Final four playoff teams show NHLs hard cap is a myth

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And so, in the Islanders, Lightning and Golden Knights, the NHL has its first trio of repeat semifinalists in 29 years, since the Penguins, Bruins and Oilers went back-to-back in 1991 and 1992.

Parity is dead. The hard flat cap obviously doesn’t work. The boys on Sixth Avenue had better get cracking in order to devise a way for ongoing ne’er do-wells like the Sabres and Maple Leafs (we kid, we kid) to make a run.

But you know what? The hard cap is a myth. The Lightning’s cap is not the same size, in real dollars, as the Islanders’ cap, and no, this section of the program does not concern Nikita Kucherov. The Golden Knights’ cap is not the same size as the Canadiens’ cap, with Montreal of course this year’s party crasher.

That’s because Tampa Bay and Vegas play in places without state taxes. The Islanders do not. The Canadiens do not play in a no-tax province.

In essence, using the tool provided by the financial management firm, Gavin Hockey Wealth Specialists, the Lightning begin with the equivalence of an approximately $10.3 million head start on the Islanders, and the Golden Knights begin with an equivalent edge of $13.3 million over the Canadiens.

Now, listen, the management of Tampa Bay and Vegas deserve credit for being able to exploit their advantages. There was a time pre-cap when teams could spend to their owners’ hearts’ desires, and that didn’t do much good for the team we lovingly referred to as the Ranger$ through the dark days.

So while the Lightning and Golden Knights are able to sign players for less than they would demand in taxed states, they have generally signed the proper players. They have done better with their intrinsic advantage than the Stars in Texas, the Predators in Tennessee and the Panthers in Florida.

We will learn over the next couple of years whether the Seattle Kraken in Washington (which also has no state income tax) are able to take advantage of their birthright in the same manner as their older expansion cousins from Vegas.

The variances in real after-tax dollars allotted to team payrolls under the hard cap have always represented inequity in the system. But it is exacerbated by the flat cap, with which all clubs will have to live for at least the next couple of systems. When there is less for everyone, there will be more of less for the no-state-tax teams.

The NHL and NHLPA had the chance to rectify this imbalance, but neither side brought the issue to the table in the talks that led to the collective bargaining agreement extension 11 months ago. A couple of years ago when I discussed this matter with a Players’ Association executive, I was told, in essence, it was “too complex.”

The semis are not complex at all.

No state tax versus state (or provincial) tax.

Though it goes without saying, it will be said anyway: If Mark Scheifele somehow becomes available out of Winnipeg, he is the player for whom the Rangers empty the cupboard, and the guy in Buffalo becomes Jack Who?

Minority report (as often is the case), but it also says here that Scheifele’s suspension was disproportionate to anything that had come before and for whatever reason, the league decided to make an example of the Jets center.

The most unreported storyline of the semifinals and the Lightning’s attempt to repeat is Marian Gaborik’s chase for a second Stanley Cup.

What, you didn’t realize The Great Gabby was playing in the tournament? Of course, you are correct. He is not. Fact is, the sniper has not played since 2017-18, when he finished the season with Ottawa after being sent to the Senators by the Kings, for whom he was a major ingredient in Los Angeles’ 2014 Cup final victory over the Rangers.

Gaborik was forced to retire because of recurring back issues. But in the NHL world, a physically debilitated player with term remaining on his contract does not retire, he goes onto long-term injured reserve, where he becomes fodder for cap-maneuvering.

That is why the Lightning, who needed to do offseason pruning to stay under the cap even with Kucherov off their ledger for the regular season, sent Cedric Paquette, a second-rounder and Braydon Coburn to Ottawa in exchange for John Tortorella’s favorite Ranger, who immediately went on LTIR.

So will Gaborik get that second ring? We will all be zeroed in on his quest.

It was unavoidable, really, considering the cap squeeze the Rangers faced due to their excess of entry-level bonus players on the squad that, of course, was exacerbated by the enormous dead cap charges incurred by the Henrik Lundqvist and Kevin Shattenkirk buyouts.

But shuttling Kaapo Kakko to the taxi squad 32 days this year, in order to reduce the bonus burden, cost the second-year Finn $164,413.44 of his $832,500 NHL pay. K’Andre Miller wound up being dinged for $82,206.72, while Igor Shesterkin sustained a loss of $51,379.

Next year, when the Rangers stand to be another $3 million or so over the bonus limit, that avenue will not be available to them.

Oh, and upon news that teams in three of the AHL’s divisions will play either 72 or 76 games next season while teams in the fourth division will play 68 games, will players’ pay be prorated depending on which teams for which they play?

One certainly hopes that the PHPA and NHLPA would insist that all AHL players receive full compensation next season and the salary they are owed is the salary they are paid. Anything less would be downright unacceptable after minor leaguers worked for the equivalent of minimum wage in 2020-21.

And this. Only 33 years after leading the Devils’ charge to Game 7 of the Cup semifinals as a 21-year-old rookie who joined the club in March once his work for the Canadian Olympic Team was done, Sean Burke, appointed as Montreal’s goalie coach 20 games into the season on March 2, is having an impact on the playoffs again.

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