ALSO THIS MONTH
MARC CIAMPA, a native of Alberta, Canada, is a contributing writer to Renaissance Online Magazine. A student at the University of Alberta, Ciampa is the hockey columnist for Chicago Sports Weekly and the Calgary Cannons correspondent for the Portland (Maine) Sea Dogs.
Lord Stanley's Cup Attacked
After the Detroit Red Wings bolstered their lineup at the NHL trade deadline, general managers around the league could only shake their heads in disbelief after having a look at their newly-acquired blueline.
And they could only shake their heads in disgust after having a look at their payroll.
On March 23rd, the Detroit Red Wings went a long way in improving their playoff chances as they acquired veteran defenseman Chris Chelios from the Chicago Blackhawks for several first round picks and young Swedish defenseman Anders Eriksson. Chelios brings with him Stanley Cup experience, a mean streak of epic proportions, some offensive expertise and, perhaps most importantly, a two-year $11-million dollar contract extension. The Wings also acquired defenseman Ulf Samuelsson and his two million-plus yearly salary.
Oh, and did I mention that Detroit also acquired Bill Ranford and his three-million dollar contract, and Wendel Clark and his two million dollar contract?
"I wasn't able to add up all the money," said Edmonton Oilers and small-market General Manager Glen Sather.
"The numbers went too high for me. I don't think they have a budget, so it doesn't make any difference."
For those of you keeping track, that's more than $12.5 million dollars for four players - a forward, two defensemen and a backup goalie. The Edmonton Oilers total payroll is just over $20 million. For 24 players. The NHL's newest expansion club, the Nashville Predators have a payroll of just over $13 million. Think about that. Acquiring those four players at the deadline would have doubled Nashville's payroll. The NHL is clearly divided into the haves and have-nots.
Obviously, there is no "quick fix" to the situation. The NHL, along with almost all other pro-sports (with the exception of the NFL and their brilliant revenue sharing plan, that allows teams like Green Bay to compete on a par level with teams like Dallas. Unfortunately, NFL gets major TV dollars while NHL does not but I digress) will always have a poverty line comprised of buyers and sellers at the trade deadline, but there is a solution to prevent teams from bulking up for the playoff run. Make the trade deadline a month earlier.
"If the trade deadline was when there were 28 or 30 games [left] then it's more prohibitive," said Sather.
"Right now it's an unfair advantage."
However, Sather believes that even though these teams have this advantage, small market teams can still compete.
"Sure we will," he said. "By getting enough young guys. I still don't believe you have to have the most money to win in this league."
"I hope like hell these teams don't win. If we don't win the Stanley Cup, I'd like to see Calgary win it.
"I'd sure as hell would like to see both of us knock San Jose out of the playoffs."
I couldn't agree with him more. It wasn't as if the Oilers didn't try to acquire these players at the deadline, either. They were very interested in Montreal's Vincent Damphousse - who was picked up by San Jose for nothing more than two mid-round draft picks, which will hurt Edmonton's playoff hopes ironically - but a further analysis of the deal and Oiler management felt they could not afford him. For the remaining part of the season, Damphousse would have cost the Oilers almost $900,000. Only three or four players on the Oiler roster make that much in a season.
Sather also tried to sneak Wayne Gretzky back into Edmonton, but New York Rangers GM Neil Smith wouldn't bite.
"I asked Smitty if he'd like to move Wayne to Edmonton for the rest of the year," said Sather, "He didn't exactly say yes. Wayne probably would have been very excited to come here. Maybe he wouldn't. I don't know."
That's about as close as small market teams like Edmonton are going to get to inquiring about getting a player of that caliber. In the meantime, the Oilers must stick to their plan of developing their young talent and trading their veteran players when they become too expensive.
And an Oiler fan can only hope that Sather truly believes it when he says that the Edmonton Oilers can compete in today's NHL by building from within.
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