09/03/2002 - Updated 08:42 PM ET
Kevin Allen USA Today...
A comparison of the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers over the
past six seasons proves that it is more advantageous to have
managerial sense than dollars and cents when building a championship
The Devils have maintained a modest payroll by NHL standards and won
the Stanley Cup once, reached the Finals another time and qualified
for the playoffs every year. The New York Rangers, meanwhile, have
spent like Donald Trump at a flea market and all they have to show is
one playoff berth in six seasons.
This is not to suggest that money isn't an advantage. Little Caesars
Pizza founder Mike Ilitch clearly had the dough to keep all of his
players in Detroit the last few seasons, while poorer franchises
(Calgary, Pittsburgh and Edmonton, to name three) lost players that
they couldn't or wouldn't pay. In Colorado, the Avalanche remain a
superpower because they were able to lock up Patrick Roy, Rob Blake,
Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. How many teams could invest $37 million
in four players?
Undeniably, money is starting to play a bigger role in winning than
it has in the past. But paying big dollars doesn't guarantee success.
Just ask the Dallas Stars, who added Jyrki Lumme, Valeri Kamensky and
Donald Audette in the summer of 2001 thinking they were dressing up
their team for success. What were they thinking? And teams can win on
a budget. Just ask the Carolina Hurricanes, who reached the Stanley
Cup Finals last June with a middle-of-the-road payroll.
Those preaching fiscal responsibility have used the Rangers' plight
to spread a gospel of the evils of free spending. But while the
bungling Rangers were losing ground with a bloated payroll, there was
an underlying fear around the league: What if the Rangers got it
right one summer? What if they actually used their payroll to a real
This summer, though, the Rangers did get it right. Whether you think
Bobby Holik is a $9 million player or believe the Rangers overpaid
for Darius Kasparaitis, you cannot deny that these two players with
bite fill a specific need. Factoring in the moves the Rangers made
last season (adding Pavel Bure, Tom Poti, Rem Murray, etc.), they
look like a legitimate contender again.
While some might say the Rangers have spent their way back into
contention, after six years of misery, it's difficult to argue
against the notion that they are due.
The funny thing is it appears that the vast majority of teams got it
right during this free-agent season. While some general managers
question the dollars spent â" Vancouver's Brian Burke is the most
vocal â" there certainly was more sound logic to this summer's
maneuvering than in past years. The teams with money didn't seem to
spend just for the sake of spending.
The Red Wings, Avalanche, St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks, for
example, didn't spend just to get a new face. The Red Wings switched
$8 million goaltenders (Dominik Hasek to Curtis Joseph) and the
Sharks re-signed Teemu Selanne. But they made it clear they had a
limit to what they will spend.
Meanwhile, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were able to go out and land a
passing center (Adam Oates) to play with Paul Kariya.
The Stars, frustrated by last season's miserable season, might have
overspent, but they were able to get Bill Guerin, Scott Young and
Philippe Boucher to renovate their team.
Wayne Gretzky, who spent his playing career dazzling fans with the
unexpected, now is doing so as an owner. His signing of Tony Amonte
is certainly an indication he understands that winning sometimes
meaning stretching financially as an owner. The Coyotes might not be
able to afford Amonte right now, but when their new arena is finished
in late 2003, theoretically their revenue streams will increase
dramatically. Think of it like buying a new house. You always try to
stretch yourself into the nicest home even if it's slightly over your
budget. The thought process is you will be making more money as time
The Columbus Blue Jackets probably overpaid to get Luke Richardson,
Scott Lachance and Andrew Cassels, but their season-ticket renewal
rate was well over 90%. In essence, they are rewarding their fans by
upgrading their team. They were giving their fans well-deserved hope.
The Chicago Blackhawks, who most believe blundered by allowing Amonte
to skate away, at least made an effort to replace him by signing Theo
Fleury. If Fleury is healthy in mind and body, this could be a
In the Eastern Conference, the Washington Capitals landed Robert Lang
to bolster their offense. Several teams got it right. Even the
Montreal Canadiens, a team that doesn't want to spend much, added
some grit with Randy McKay.
While some viewed the spending on Guerin and Holik as excessive and
an indication of a league spinning financially out of control, my
view is that teams are finally getting a handle on the way it is
supposed to work. Those who needed players bought them, and those who
didn't, or those who didn't want to pay that much, simply didn't
This isn't to suggest that the NHL doesn't need to restructure its
economic system. Even players will admit that privately, and some
will say publicly that they would like to see a system that would
allow the Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins, Edmonton Oilers and
Calgary Flames to be able to compete on a more level playing field
with the richer franchises.
But the one caution that needs to be raised as we head toward a
confrontation between players and owners in 2004 is that the
solutions being used in baseball, football and basketball might not
be the best answer for hockey.
This league is still driven by gate revenue and has no lucrative
television contract to serve as a safety net. Amid all this rumbling
about the possibility of a salary cap, there needs to be the
realization that a cap has its own misery. What happens when a team
is mediocre and is capped out of improving itself? What will happen
to its season-ticket base? What happens if a team needs just one or
two more players and comes up against the cap?
My point is that a gate revenue-driven league has to be careful in
any drastic restructuring of its economics. Without major television
money, NHL teams feed off fans' hope that next season will be better.
Fans need to believe that their team can improve in the offseason.
Anaheim fans need to believe that general manager Bryan Murray can
find a center for Kariya, and Columbus fans need to know that Doug
MacLean can make the moves necessary to get his team the playoffs.
We have seen examples in the NFL and NBA of how the cap can
discourage hope. But those leagues have television contracts that
make fan morale less crucial to the bottom line. In a gate revenue-
driven league, fan hope is essential to the bottom line.
Dump and chase: Members of the Boston Bruins' 1970 and 1972
championship teams will be together for the first time in more than a
decade when they take part in a signing event and charity auction at
the Hynes Convention Center in Boston Saturday. The group will be
trying to help raise funds for The Ace Bailey Children's Fund and The
Mark Bavis Scholarship Foundation. The two former Los Angeles Kings
scouts, both of whom lived in the Boston area, were aboard the second
plane that terrorists crashed into the World Trade Center last Sept.
11. ... Detroit's Nick Lidstrom will try to become the first
defenseman since Bobby Orr to win the Norris Trophy for three or more
years in a row. "Where Nicklas Lidstrom might be the very best to
ever play the game is making the one pass out of his own zone that is
right on the money," ESPN analyst Darren Pang said. "I would say Ray
Bourque was the same way. He didn't carry the puck end to end like
Bobby Orr or Doug Harvey. But Bourque and Lidstrom could look up ice,
look off a defender, and put a pass right on the tape against the
flow. That's where Nick will go down in history as one of the all-
time greats." ... If you took a straw poll around the NHL on which
two teams are in danger of falling this season, the majority of votes
would go to Toronto in the Eastern Conference and St. Louis in the
West. The Blues will start the season without Chris Pronger, and they
didn't do anything in the offseason to keep pace with the movers and
shakers. The Maple Leafs tried to be aggressive in the free-agent
market, but came up with nothing. And goaltender Ed Belfour, even
though he has a championship ring, seems more of an unknown than