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  Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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Money Still Doesn't Buy Happiness
By Paul Noonan

     Under the new CBA some of the more frugal NHL teams decided to finally open up their wallets knowing that everyone else was in the same position.  It almost seemed like a win- win.  They could now spend knowing free agents wouldn’t cost more than they could afford and also that the new layout should level the playing field giving every team a good chance at a playoff berth or Stanley Cup.  In that case, the fans should flock because their team would be a contender.  And worst case scenario, if everything collapses there is still the chance to collect a little money from the new ‘pool’ which helps keep franchises with a little less financial security afloat.  So under this new system teams like Boston, Chicago and Pittsburgh finally opened their wallets while others such as Colorado, Detroit and New York closed them.  So how are they doing so far?

Buffalo Sabres:  They went the opposite route of just about everyone else and actually tried lowered their payroll from the last season.  The result?  The Sabres got off to one of the hottest starts in the NHL.  Though they have since cooled off, the Sabres are standing strong in the middle of the Northeast Division thanks to performances from youngsters  such as Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek.  The Sabres may not be quite deep enough to hang on, but if they miss the playoffs it likely won’t be by a large margin.

Boston Bruins:  I’ve always maintained they needed to improve their defense and they’ve made almost zero attempt since the lockout.  Not only did they delay in signing their best defenseman (Boynton) the Bruins also failed to add anyone (except Leetch) overly impressive.  Though some minor injuries haven’t helped, the Bruins have not been too strong early on.  They are putting the puck in the net fairly often, but it doesn’t help when you let a lot in your own net as well.

New York Rangers:  It’s already started and I’d expect it to continue, but the Rangers are only recently cooling off from a hot start.  Some strong rookie performances plus a seemingly reinvigorated Jaromir Jagr (for now anyway) have helped the Rangers to explode to the top of the Atlantic division through the first month of the season.  It’s amazing what you can do when you shed so many egos.

Detroit Red Wings:  They were forced to cut their payroll, but it hasn’t affected one of the NHL’s best teams over the last decade.  Thanks to some sleeper picks in their often late round spots, the Wings have managed to build a good enough farm system that the loss of some talented veterans has barely impacted them.  Manny Legace is finally getting the shot at #1 goalie he has so long deserved and he is thriving.  Many thought the Wings would be clipped because of salary cap restrictions, but so far they’re flying high.

Edmonton Oilers:  The talk of the hockey world after signing Chris Pronger, the Oilers have barely made a mark in the first month.  The normally frugal franchise excited fans with their big off- season spending, but so far it’s been for naught.  Currently, they are in a constant revolving door with Calgary in the basement right now and if they don’t turn things around quick they’ll dig themselves in a hole too deep to climb out of, especially in the very tough Northwest Division. 

Pittsburgh Penguins:  Hello new age New York Rangers.  Like the Rangers of old the Penguins added plenty of guns up front in the hopes it would pay off in the new ‘open’ NHL.  Two problems:  1) the stocked offense hasn’t been disappointing, but they’re still losing and 2) soon enough it is likely opposing defenses will get even better which will make scoring even harder for this struggling squad.  And as their 7-6 loss to the Bruins shows, though they can put the puck in the net, they’re not doing a great job keeping it out of theirs.  If this team wants to win it better focus more on its defense because Mario and Crosby can only score so many times.

Minnesota Wild:  Except for Brian Rolston (two summers ago) this team has barely changed its appearance or financial situation since the pre- CBA era.  Many worried there lack of participation in the free agent market would come back to haunt them, but so far no ghosts.  The young and speedy Wild have done a great job creating offense (especially on the power play), but true to coach Jacques Lemaire’s reputation they are still a strong defensive team, though not the boring ‘trap’ team of old.  Once again Lemaire proves the cynics wrong.

              While many of these teams have been surprises early on, it is just that, early.  Some of the teams have already showed signs of improvement and/or weakness just in the past week or so.  All the teams are also competing against some strong division rivals which will only make the road to the playoffs even harder.  Nevertheless, it looks like some GMs have finally taken the hint that chemistry can be more important than money.  And now that the money is more evenly distributed we all will get to see which GMs really know what they are doing.



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