While the quick,
clever Sabres have been hailed as exhibit A of the new NHL, the Oilers are
exhibit CBA. After having dumped stars because of budgetary constraints since
Wayne Gretzky's departure in 1988, the Oilers were transformed from sellers to
buyers by the salary cap. They binged like sailors after 15 years at sea,
trading for Chris Pronger and signing him to a five-year, $31.25 million deal
and dealing for Peca, who is starting to assume a playoff pallor reminiscent of
his best seasons in Buffalo.
Brian Burke arrived in the same place as Edmonton by going in the opposite
direction: He ditched some of his name players during the season. Preferring
combative to skilled and soft, Burke altered the culture of the team on the
fly, trading--most notably-- Sergei Fedorov, Petr Sykora and Sandis Ozolinsh and
replacing them with a collective snarl. Younger, better and cheaper is the
modern NHL hat trick. "We were wondering what was going on [with the
trades]," Ducks right wing Teemu Selanne says. "But Burkie knew what he
had. The young guys have been unbelievable."
Now Anaheim faces
an Oilers team just as physical, fast and determined, and Buffalo sees its
slick doppelg�nger in Carolina. "If you're looking for parity," says
Aaron Ward, "it's staring you in the face."