NHL commissioner Gary Bettman doesn’t believe hockey fans are interested in salary information regarding teams and players. He couldn’t be more wrong.

Since the NHL imposed its salary-cap system nearly a decade ago, there’s been growing interest among fans regarding the cap payrolls of NHL teams and of the salaries of each player. Given the financial implications for teams when signing free agents or acquiring players via trades or waivers, salary data is worthwhile information for die-hard hockey fans. It provides a better understanding of the limitations in building and maintain rosters. It’s also invaluable for participants in fantasy hockey, especially those which use a salary-cap system.

It’s easy to simply dismiss these fans as merely a nerdy number-crunching sub-set of NHL followers, just as it was to mock those who tracked those supposedly weird-ass puck possession stats with funny names like Corsi, Fenwick and PDO. Except now those “fancy stats” are called analytics, which the league has finally fully embraced by posting puck-possession numbers (albeit with different names) on its site. A growing number of pundits and commentators now cite analytics in their coverage of the game.

Several independent sites have tracked salaries and payrolls for a number of years, but the best was CapGeek.com, run by Matthew Wuest. Not only did Wuest track payroll and salaries, he also listed players with no-trade and no-movement clauses, provided calculators for buyouts, qualifying offers, waivers and salary-cap recapture penalties, plus an easy-to-use FAQ which made it easy to decipher the intricacies of the NHL’s often-complex CBA pertaining to salaries.

The success of the now-defunct CapGeek proves NHL fans are very interested in team payrolls and player salaries.

The success of the now-defunct CapGeek.com proves NHL fans are very interested in team payrolls and player salaries.

CapGeek.com quickly became an indispensable reference tool for fans, bloggers and pundits. At its peak its Twitter feed had over 104, 000 followers. Several general managers even admitted to using it. CapGeek.com was a truly revolutionary  and influential independent hockey site, earning considerable respect for its accuracy and wealth of NHL salary-related information.

Sadly, Wuest shut down CapGeek.com in early January citing health reasons. It’s left a considerable void still being felt in the hockey world. It lives on in our memories, as well as the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

There are several sites which provide salary information, like NHLNumbers.com, Spotrac.com and HockeyBuzz. They do a fine job providing overviews of payrolls and salaries but lack the in-depth information CapGeek.com provided.

Following the demise of CapGeek.com, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was asked in late-January if the league would make salary cap data available for fans on its website. Bettman initially admitted he’d been asked that question a couple of times, adding it was something the league would have to focus on. He then said he believed too much attention was being paid to the salary cap and economics and not enough on the players performances and game action.

On two subsequent occasions in late-February, Bettman was again asked about the league providing salary data on its site. This time, the commissioner rejected the notion outright. Bettman also claimed the league wasn’t getting a lot of feedback on the issue, adding he didn’t believe it was an important an issue for fans as it was for pundits.

CapGeek.com’s popularity, however, disproves that notion. As one of my readers noted, the salary-cap system has turned many hockey fans into armchair GMs with considerable interest in salary info. Sportsnet’s Steve Dangle believes it’s crazy to suggest fans just aren’t interested in the NHL providing its version of CapGeek on its site.

Bettman and the NHL team owners have no one to blame but themselves. They wanted a salary-cap system so much they killed an entire season and risked alienating millions of fans to get it. It’s only natural that fans and pundits in growing numbers would start paying attention to salaries and league economics.

Had Bettman simply stated that the league wasn’t comfortable making that information public, or suggested it required the cooperation of the NHLPA, it would’ve been understandable. It could become a subject to be addressed via the next round of collective bargaining.

A case could be made against publicizing salary info because it could assists players in their contract negotiations. Thanks to the media, however, salary information is dutifully reported following each contract signing, citing term and salary. A number of teams officially release that information on their own NHL-sanctioned sites. It is then compiled by independent sites and made available to the fans. Players can also get salary info from the NHLPA, their agents or teammates. Getting it from an independent site isn’t likely to tip their contract negotiations in their favor.

The NHL has two choices. It can clamp down on releasing player contract information – which stands about a snowball’s chance in hell –  or it can bow to the inevitable (just as it did with analytics) and publish a CapGeek-style salary cap information on its site.

Growing fan and media interest in league economics was an unintended consequence of Bettman’s beloved salary-cap system. The commissioner, the league brain trust and the NHLPA must learn to live with it.

If you believe the NHL should provide salary information on its website, follow this link to contact them and voice your opinion.