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Ask The Oracle: Scotty Bowman on the cap, Cups and more

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks

Scotty Bowman, Senior Advisor for Hockey Operations, brought his Hall of Fame resume to the Blackhawks in 2008. Now the man with 12 Stanley Cup rings will share his knowledge with this forum, “Ask the Oracle.”

The stories over the summer here in Chicago, after the glow of the Stanley Cup had worn off, focused primarily on the hard salary cap. In your opinion, has this style of salary cap helped or hurt the NHL?
--Ed Worden, Mount Prospect, Ill.

A hard salary cap is good for parity in the league, but obviously it had an effect on the Blackhawks, who had to let go of several good players during the summer. The only alternative to a hard cap—other than a soft cap—is a luxury tax, such as exists in baseball. In baseball, a few teams pay a luxury tax, or penalty, to go over a specified limit on payrolls. Generally, teams like the New York Yankees can afford it because they are high-revenue franchises, usually in large markets. If there were a luxury tax in hockey, you would probably see the same thing—a few high-revenue teams able to pay to keep more of their players or acquire others.

The Blackhawks’ situation was somewhat unique in that three of their best players—Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith—helped them win the Cup last June while earning a total of just over $3 million. Kane and Toews were still playing under entry level contracts with a defined salary limit, which allowed the Blackhawks to pay bigger salaries to players who contributed to their depth, a big reason why they won.


Scotty Bowman is currently in his third season with the Blackhawks after being named senior advisor, hockey operations on July 31, 2008. A part of 12 Stanley Cup-winning teams, including the Blackhawks’ 2010 championship, Bowman brings 42 years of hockey experience to the Blackhawks.

Bowman, a Montreal native, is the NHL’s all-time leader with 1,224 regular-season wins and 223 postseason victories. Prior to joining the Blackhawks, Bowman served as a consultant in the Detroit Red Wings front office for seven years.

Ask Scotty Bowman A Question

It is rare when your best players are your youngest players, but the Blackhawks wanted to lock up those three to long-term contracts. So this year, Kane, Toews and Keith are being paid a total of around $17 million, which means the Blackhawks had to shed $14 million elsewhere on their roster. I think it was a wise move. If the Blackhawks had waited until after they won the Cup, can you imagine how much more Kane, Toews and Keith might have demanded? When the Blackhawks won the Cup in 1961, two of their star players were Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, both young. But there was no salary cap. Can you imagine what they would have been worth under this system?

The Edmonton Oilers are an interesting case now. They have some really good kids and eventually they will have to be paid or let go. Does a salary cap hurt the league? Personally, I don’t mind having a target, or dominant, team. But Detroit has adjusted to the cap. Before it, the Red Wings had a payroll of about $70 million, and they had to come down to the cap number. But they’ve remained very competitive. A hard cap, unlike a luxury tax system, means you have to be careful about not making mistakes. The Red Wings have been good about that.

I am of the opinion that most players need to be at least 6 feet, 200 pounds and have wheels to be effective, with a few exceptions like Patrick Kane. Small players wear down by the playoffs, either mentally or physically. Do you agree?
--Aubrey Dangerfield, Kamloops, British Columbia

I disagree. I think smaller players are better suited to play in the NHL than they’ve ever been, because the game is faster than it’s ever been. That’s assuming, of course, that they can skate, but everybody can now, which is why the game is so fast. At one time I thought smaller players had to have exceptional speed, like Henri Richard and Dave Keon did. But with the rules being what they are now, with obstruction taken out of the game, being small is not as much a disadvantage as it once was. Forwards who can really skate don’t stand out now. Even defensemen can skate. You don’t see many slow-footed defensemen anymore.”

Do you think the Blackhawks are capable of winning multiple Stanley Cups?
--Richard Stewart, Lockport, Ill.

This goes back to the earlier question about their roster and the salary cap. I don’t think age is a problem with the Blackhawks, because several of their core players are young and under contract—like Kane, Toews and Keith. A lot will depend on how the new players perform and who can be added over a period of time. I don’t think a second or third Cup with this roster is out of the question. The young players, like the three I mentioned, figure to get better. Keith won the Norris Trophy, but I don’t think you can say that Kane or Toews had a career year last year.

Why is it when a team has a lead in the third period, it shuts down the offense and plays defense?
--Ken Gross, Abbotsford, British Columbia

The style teams play in the third period with, say, a one-goal lead, depends on your opponent, whether it’s a conference game, and the time of the season. If you make it to overtime, you get at least one point in the standings, but so does the other team. There’s talk now of changing the format for overtime and shootouts. Personally, I had no problem with a tie game. Historically, there have been some terrific tie games, but the league felt that American fans, in particular, like a result. How you play late in the third period depends on how badly you need one point versus two. In Detroit, when I coached there, we had a lot of skill players, so in overtime I used three forwards and one defenseman with more ice available.

This is a great idea, having an “Ask the Oracle” column. Congratulations.
--Keith Donahue, Rochester, N.Y.

Bob Verdi, the Blackhawks’ historian who is helping me out with this, says he stole the idea from Stan Fischler, the noted writer and broadcaster in New York. Which is fine. I’m happy to do it.

Got a question for Ask The Oracle? Submit it here.

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