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Not-so-big spenders

These teams never faced money issues ... until now

Posted: Monday August 29, 2005 3:54PM; Updated: Monday August 29, 2005 3:54PM
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Steve Rucchin
The Rangers' big acquisition? Former Mighty Duck Steve Rucchin, not exactly a household name.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

If you're looking for confirmation of the changing landscape in the NHL, then peruse the team Web sites, especially those of the previous big spenders. Transactions that would have historically served as afterthought footnotes have now become featured news, a signal that the big boys are coming back to the pack -- at least from a payroll standpoint.

That certainly holds true for the New York Rangers, with its league-high payroll producing a seven-year playoff drought. News of acquiring Steve Rucchin from Anaheim and signing Jarkko Immonen hardly seems worthy of the usual Broadway splash. But the Rangers have pared their payroll down to the mid-$30 million mark -- nearly $8 million of that going to Jaromir Jagr. At least now the result for the blueshirts will line up with their costs.

Then take a trip to Hockeytown. The Red Wings, known for spending freely for household names, offer these news items:

Delmore adds depth to blueline
Williams Accepts Qualifying Offer
Kronwall joins Red Wings blueline
2003 pick Howard signs with Red Wings

Hardly the sizzle we've seen in the past from owner Mike Ilitch. But the Red Wings aren't quite ready to let go entirely of the vestiges of their prodigious past. They re-signed a couple of 40-somethings in Chris Chelios and captain Steve Yzerman, as well as bringing back well-seasoned 30-somethings Mathieu Schneider and goaltender Chris Osgood.

Ozzie once backstopped the Wings to the 1998 Stanley Cup, but he battled injuries and inconsistency in ensuing stints in Long Island and St. Louis. Osgood's return to Detroit is truly symbolic of the Red Wings' plight -- a roster that is somewhat of a hodgepodge and definitely one in transition.

Then check out the Red Wings' Western Conference rival, the Colorado Avalanche. Already top heavy with the salaries of Joe Sakic and Rob Blake and saddled with re-signing restricted free agents Milan Hejduk, Alex Tanguay and goaltender David Aebischer, the Avs could not retain top players Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote. Both were part of an exceptional nucleus over the years.

That in itself isn't the real problem. The issue is how the Avs went about replacing two fierce competitors. In their stead will be veterans Pierre Turgeon and Patrice Brisbois -- neither known as the grittiest of performers. Instead of going with youth and developing a new core of go-to players, the Avalanche couldn't help but go halfway and sign a couple of veterans ... the way it used to be.

The New Jersey Devils, another perennial post-season contender, are also feeling the pinch. The Devils lost Norris Trophy winner and longtime lynchpin Scott Niedermayer to the Mighty Ducks. Interestingly, the view of the Devils in the pre-cap era was one of fiscal responsibility, yet after losing Niedermayer, GM Lou Lamoriello added Vladimir Malakhov and Dan McGillis on defense and forward Alexander Mogilny -- for a second stay in New Jersey -- to the tune of around $9.5 million. As a result, the Devils face cap issues from the outset, with little wiggle room as the season unfolds.

Then you have the St. Louis Blues losing Pavol Demitra -- arguably their best forward -- and having little resources left to replace his production. Why? Because they are committed to shelling out more than $13 million to two players, Keith Tkachuk and Doug Weight.

If that isn't a case of the balance of power shifting due to balance sheet considerations, I don't know what is. We'll see how it translates to on-ice competitiveness starting in October.