Thursday, July 5, 2007

Paychecked into the boards: Small markets can howl, the NHL needs rich dynasties

from Allan Muir of Sports Illustrated

There's been quite a bit of anguish about the way free agency has played out this summer. Listen to the talk shows, check out the message boards, it's everywhere. In fact, my colleague Darren Eliot crafted a piece bemoaning the fact that, just like in the bad old days, the best free agents have flocked to such big-money franchises as the Rangers, Red Wings and Flyers, leaving their middle-class relations to fight over the scraps.

My first reaction, and probably yours, was the same as Darren's. It's like the lockout never happened. The rich get richer and everyone else gets relegated to farm team status as nurturers of talent that stays just long enough to break the hearts of those who raised them before heading elsewhere to find Stanley Cup glory -- or at least a
pay raise large enough to choke a banker. Why is this happening? Where's the
level playing field that we were promised after that cruel, yearlong labor stoppage?

Yeah, that was my gut reaction. But after reading Darren's piece, I finally realized I was looking at this situation all wrong.


In Allan Muir's article today on, he claims that when the big market NHL teams snatch up all of the big name free agents, it is actually good for the league. This is the same point I made in my post on July 2, Free agency off to much-needed (and frenzied) start.

If this logic sounds counter-intuitive, think again. When the largest market teams are the best teams, TV ratings grow. Why? Well, obviously fans in the home team market will watch. And the bigger the market, the more home team fans. What's not as obvious is that when big market teams are good year after year, they provide the sport with a much-needed villian. And the only thing that's as fun as cheering for your beloved home team, is jeering against a hated villian. If you don't beleive me, just look at MLB TV ratings when the New York Yankees are playing.