It’s time for the NHL to have some fun and ditch the hard cap system

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Noah Strang
1 year ago
The NBA’s trade deadline took place on Thursday and there were a staggering amount of trades made. Superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were both traded and there was a huge exchange of role players moving teams. We saw different deal formats that included five draft picks for a single player, three-team trades, and a variety of conditional picks and creative clauses to make everything work.
While the NHL trade deadline receives a ton of media attention, there usually isn’t very much substance behind the flash. This year’s deadline is already ahead of most in that Bo Horvat and Vladimir Tarasenko have moved teams, two very good but not great players.
The NBA and NHL will always be compared. Out of the major North American sports leagues, the two share a ton of similarities in their scheduling, format, and appeal. However, one of the largest differences in the two leagues is the amount of player movement. While in the NHL players tend to stick with one franchise, it’s relatively unusual for an NBA player to stay in the same place longer than a couple of years if things aren’t going well.
The big culprit, in this case, is the NHL’s hard cap system. By putting a ceiling on the amount that teams can spend, the NHL has made salary the most important factor in any player’s value. In the NHL, some of the most valuable assets are those on undervalued contracts, while in the NBA, it’s the quality of the player that matters most.
It’s time for the NHL to do away with its hard cap system and move to a soft cap with a luxury tax.

The difficulties of making player for player trades under the hard cap system

With a hard cap system, it’s extremely difficult to make player for player exchanges. This is because with most teams pushed up against the cap ceiling, the salaries of the two players moving teams must line up almost exactly. As it stands today, there are only about 12 teams in the league that have more than $1 million in cap space to play with.
This means that the NHL trade deadline often comes and goes without much fanfare. Even worse, it means that good players who would make exciting trade pieces and shake up the league often stay put due to slightly inflated salaries. For example, Brock Boeser’s $6.65 million extension means that many teams aren’t looking to add the winger, although they probably would if he was at $4 million.
With a soft cap and luxury tax, the few million dollars in salary become much less relevant. The trades become much more about what the player can deliver on the ice. If the NHL switched to this system, we’d be treated to many more “hockey trades” and fewer deals made for the sake of accounting.

The hard cap limits creativity 

While some may believe that being handed the same restrictions as all the other teams requires general managers to get creative to get ahead, we actually see less creativity in the NHL compared to the NBA. There are a few factors that go into this and one that cannot be ignored is the relative value of stars in the NBA compared to the NHL as one player can make a way bigger difference in basketball.
However, another reason that NHL GMs are less creative compared to their NBA counterparts is that they have fewer tools at their disposal. With such a simple and strict system as the hard cap, NHL GMs are limited in their options.
In recent seasons, NHL GMs have been looking for loopholes such as the LTIR to move money around creatively. With a soft cap and luxury tax situation, more doors would open such as taking on contracts and paying the tax that would make it easier to facilitate trades.

The hard cap only keeps players underpaid

One of the big reasons why Gary Bettman and other fans of the hard cap system continue to support it is that it provides parity. While that’s true in that the hard cap makes it difficult for successful teams to keep their roster together over time, that’s not the reason why those supports enjoy this system.
As it stands at the moment, the hard cap system helps keep the top stars like Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, and others underpaid as their contracts are limited by the salary cap. In addition, it incentivizes players to take less money to help the organization build around them. This creates a culture where fans see players as greedy for wanting to get what they’re worth, all while the owners reap the benefits of saving a few dollars.
The reason why Bettman continues to support and uphold the hard cap system so much is not that it creates parity across the league, it’s because it keeps money in the owners’ pockets and keeps them happy. It’s time for the NHL to switch to a luxury tax system. While it may cost the owners a few more dollars, it would do wonders for the league and its revenue in the long run.

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