury and Danny Briere left the Sabres on the same day for New York City and Philadelphia, respectively. As for the squad that only plays on frozen ground, the big-market Buffalo Bills have missed the playoffs 13 straight times while little guys like the New York Giants won two more Super Bowls in the same time frame. Um. Good luck to those who argue that results would have been worse for Western New York’s teams without a price ceiling.

Limiting free negotiation of salaries is like the stimulus: it works as long as you’re only talking about it. When it fails to control normal human behavior in practice, it’s just because there must be even more rules. Just like another trillion in taxes and/or debt will spur prosperity, another restriction on how much one can be rewarded for putting pucks into a net or preventing same act is totally going to keep costs reasonable and the losers from whining.

There’s a particular little-city hockey proprietor who deep down wishes he was permitted to out-frack other franchises. Energy baron and Sabres owner Terry Pegula can’t spend more on talent thanks to the cap, as being allowed to do so would show why dedicated ownership trumps an area’s population as the key factor in a team’s destiny.

Buying vast amounts of production is somehow to be discouraged. At the same time, excessively lavish contracts are their own punishment: try trading a slob making seven figures more per season than he’s worth if you’d like to learn why money can’t fix everything. Instead, the cap lets teams like the Rangers attract stars for less than they’d pay on the open market, so thank the labor deal for slashing New York’s payroll. Either way, the present system does not tolerate attempts to thoroughly reward success while pursuing a championship.

The local rag won’t help: now that hockey’s back, expect more unintentionally amusing Buffalo News screeds pushing the notion that the cap has been magical. Talk about a lack of depth: Bucky Gleason and Bob DiCesare spend most of the day trying to untangle their Velcro shoes, Jerry Sullivan is Grumpy Cat without the charm, Mike Harrington wonders why he’s ranked so low without ever thinking it’s his work, the annoying nature of John Vogl’s output is mitigated by how forgettable it is, Tim Graham is only ever correct by coincidence, and Amy Moritz is a feminist disguised as a lousy reporter. Other than that, it’s a talented roster.

Even if they personally agreed with hockey’s labor restrictions, one would think they’d want to challenge the owners and league as journalists. But that would presume they’re good at their jobs, so forget it. Buffalo News staffers are opposed to rewarding talent for personal reasons.

It never occurs to capping fans to make the small market big. They don’t even seem to conceive it’s possible that Buffalo could grow, in part because it would mean challenging their inherently faulty economic assumptions. But there’s no reason for the City of Hockey to keep shrinking. Reversing the decline just requires electing coaches at the city, county, and state levels who let us play.

Even now, it’s baffling to set a league of uninspiring teams as a goal. Salary cap proponents have a tough time explaining why parity is good without resorting to a juvenile sense that it’s not fair if someone else gets two of something if you only have one. Imposed mediocrity is what competition is all about, right?

Or perhaps weighing down the strong is not a good standard for a hockey team or city. Fans put up with a tremendous amount to enjoy sports, from public money for billionaire owners to cheering for Tim Connolly. We can presently only hope owners someday learn to limit salaries by not handing out ridiculous ones, not to mention how getting one’s hands on the Stanley Cup is worth the price.

Hockey will remain the best thing ever despite Gary Bettman’s attempts to turn frozen gold into warm mud. The lame lockout and deal offer a reminder that nothing is perfect, at least until the puck drops.

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