Volume 92, Issue 94
Thursday, March 25, 1999
Stanley Cup for sale
Peanuts, popcorn, Chelios.
Tuesday's trade deadline proved everything is for sale in the National Hockey League. Forget the NHL draft or intense scouting, money talks when it comes to getting a shot at the holy grail.
The Detroit Red Wings were the biggest dealers at the deadline this year and are no doubt the favourites to win their third straight Stanley Cup. The money wielding club picked up Wendel Clark and Bill Ranford from the Tampa Bay Lightning, Chris Chelios from the Chicago Blackhawks and Ulf Samuelsson from the New York Rangers.
These acquisitions make the Wings, who are only four games above .500, one of the league's best. And what did it cost them? A bunch of draft picks, a few utility skaters and a whole lot of cash.
The Red Wing payroll now sits at around $50 million. These transactions are an attack at the heart of hockey. Teams who are sitting in the basement of their division or struggling to break even are unloading players to save money.
The Montreal Canadiens called around asking if anyone would be interested in Vincent Damphousse for a cool million. The San Jose Sharks put up their hands and cut a check for the remainder of his 1999 salary. I suppose the Montreal move was not really surprising since the Calgary Flames dumped Theo Fleury to Colorado last month because of similar financial concerns.
Meanwhile, the teams who can afford to spend a few extra million are finding plenty of rent-a-skaters to choose from. Most of the available hockey players will be free agents in three months, but deep pocketed owners see them as Band-Aid solutions in making a championship team. Can a player who is aware of being rented be proud of winning the Stanley Cup? Doubtful.
He won't have the memories of the team's struggles through the year or the friendship with teammates. Will the owner care? That is also doubtful. They are more worried about the fame and endorsements which come with championships.
This deadline garbage creates a large gap between Stanley Cup winners of 20 years ago and the winners of today. Back then, the winner was called a championship team. Now, they are individual champions.
The Ottawa Senators may be the bastion of hope for cash strapped clubs. The Senators have half the payroll of the Red Wings and still have one of the best records in the league. They didn't make the big time deals at the deadline but still possess a strong line-up. Can the Senators continue this success in the stress filled playoffs with a lack of experience? Only time will tell.
Unfortunately, history has not been kind to the poor in the NHL or any other professional sport. The Montreal Expos bust their asses in search for diamonds in the rough but they jump ship after they're polished into all-star athletes.
On the other hand, the Toronto Blue Jays won two World Series championships with green-back robbery in the early '90s by picking up David Cone and Rickey Henderson at the last second. Owners have learned from these lessons and make the moves necessary to win.
True hockey fans can only hope two and a half months from now, history will bite the owners where the sun doesn't shine and a team, not a group of individuals, will take the Stanley Cup home with them.
Ian Ross can be reached at email@example.com
Copyright © The Gazette 1999