While Ovechkin's impending signing with the Caps is certainly great news for Beltway hockey fans (ha!), it's even more encouraging news for the League. Make no mistake, this was a seminal moment in the life a newly formed NHL. Call it NHL Part Deux. More on that later. First, some background on how we got here.
In the beginning, both sides brought economic models to the negotiating table each deeply rooted in their vision of the future of the game. What both failed to realize, however, was the fact that no one theory would survive without the other. Ideally, the League runs an acceptably profitable business while players earn market-competitive compensation. However, this entire feud had little to do with reality. Negotiations were made in a vacuum and had little to do with the actual marketplace for the sport. In the end, some theories proved more right than others. Where these two ideas meet, you have the CBA. Without putting too fine a point on it, that's why we lost a year. The Players biggest mistake was assuming that NHL markets are perfectly competitive. In short, supply vanquished demand. The CBA seeks to correct these market ineffeciencies and much else that ills the NHL.
So now, everything you know about the game and all that at most 5% of this country has come to love about the game is about to change. Both on the ice and off. [This will not be a discussion of vanishing red lines, anorexic goalie equipment, or bloated goal nets]. More important than cosmetic changes, the League is on the threshold of operating under a new economic model. Teams can no longer recklessly throw money at their rosters in order to pack the house or in the run-up to the Cup. Fiscal responsibility will rule the day (inasmuch as paying Dale Purinton anything can be described as responsible). Excess from the top will flow down to the bottom. Teams in the middle are better positioned to navigate the new structure if for no other reason than decreased stimulus to the bottom line. Teams will be expected to maintain performance with fewer resources. Will the Devils, Flyers, and Avs turn into losers? Likely not. But, scouting and GM'ing will become a talent industry again.
And yet, before the Ovechkin announcement there was much consternation concerning the viability of the League even AFTER the CBA. And by "much" I'm referring to mine. Even as the lockout approached resolution and most on either side agreed a cap and cost certainty was the prudent course, no one could say with confidence how these twin stabilizers would impact the game. Now that teams would be forced to reconsider who they can afford and who they can't, would the NHL, the greatest aggregator of talent in the world find themselves competing with overseas leagues?... I would ask myself... Put simply, the CBA was necessary, is it sufficient?
So, with these questions marinating comes the Ovechkin news. What does this mean for the League and its fans? It confirms players who have an opportunity to enrich themselves would rather make less and play for Columbus than drink Stoli and be the leading scorer for Dynamo Kiev. It's an endorsement of and a commitment to rebuild the NHL as an institution from the ground up. In that respect, the news is highly embarrassing for the Union bosses. Yet, there is still much to do. Oveckin is one player and hardly representative. Strictly speaking, for the short-term there needs to be another universally applicable, ex-economic incentive to join the NHLPA. What would it portend about the future of the game if Ovechkin took a pass (albeit temporarily) on the League to earn more elsewhere? What about next year's Ovechkin? What about all the under 23 players already under contract? If the NHL can't "out-market" the Russian and European leagues in that respect, they should shutter immediately.
Either way, this year we will witness the first steps of NHL Part Deux. For now, it's a clean slate.