A Closer Look At: League Parity

The race to the Playoffs has been undeniably interesting this year.  As we enter into the waning days of this season, fans of the NHL are being treated to a photo finish.  I can’t remember the last time that there have been this many teams in play for the final spots in the post-season tournament.  As of this writing, there are 8 teams fighting for the final spots in the East (5 teams) and West (3 Teams).  The ramifications that these final games will have on their respective markets is significant.  Especially when you consider that some of the ‘Big Boys’ of the league now find their season in peril.

Does anyone else find it kind of weird that we are presently talking about the Bruins, the Penguins and the Kings in tight Playoff races.  These teams are supposed to be bulletproof for the Playoffs.  I’m sure the league isn’t exactly thrilled that the best player in the game could be polishing off his golf clubs in as little as 3 days from now.  Its even more interesting that the team that knows how to fight through adversity are on the outside looking in.  As well, the team that ‘buzz sawed’ their way to a President’s Trophy last season appear to be nothing more than pedestrian this season.

Listening to the pundits more or less affirm that all 3 of these teams ‘should’ make the Playoffs is even more interesting.  Its almost like no one wants to admit what really seems to be going on here.  The league has finally reached a point in which there is almost complete parity.  When you start to break down each teams individual records, and start to look how the different in records top to bottom of this league isn’t very different.  Sure some teams are simply better at home, by and large, most teams flirt with a near .500 record on the road.  There really aren’t as many advantages, home or away any more.  I’m sure that is by design.  Sure, its the fans that ultimately make each rink, but at the end of the day, many of the leagues rinks have suffered the same fate as many subdivisions.  They are just cookie cutters of the same basic design.  I believe this has been done by design.  You take out the intimidation first, you start to create a standardized experience for each team. Aside from different coloured jerseys, what’s to really alter the experience for game day?

After 2004, the Salary Cap was instituted.  Another effort by the league to ‘level the playing field’.  I do think this was a necessary step for the league, especially for the first 5 years.  Having different teams winning for each year until the 2012-13 labour stoppage was great for the league, and helped to grow some markets that sorely needed it.  In the last 5 years, we started to see that some teams have clearly figured out life in the salary cap world better than others.  Which is why I think you have seen some repeats in the last 5 seasons for Stanley Cup Champs.

This is why I think we may finally be at a point where the league is coming closer to achieving complete parity.  Yes, it has been amazing watch a team like Ottawa pick itself up and charge into a possible Playoff berth, but considering the teams that are in danger, is it really that surprising?  12 years ago, a team like Pittsburgh may have tried to buy themselves out of a hole at the Trade Deadline.  Boston likely would have held on to players like Boychuk, or even have given Seguin a little more time to grow.  Not these days though.  If a player is a problem, it’s not unusual to see them shipped off.  The league is in a constant state of flux.  How many times have we heard that Chicago needs to unload contracts in the offseason?  As well, how often do we hear of the marvels of Detroit’s drafting and development program.  Sure, every team know what they are supposed to do.  Just be patient and develop your team.  The thing is, the league has taken every step to make sure that teams can’t do that easily.

In my opinion, the NHL is getting very close to achieving the dream of league wide parity.  Although there are always going to be over performing and under performing teams every year, the fact is, any team is going to have a chance in any given year.  Just wait and see what happens if Pittsburgh or Boston miss the dance this year.

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