The NHL justified the forfeit of the 2004-2005 season in order to achieve two goals: cost certainty and competitive balance. Within the subsequent collective bargaining agreement (CBA) the league was able to negotiate cost certainty in the form of a salary cap tied to NHL revenues. The league and the players union also agreed to a number of rules changes to make the game more entertaining to fans. Commissioner Gary Bettmen has stated, “[w]hen it comes to competitive balance … nobody has a better system now than we do.” So how well did the new CBA with that salary cap and all those rules changes affect competitive balance?
Before I get to that, exactly what is competitive balance? A league has competitive balance when the teams are relatively equal in terms of quality of performance. In the NHL quality is measured with standing points. Competitive balance can be measured by comparing the standard deviation of points in the league to an idealized standard deviation. The ideal would exist if all teams were equal in ability. The smaller the ratio of actual to ideal, the more competitively balanced is the league. In 2000-01 this ratio was 1.9. Over the next three seasons the ratio was 1.6. At the end of this season what do we see? Again, the ratio is 1.6.
Now one cannot make too much of one data point. Still, after the loss of 1230 regular season games in order to start an era “marked by heightened competitive balance…”, the league’s competitive balance is basically the same.
Given the leagues goal as stated by Commissioner Bettman with the new CBA is “… an era of economic stability for our franchises, an era of heightened competitive balance for our players, an era of unparalleled excitement and entertainment for our fans.”, it looks as if the fans and players got a bad deal. A season of hockey was lost in the name of competitive balance. But the level of balance the fans saw before is the same balance they saw this year. So once again, why was did we lose an entire season of hockey?