Updated: September 24, 2010, 10:43 AM ET

ESPN The Magazine

Want to know how the salary cap has changed the NHL since its inception in 2005? Look no further than the Cup-carrying Blackhawks, who were being dismantled even before their championship banner had been raised to the United Center rafters. Such is the new reality of the NHL, where a team's ability to remain, well, a team, has been compromised. "It's hard to keep a good roster together," says Capitals GM George McPhee. "You'll get only so many times when everything is lined up just right." Whereas teams could once stockpile stars and their star-size contracts, cap-limited clubs now must hope their young players break out while core veterans remain affordable -- and if they have extra scratch to make key acquisitions for the stretch run, all the better. The window of opportunity is small, and it doesn't stay open long. "You have to win when everything comes together," says one team exec, "because one rising salary could change the entire picture." And with it, slam that window shut. (To read breakdowns of every team and their relation to the NHL window of opportunity, you must be an ESPN Insider.)


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