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Analysis | These 11 questions will shape sport in 2024

Can the NHL get through this?

On the ice, the quality of the NHL has never been higher. The game is faster, while players are more skilled and feel freer to try the type of highlight games that wouldn’t have been tolerated in previous eras. Whether it’s Edmonton’s Connor McDavid using his skating and puck skills to make an end-to-end rush or Chicago’s 18-year-old rookie Connor Bedard showing off a shot that’s already among the best of the league, the match itself is in excellent condition. shape.

But off the ice, the NHL took a big hit. Commissioner Gary Bettman has held the position for 30 years, and the league has not been innovative in recent years. As proof: in November, the NHL launched NHL Breakaway, its collectible digital NFT program for hockey highlights. On the other hand, NBA Top Shot, the NBA version of the same concept, launched in 2020, at the start of the NFT boom. Culturally, decisions such as banning special warm-up jerseys – after a handful of players refused to wear pride-themed jerseys during warm-ups before their teams’ annual LGBTQ+ awareness games – have created a perception that the NHL has little interest in inclusion.

The salary cap has also been stagnant since the start of the pandemic, crippling teams that signed players to long-term contracts before the pandemic, based on projections of cap increases. Many NHL executives believe the near-flat cap (it has only increased by $2 million per team since 2019) has limited trade activity, at a time when NBA teams are making blockbuster trades left and right – and generating fan interest and engagement through these movements.

The latest projection calls for the salary cap to increase by $4.2 million to $87.7 million next season. That should help resolve one of the issues, but how the NHL is viewed culturally — especially among the youth the league is trying to cultivate — will remain at the forefront in the new year. -Bailey Johnson

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