Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

$uccess in the AHL takes lots of money

It's how to win, and we're due for a title

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If there's one thing that's become obvious in Mooseland the last two seasons, it's the direct impact of money: Spend it and win, hang on to it and lose. Simple as that.

So far in this free agency season the Moose have been loose with the purse strings and that's good news for Winnipeg hockey fans.

The playing field isn't level in the AHL. There are teams with money and the ability to sign elite free agents. Those teams win divisions and conferences and Calder Cups.

Since the IHL merged with the AHL in 2001, the Calder Cup has repeatedly been won by franchises that spend. Hershey, Chicago, Houston and Milwaukee. These clubs have dominated the Calder Cup since 2001 winning seven of nine titles and they've all spent money to do so.

In a league where there is no salary cap, the rich get richer. The AHL in many ways has become an arms race. Springfield? Not gonna win. Same with Syracuse and Albany. They are outfits without the financial wherewithal to compete.

Manitoba is not such a franchise. The Moose are among the AHL leaders in attendance each season and they make money, likely lots of it.

GM Craig Heisinger has to live within a budget. But as we witnessed two seasons ago, it can be fat, fat enough to compete with the Hersheys and the Chicagos.

The Moose signed Jason Krog and Mark Cullen before the 2008-09 campaign, spending in the neighbourhood of $800,000 on the duo of centres. The result: a trip to the Calder Cup final.

Last season, the Moose went on the cheap, maybe because the team wanted to hold on to some money, or maybe it just couldn't close any big deals. It cost in the long run.

Krog and Cullen moved on, as did veteran Jason Jaffray and the team found itself short 174 points of offence. Manitoba took one step forward and two steps back right up until they were bounced in the first round.

Key

To some, it proved veteran offensive players are key in the AHL, and that's certainly true. But to us, it showed the path to the Calder Cup. As Deep Throat said to Bob Woodward, follow the money.

Free agency began on Thursday and the Moose made a quick step into the market signing veteran centre Joel Perrault and sniper Jeff Tambellini. Perrault, signed by the Vancouver Canucks to a $500,000 one-way contract that the Moose will pay a portion of should he skate with the Moose, has played 297 AHL games scoring 95 goals and 120 assists. The 27-year-old has also seen action in 89 NHL games during his seven-year pro career.

Tambellini has seen spot duty in the NHL but in the AHL he's been deadly scoring 96 goals and 98 assists in 169 games.

These are significant signings and if the Moose can match them with a veteran goalie, another scoring winger and a puck moving defenceman, they'll be in the hunt.

If not, maybe new head coach Claude Noel can conjure up a winner with the prospects supplied by the Canucks. But colour us skeptical.

After experiencing the heights of a trip to the Calder Cup final in the spring of 2009, last season's mediocrity was dreadful to watch.

Historically, the Moose have been plugging away for 15 years now and it's time for a title.

It's also been forever since a pro Winnipeg team of any sport won something. The Goldeyes grabbed a Northern League title in 1994. The Bombers haven't held the Grey Cup since 1990, and the Winnipeg Jets won the AVCO Cup way back in 1979.

We need a parade.

It ain't our money, but here's our two cents anyway: Spend, you Moose. Spend like wild.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 7, 2010 C5

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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