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NHL - Can Money Buy a Winning Team?

By Vishal Patel
Wednesday, October 31st, 2001

Looking at the standings, you may think you were blasted into the past. Maybe the early 1980's, when the Islanders roamed the NHL. Maybe the late 1970's, when Le Habs ruled the Canadian national sport in America. But actually, you weren't blasted into the past, rather, you have been catapulted into a new generation of teams that win by getting the small things right.

Small things? What about all those teams that are attempting to buy their way to the Stanley Cup? Obviously, the list is extensive: Detroit, Colorado, Dallas, Toronto, and St. Louis were among the most active in the offseason. True, their performances haven't been anything to laugh at, but the load of expectations that have been burdened upon the players could prove too much to handle against a team with less talent, but airtight cohesion amongst its players.

The intangible factor - good coaching, team chemistry, and basically doing the small things right - has lifted many previously depressed teams to the top of the standings. Such teams like the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames, and New York Islanders have seen the light at the end of the tunnel.

Many would claim that the Islanders are at the top because of Yashin and Peca, their highly-prized free agent acquisitions over the offseason. To an extent, that notion is correct, but only because Peca was more of a team player than many had suspected. Not only a legitimate two-line center, he's also a gritty team leader who leads by example, perhaps the best method of teaching.

Inheriting Red Wings' defector G Chris Osgood was also a plus, not because he's skilled at netminding, but also because he's been around a winning atmosphere his whole career in Detroit and has even been to and won a Stanley Cup with them. Osgood is showing that a guy who knows how to win is always worth more than a superstar with talent through the roof. Winning is not something that's inborn, it's something that has to be seen and then done. Something tells me these Islanders are not done surprising people.

The most surprising team is arguably the Calgary Flames in the talent-infested waters of the Western Conference. Apart from up-and-coming superstar center Jarome Iginla, the Flames lack any other secondary talent that could be bolstering their 8-2-1 campaign so far this season.

So then why are they so good? The answer to this question lies in every aspect of their game plan that's executed every time they play, which doesn't rely on Blues castoff Roman Turek to make forty saves or Iginla to score a hat trick every night. Rather, their plan is an intricate design of passes and gritty play helped by a young and fast defense that's been able to lighten the load off of Turek and been able to help score on offense.

The disheartening health condition of team captain Saku Koivu would lead many to believe that the Canadiens would be in for another disappointing season. Maybe the ultimatum he gave about his return to hockey was an inspiration to Canada's true hockey town. With newfound heart, the fans have once more come back to cheer Le Habs while Brian Savage and Co. are making every effort not to disappoint. Who ever thought a team would be better off without its visible captain? Certainly not these Habs or anybody else who predicted they'd finish at the bottom of the East.

Perhaps the most likely to make a playoff run out of the four teams mentioned, the Boston Bruins were expected to be in this article. But this could be the last time in a while. The Bruins went on a hot 4-0 start lead by G Byron Dafoe while Rolston is off to a surprising start and free agent acquisition Martin LaPointe is playing dirty with 42 penalty minutes. I say they won't be in the playoff race next year because they refuse to open their wallet and sign their prized elite holdout center Jason Allison.

Instead, they traded him to Los Angeles for two slightly above average players in Glen Murray and Josef Stumpel. Bruins GM Mike O' Connell claims that it was the best offer on the table, which only means that they had no intention of signing him.

They are also unlikely to resign Byron Dafoe who will ask for the kind of big money contract Marty Brodeur of the Devils just signed. Bill Guerin also will likely be testing the free agent market. He would be boneheaded if he didn't since he's 31 and could be the last time he'll have a legitimate shot to land a big money contract after a big season last year.

Many of these teams' surprise runs won't last until April, but it's worth pointing out that money doesn't buy a winning team. Perhaps it's best exemplified by the paradoxical situations in Detroit, a team with seemingly infinite spending money, and Boston, a team looking to step into the ranks of the elite, but won't spend the dough needed to, that money instead buys championships.

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