Expansion could increase talent pool

Photo credit: pub.tv2.no

In case you haven’t noticed, there is a lockout going on. As the league continued to chop of more bits from the 2012-13 NHL season the fans are getting increasingly frustrated. During work stoppage, those frustrated people tend to talk about various things. One of those things is pending expansion. As Ken Campbell wrote in the latest edition of the Hockey News, the league has gone 12 years without expanding, making it the longest expansion drought since it grew to 12 teams.

Sure enough, there are plenty of reasons in favor of not expanding. The league needs to control its suffering markets before it can ever think about adding teams in new ones. It also needs to accept that appeasing the fan bases deprived of hockey to lessen the negative impact of the lockout isn’t really a solid motive for expansion.

This list is long and could go on for another few paragraphs so let’s end it here.

Instead, let’s try to look at expansion in a different light. In some of my previous pieces, I’ve argued that the salary cap has diluted the NHL talent pool. My main assumption remains that premium NHL talent earns as much money as it did in the pre salary cap era, if not more. Mats Sundin had a salary of (around) $9,000,000 in 2002-03 in the highest spending hockey market, with the highest spending hockey team in the world. Today, Eric Staal gets paid 250 000 dollars more while his cap hit remains a steady $8,250,000 for the duration of the contract. In Carolina.

This is why the addition of a fixed salary ceiling did nothing to dilute the talent pool of the top six NHL units. That said, it had tremendous impact on the bottom six. Take Carolina as yet another example. The Hurricanes have a top six which consists of Eric and Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, Alexander Semin, Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen. Their combined cap hit is $34,750,000. Cam Ward’s cap hit alone stands at $6,300,000 and their top two earning defensemen (Pitkanen and Gleason) have a combined cap hit of $8,500,000.

The point is that there isn’t much cap spending room for talent on the bottom two lines at this day in age. Carolina couldn’t possibly afford to keep say, a Maxim Afinogenov (a slightly earlier version) on their bottom two lines which hurts the overall talent pool of the league.

This is where expansion could come in. Now, what I’m definitely not saying is that it would be a major boost to the overall quality of the league (it hardly needs boosting because NHL hockey today has achieved a level that trumps all previous incarnations) because the same thing would happen with those expansion teams (they would also be restrained by the cap’s top six and bottom six NHL) but it would provide room for talent which now plays its hockey outside of it. It would make the NHL a better league because of it. Talent being spread out is still better than the talent being elsewhere.

I don’t know about you, but I miss watching Maxim Afinogenov and Alexander Radulov. I regret not seeing what Sergei Mozyakin or Patrick Thoresen could do in the league in their prime. Those are supremely gifted players who are currently a gift to other leagues. Besides bringing the joy of hockey to people in Quebec and other neglected NHL hockey cities, expansion could also change that and bring more talent back to the NHL.