Well written response, and you have some good points.
The biggest problem with looking at the records was number of games played. All the leagues have been tinkering with expansion, free agency and such so those factors tend to balance out (though the NHL differential will probably be much smaller in a few years once the expansion teams have time to draft and develop players over 5-10 years).
The discrepancy in payroll between the top and the bottom teams is larger in the uncapped leagues as the data shows. That's the way it works in a less restrained market. My question is not whether the difference exists but whether that is a bad thing and, if so, how bad a thing? I was also trying to look at the question from the perspective of the league as a whole, not from one team. While we are all fans of one team and, in the end, want what is best for the Hawks/Caps/Flames/Ducks, the health of the sport as a whole is the really important issue. Having a team fold/move sucks, no question, but that happens in all the leagues because the owners/leagues can't bear to stop expanding or trying new markets that are probably doomed to failure. Over exapnsion, in my opinion, is one of the biggest mistakes that the pro leagues have made.
As for the Flames and other Canadian frachises, the question arises why penalize the rest of the league (and the players) by restricting their ability to compete on and off the ice because a few teams are having troubles? It is a shame that the CAD is weak relative to the USD, but it is a fact. It is a shame that the owners of the Devils, Bruins, and the former owners of the Isles refuse(d) to spend much on their teams, just as it is a shame that some teams have owners that limit their competitiveness. Thing is that having a sub-par owner is a factor just like having a sub-par coach, goalie, defensive corps, arena, or fan base. OK, the owner, arena and fans can't be replaced as easily, but in /PROFESSIONAL/ sports, a business, all the factors of running a business are in play.
Anyway, sorry for the rambling reply, and thanks for the comments. I'll be doing a follow-up on this a long time from now and will try to address questions folks have raised here and elsewhere.
Let's Go Caps!