Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Being cheap just doesn't cut it

Money being spent boggles the mind

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The amount of puck money is unprecedented.

And even if the NHL's new salary system, on the other side of collective bargaining negotiations, goes south of today's US$70.2 million times 30 teams (that's $2.1 billion if all teams spend the maximum), it's still mind-boggling.

The biggest deals

Most significant deals so far:

1. Dennis Wideman, Flames: 5 yrs./ $5.25 million per

2. Jason Garrison, Canucks: 6 yrs./$4.6 million per

3. Ray Whitney, Stars: 2 yrs. / $4.5 million per

4. Filip Kuba, Panthers: 2 yrs. / $4 million per

5. P.A. Parenteau, Avs.: 4 yrs./$4 million per

6. Sami Salo, Bolts: 2 yrs. / $3.75 million per

7. Sheldon Souray, Ducks: 3 yrs./ $3.66 million per

8. Dustin Penner, Kings: 1 yr./ $3.25 million

9. Mikael Samuelsson, WINGS: 2 yrs./ $3 million per

10. Brandon Prust, Habs: 4 yrs./$2.5 million per

It's especially difficult in marginal markets Sunday and forward. Teams must spend up to the $54.2 million floor and for a lot of them, that hurts. Resources aren't always easy to gather and jobs and reputations are on the line. As well, marginal markets aren't especially on players' radar.

We can safely say that not many marginal markets embraced the system and the required spending like Florida did last summer.

But today there are more teams than ever with no choice.

Some quick math before the start of Sunday's free-agent frenzy (or whatever that was without the signings of Zach Parise or Ryan Suter) showed that there were eight teams more than $9 million below next season's floor, including the Winnipeg Jets (figures courtesy of capgeek.com).

There were 16 teams below the floor, with a combined total of $75 million to spend just to comply with the rules.

And across the NHL, the teams still had a total of $518 million of allowable room to shell out to players. Figures show the final tally will be only a notch below that, as clubs collectively went to 91 per cent of the maximum last season, but you can see why it can be intimidating on July 1, when the cash comes out of the vaults like on no other day.

TSN, for instance, added up the first 40 signings of Sunday, making them worth $140 million.

More is coming.

Winnipeg has shown in its first year it is not a marginal hockey market. But it's not all that attractive to a large number of players. And the Jets' fans, so many with either inferiority complexes or a natural thrift gene or both, just have a hard time wrapping heads around the dollars that are being spent.

How many times have you heard this in the last week, that this player "isn't worth it," or that player, "is overpaid."

"Overpay is a relative term," Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said Sunday night, speaking with some comfort level with the new world of a $70.2 million salary cap and maybe covering a few wounds of July 1 rejection.

Lavish spending will not be part of how the Jets are operated in the foreseeable future, given their stated internal budget which is likely to be below the midpoint ($62.2 million).

Cheveldayoff hinted he understands what a large number the maximum really is and that even if he'd like to, there was going to be no grousing about it.

"I remember back in my Blackhawk days when we were trying to keep the whole team together and it was essentially just north of that number that we could have kept the entire team together," he said, certainly of a time not much more than two years ago. "I remember talking about it at that time, that whoa, it was a lot of money.

"Again, it shows the sport is very popular right now because of the way the salary cap is constructed. I don't know if it's unsettling. The market becomes the market. That's the part of being in the game. When you get to the day of free agency, that's when a lot of money gets spent but internally a big focus for us is to make sure we do allocate the resources to make sure we can keep players like Pav (Ondrej Pavelec) and we certainly are working on getting (Evander) Kane."

Of course Cheveldayoff has to spend wisely to make the Jets franchise viable. And he's still got $8 million or so to go to get to next season's floor.

Even for the teams that effectively sit out the July 1 frenzy, the bottom line for all 30, even for the Jets, is that the spending is unavoidable. It's the new reality. You don't have to like it or agree with it, but to be "in the game," you have to get over it, get used to it and adjust your perception of value.

Because sticking to cheap and thrifty in yesterday's terms is the first mile on the road to disappointment in today's NHL.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 2, 2012 C1

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