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Not A Single Player Making $10.5M+ Has Advanced To The NHL Conference Final

The Dallas Stars punched their ticket to the NHL Western Conference Final with a Game 7 win that felt like it was played in 2003 by style. ESPN got the matchups they've always dreamed about: Dallas-Vegas and Florida-Carolina. The type of matchups that push away casuals. Not great, but also maybe something that GMs across the league need to take note of because not a single player making at least $10.5M will be on the game's biggest stage here for the next month. They've allllll been eliminated. 

Those were the highest paid players in the league for the 2022-23 season. The 10.5M is always going to be a bit of a moving target as the cap goes up and it should also be noted that Eichel, Bobrovsky, and Barkov are all currently making $10M on the button. The point remains though…if you have a big ticket guy it becomes very difficult to put competitive team around them. 

In this salary cap era, young players on entry level deals are ALWAYS going to be the lifeblood of an organization. Always. You need to hit on draft picks and develop them well, because even a team like Colorado who has seemingly everything REALLY missed having Kadri this year (obviously injuries took their toll on them as well, but having that 2nd line center with snarl really helped put them over the top last year). The Hawks were so lucky to be able to have young guys like Saad, Shaw, Teravainen, Bickell, Brouwer, Byfuglien, Bolland, Versteeg, etc on their rookie deals and Toews and Kane on their RFA deals when they won all three. The Blackhawks never won again after Toews, Kane, and Seabrook signed their extensions. The cap took it's toll, but so did the inability to properly evaluate young players like Danault, Hartman, etc who could've helped the core continue to win. 

There does seem to be a pattern though because we haven't seen any of this current class of superstar win a Cup making huge money. McDavid hasn't been to a Final. Matthews hasn't come close. Nothing for Eichel. MacKinnon won, but he did so with the biggest bargain of a cap hit at $6.3M. MacKinnon sees his deal go to $12.6M and suddenly Colorado's cap situation looks like many other teams with 3-4 big ticket guys and trying to plug holes in other spots. 

You need stars to win, historically, but once you have to pay the stars it is proving to be almost impossible to win big if the Cap stays flat. The NHL is really starting to resemble NBA roster construction in that way, but without way different outcomes because if you're paying Lebron a gazillion dollars you're in a good spot because he will be on the floor 90% of the game. The most valuable players in hockey play 35% if you're lucky. Changes the dynamic to say the least. Obviously you always want to have the best players, but there are definitely lessons to be learned here for teams trying to keep and build around star players. Might be one of those situations where you don't really ever trade picks and prospects because the only way to keep it going is to let the RFAs walk to offersheets and hope you've got a guy coming up behind them. It'll be very interesting to see if this trend continues and how the league adjusts. 

And with that…Connor Bedard