Has the salary cap ruined the NHL for fans?
Fans are always going to be irrational at their core, but has the salary cap bred a generation of fans worse than ever before?
It's a strange thing to ask when you first think about it. The salary cap has stopped the rich teams from always being the top teams, created more parity, and made for some interesting screw-ups like New Jersey having to play a game with just 15 skaters. The effect I'm talking about, though, isn't about hockey on the ice, but about fan perceptions.
Fans on average are an irrational lot. The root word of fan is fanatic, and with it comes those connotations. Any time you're putting value on something so out-of-control as sports, you're being a little irrational (and yes I mean me too, I'm not being insulting, these are facts). However the salary cap has changed things for hockey fans. More often now, you hear about whether a player is performing to the level of their salary cap hit, instead of whether or not they're playing well.
Often players are run out of town for accepting a contract offer that proves to be too large. The cap world has changed what fans talk about with regard to hockey players.
One of the main problems with this is the irrationality of wanting cheap players throughout the lineup, even when a team has money and space, such as the Montreal Canadiens. Often, we hear as a player is approaching contract negotiations that he must be traded for someone who's younger, and cheaper, or the sky will fall.
This really doesn't impact hockey on the ice much, though it does create some odd market pressures; whether those are felt in the front offices of teams is up for debate. What it does do is ruin hockey discussions.
A large portion of fans are stuck in a perpetual state of rebuilding, always looking to some imagined future which is always brighter than today. Draft picks become worth more than players, even though precedent tells us that the opposite is true; prospects more important than veterans, even relatively young ones.
Even after winning a Norris Trophy at the age of just 23 (24 now but 23 during the season), there are many people who want to trade P.K. Subban "before he gets expensive". Never mind that replacing Subban would essentially be impossible, paying him a fair wage seems to be even worse for some fans.
Constantly pining for a future that never comes is how you get teams like the Edmonton Oilers, which isn't exactly an ideal to strive for.
This is one of the same arguments for trading Andrei Markov, the dangers of which I've already covered.
The salary cap has inserted itself into the centre of every hockey discussion, but I can't see a way that hockey discussions benefit from it. The salary cap is likely best left to those who have to actually deal with it, so fans can spend their time fretting the hockey part of the game instead. Maybe then, a tiny bit more sanity will reign.