Somewhere, a vindicated Gary Bettman is smirking.
The personality of these playoffs, barely a week old, is precisely why the NHL commissioner steered hockey into a 10-month work stoppage nearly six years ago when league owners demanded fiscal certainty.
The salary cap put a premium on identifying stars worthy of those new league-mandated maximum contracts while emboldening lesser-talented teams with hope that they could advance further under the new financial rules. The better teams could no longer hoard offensive depth on their third and fourth lines.
If there were a Bettman Cup, the Wings and Phoenix would play for it in this series.
Hockeytown breathes a little easier, comforted that the Wings answered a stern challenge in Game 4. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk stepped up. Jimmy Howard silenced any early playoff critics with his first career playoff shutout. But this isn't like the pre-salary cap playoffs, when the Wings could be confident their superior depth would eventually wear down the opponent both physically and mentally in a best-of-seven series.
The Wings no longer instantly intimidate the opposition like they once did from the sheer force of their vast numbers. They could put 20-goal scorers like Mikael Samuelsson and Jiri Hudler on the third and fourth lines, guys who would make the difference in a playoff game because opposing teams had no alternative but to concentrate defensively on containing the Wings' top two lines.
The salary cap killed that.
And the Wings are facing a Phoenix franchise so financially strapped that there were occasions when it wondered whether it might even meet payroll. The Coyotes possess no stars. But there's a bond born of the adversity of their ownership issues along with the heightened optimism that comes within a financial structure where every team operates with the same-sized wallet.
The salary cap created that.
The Coyotes won't publicly concede that the Wings, though still more than formidable, are less than what they once were.
"You look around the league and the parity is good," said Phoenix defenseman Ed Jovanovski. "I think any team has the chance to beat any team on any night. It's about your will to win. Did the salary cap do that? Yeah.
"It's no secret that there are financial issues with our team. To lure someone in on a big-ticket deal is difficult now, so it's got to be done by committee here. But it doesn't stop you from believing that you can accomplish your goals. Did the salary cap do that? Yeah, it did."
Experience still matters. The Wings remain the favorite for surviving this first-round series, although Game 5 and a potential Game 7 are in Arizona. Zetterberg has played at a level offensively and defensively through the first four games reminiscent of his Conn Smythe recognition two years ago during the Wings' last Cup championship.
But no matter how good many feel about the Wings following their strong effort in Game 4, it's wise to not assume that this series is over and the Coyotes will bow before the almighty Wings.
"We can't look at what we did (in Game 4) and automatically think we've regained control of this series," said Zetterberg. "Everyone realizes that this will continue to be an extremely tough series. It's important for us now to build upon what we did in this game, but we expect them to come out (in Game 5) and play an inspired game."
It's still early, but these Stanley Cup playoffs are already enjoyably unpredictable.
And that's exactly what Bettman envisioned.