The NHL’s salary-cap era poses a different set of challenges for teams trying to not only build a champion, but to keep one going as well.
Hockey Hall of Fame forward Marcel Dionne, who played for the Los Angeles Kings from 1975 to 1987, marvels at the difficulty of keeping a top squad together these days compared to when he played.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” Dionne told ESPN.com in a recent telephone conversation. “It’s really tough to sustain dynasties, to keep your star players on the same team forever. When you eliminate that, you get a totally different feel. The rich get richer. There are probably 10 teams, maybe even seven teams, that dominate every year.”
Knowing that, the 63-year-old Dionne has an even greater appreciation for the type of success the Kings have had recently in winning two Stanley Cups in the past three seasons.
He credits the Kings’ ability to draft well, with Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar combining with general manager Dean Lombardi’s shrewd trade additions like Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Marian Gaborik as key elements to the team's acsent to the league's elite ranks.
And Dionne thinks they can remain a team to beat if they draw on the experience of last spring, when they came back from a 3-0 series deficit against the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference quarterfinals, upsetting their northern rivals and marching on to the Cup.
“It depends how hungry they are, because their time is so short,” Dionne said of the team’s truncated summer following a long postseason run. “To get back and recharge the batteries is very, very difficult, but they’ve been there [before]. To me, the character-building in their last Stanley Cup was absolutely incredible. They are confident. They are very, very confident.”
Dionne, who now runs a successful sports memorabilia business in Niagara Falls, Ontario, enjoyed seeing the Kings top the Rangers in the Stanley Cup finals, but he had a vested interest in both clubs, after playing for each of them.
Dionne, who amassed 1,771 points over the course of his 18-year NHL career, said he enjoyed his time playing, even if the financial landscape was such a contrast from the multimillion-dollar mega-deals players are signing now.
“When we played, it was for thousands of dollars; now it’s for millions of dollars,” Dionne said.
He holds no hostility toward current NHL players despite that disparity in pay, however. Dionne said he’s adapted to the game and its changing salary structure.
He credits the NHLPA with the help it has given former players, but said that some of his contemporaries still can’t get their mind around what the top players are making these days. Explaining why P.K. Subban deserves to be making $9 million on average per year isn’t always easy, but Dionne is content with the livelihood he earned during his playing days.
“Some guys don’t understand and think the game owes them something,” Dionne explained. “The game owes me nothing. It’s not what you make, it’s what you do with your money.”