Wednesday, July 24th, 2002
Now that we're into the middle of the NHL offseason, league activity has
quieted down -- at least for a little while before the waiver draft and some
restricted free agents like Jarome Iginla begin to sign offer
This offseason has seen player salaries escalate greatly, with players such
as Bobby Holik (who barely scores 20 goals a season) signing $9 million
contracts. It was only last year that Alexei Yashin signed the largest
ever hockey contract, worth upwards of $80 million, and just weeks later,
Jaromir Jagr signed one valued at nearly $90 million.
Despite the escalating salaries, Gary Bettman and the rest of the
NHL executives must pat themselves on the back. Whether American TV viewers
want to admit it or not, the National Hockey League is the best product game
on television and has the best competition of any of the four major professional
North American team sports.
With the exception of Florida Panthers, the Mighty Ducks of
Anaheim, and the Columbus Blue Jackets, there is no reason why
any of the 30 NHL hockey clubs cannot make the postseason, or are at least
very close to it. Many of the "grey area" teams such as the Tampa Bay
Lightning, Nashville Predators, and Minnesota Wild are
only missing one or two pieces of the puzzle to be NHL contenders.
The Lightning only need to beef up their defense a bit to give some teams
in the East a run for their money. As long as they can find that one piece
and players like Fredrik Modin and Vincent Lecavalier are healthy
all season long, Nikolai Khabibulin will do this thing in net and
the 'Bolts will contend.
The Minnesota Wild are a very respectable expansion team. Even if they finished
near last in the league last year, many "experts" predicted their first few
seasons to be a lot worse than they turned out to be, and if the Predators
weren't in the Western Conference where even 92 points won't make the playoffs,
they would be contending for a postseason berth should they get a stable
Forget the bottom of the standings -- what about the top? With two weeks
left in the regular season, just 9 points separated second from 12th in the
Western Conference, and the situation was similar in the Eastern Conference.
Money doesn't buy the Stanley Cup. The New York Rangers haven't made
the playoffs in ages despite having a Yankee-type payroll.
Colorado pays a lot of money for their stars, but have been stopped
at the Semifinals or Conference Finals five of the past six years.
Meanwhile, we see teams like the Montreal Canadiens nearly limping
their way to the Eastern Finals. And although the Hurricanes weren't
even the most talented team with the highest payroll in the conference, the
Carolina franchise represented the Eastern Conference in last month's Stanley
Hockey combines the grace and finesse of baseball, the hard-nosed attitude
of football, the speed of auto racing, the enthusiasm of NCAA sports, and
the skill required to play the game is unlike any other. Anyone can lace
up a pair of shoes and play basketball; anyone can pick up a wooden bat and
trigger a ball for a homerun, but only a select few can skate 500 feet in
under 15 seconds and stay on their feet while getting smashed into a glass
wall on a near frictionless surface.
Whether you're watching the struggling Panthers or the surging and re-fueled
Detroit Red Wings, the NHL game the only game to watch. Period.