Puck Daddy’s Ryan Lambert writes that the idea of an NHL super team in the mold of the new NBA craze is simply unattainable due to the economics and setup of the league. Lambert shows that while an NBA team can sign a young, future hall of fame player who can immediately impact a team, hockey does not have the same luxury. Lambert uses Sidney Crosby as an example. Should Crosby end up in Detroit, his impact would be felt, but would not guarantee Detroit as a Cup contender. Instead, it would take other pieces to solidify such a dominating force.
The setup of the sports are different as well. Lambert shows that a Pittsburgh team comprised of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang struggled at times to get past teams that were not nearly as deep with talent. Lambert even went as as far to show “death lineups” of players who dominated while on the same side. Though they wore the same jerseys, their impact was different because in hockey, it’s rare that all of those players will appear on the ice at the exact same time. Of those six death lineups, five won a Cup. Only the 2012-13 Bruins, who lost in the Stanley Cup Final to the Blackhawks (also another death lineup), fell short.
Lambert doesn’t discount that having eight high end, perennial all-star caliber players could heavily favor a team. It’s just that the restrictive nature of the salary cap prevents it from happening. At best, Lambert writes, a team can have four or five high end players at a time.
Perhaps the bigger issue revolves around finances and marketing.
The financial structure of the league is significantly different than the NBA. Lambert shows that the league revenues have remained flat, and shows a gate revenue that is all but maxed out. The NBA, on the other hand, has seen a significant increase in revenue and also enjoy lucrative television deals. Additionally, the Canadian dollar, according to a Globe and Mail report, may have cost the NHL nearly $200MM in revenue. Though the numbers are from 2014, Fox Sports wrote up a report, along with graphics, that show the stark discrepancy in revenue between the NHL and other major sports.
Where Lambert really hits the point home is how the sport is marketed. It’s no secret that hockey is a niche sport. As parity has reigned during the salary cap era, the differences between a top team and a bottom feeder, while sometimes large, still afford the ability for an upset to occur.
Whether it’s fair or unfair, the lesser known teams in a Stanley Cup Final could be horrendous for the league as well. The idea of a Tampa Bay-San Jose Final this year would have wreaked havoc on ratings. Even though both teams boast high caliber players, they are both “non-traditional” markets that outside of their respective area, would generate little interest. Contrast that with a possible Pittsburgh-Chicago Final and it underscores the issue with the NHL: lack of familiarity in non-established markets.
As Lambert pointed out, Steph Curry jerseys are everywhere and his presence on television is a must see event. Ovechkin? Crosby? McDavid? Toews? Sure, hockey fans know them. But ask the average sports fan where Conor McDavid plays, and you might get a blank stare. Some might struggle to even say who he is.
Until revenues explode and familiarity is bred, superteams, whether they are a good or bad thing, are just not possible with the structure of today’s NHL.