After the smoke cleared last Sunday night, many a media pundit was touting that the old NHL had returned. That because the Rangers, Avs, and Flyers landed big name, big dollar free agents that the big markets had returned with a vengence. The "small" market teams on either side of Manhattan from the Rangers weren't spending much, and were getting taken apart pretty much. That didn't seem to matter to the ones writing the articles, though. The Wings dipped into the UFA pool for one big signing, didn't seem to matter to "them," though. The Leafs signed...um, well, didn't matter to "them" for all their "Old NHL is BACK!" articles.
Then it happened. July 6th the traditional big market, "buy up all the talent we can" Edmonton Oilers made a $50 million, 7 year offer sheet to Thomas Vanek. Vanek's current employer, the big spending, money is no object Buffalo Sabres matched the deal, there by locking up Vanek for 7 years.
No Rangers, no Wings, no Stars, no Avs, no Flyers...so no articles about how the system is broken and the small markets will once again be shut out. Kevin Lowe may not have made the brightest move in the world, and may have irked every team in the league in the process, but he also didn't fit popular opinion very well. Nary an article about how the big spending Oilers were screwing up the league. Nothing about the big market Sabres returning spending to its pre-lockout levels. Come on, guys, where are your panic inducing columns?
Will the deal handcuff the Sabres for the next 7 years? It certainly won't help them, especially with the annual salary cap rise. I don't think the market size is the big player here as much as raising the cap beyond a number of teams' budgets every year. The cap will keep one or two markets from snapping up all the high dollar talent, but the league is going to have some explaining to do if they continually claim higher revenues when you see tons of empty seats in a number of markets and know there's no TV deal to speak of. The resurgence of the Canadian dollar against the US dollar has helped, but even that's not going to continue forever.
All in all, I'm willing to give the New NHL another season or two before calling it dead and burned in a pile of money in Madison Square Garden. These long term, front loaded deals might not work as well as planned. Even with a higher cap, planning ahead and drafting will is still going to be the key to winning for more than one season. And who knows, the big money Flames might make an offer sheet to Sidney Crosby that the big spending Pens will have to match...