The immediate, and obvious, ramifications of the NHL lockout are clear. Players and NHL team employees are out of work, and valuable fan interest is being lost at an ever-increasing rate. But there appear to be some indirect consequences for the league as well. A full season off, if it ends up happening that way, would significantly alter the league’s competitive balance.
In this New York Daily News article by Pat Leonard, New York Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist is quoted expressing disappointment that the Rangers haven’t been able (yet, at least) to follow up on last season’s success with a new shot at the Stanley Cup. The Blueshirts have a narrow window to keep contending as it stands – Marc Staal, Brad Richards, and Rick Nash are the only players under contract three years from now – but a season off the books further reduces their chances to compete with the team General Manager Glen Sather has carefully built over the last few years. It seems unfair that, by no fault of their own, the Rangers will have to face the challenge of free agency sooner, and with greater frequency, than other clubs.
The impact of a full-season lockout on the Los Angeles Kings is hard to quantify. Certainly, momentum and progress after last season’s championship will be stalled. This is disappointing, because after 44 years of futility in the NHL, the team finally showed enough to suggest there could be a dynasty in the making. If anything, lockout figures to hit the reset button for the Kings, who will try to progress according to plan with a strong core of young returning players.
This speaks to a greater point about the lockout’s impact on NHL teams. The work stoppage will have an asymmetric impact on teams across the league. Younger teams with more players under contract should be able to recover quickly once play resumes, as the roster will be mostly the same. Teams like the Rangers, however, are at a disadvantage because they will have to face more expiring contracts than others, yet they will not have the chance to compete now with the elite team the front office has assembled. This favors a team like the Oilers, who have a plethora of young talent, but might not be ready to contend in the playoffs just yet. Edmonton’s players get an extra year of growth, and the club will not miss a season in which it is likely to contend.