Sunday, August 07, 2005

No Playoffs? No Problem

By Nick Faris
Red Line Corp. Writer

Does it matter that these teams haven't made the playoffs in years?

Does it matter that they've been re-decorating the cellar of the NHL's mansion for those seasons?

Does it matter that, instead of a case of trophies in their locker rooms, they have a case of ping-pong balls?

Obviously not, according to these stars.

A week into the NHL free agent market, the biggest names have all signed with teams. Some, like Peter Forsberg and Brian Leetch, went to teams that have been successful in recent years. Others didn't take that route.

We'll start with the biggest-name defenceman out there, perhaps the most coveted UFA of them all. Norris Trophy winner Scott Niedermayer had been feasting on success with the New Jersey Devils. He had won two Cups in four years, and although a disappointing first round ended their season during the last NHL season, he still was able to celebrate with the Norris he beat Sens 6'9 monster Zdeno Chara to. Of course, that made Nieds liable to receive the player maximum of $7.8 million this season. New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello was interested in keeping his stalwart blueliner, but the asking price was much too high. Niedermayer bolted.

Of course, he could have gone to another playoff- (and possibly Cup-) bound team. There wasn't any lack of them in the Scott Sweepstakes. Philadelphia. Toronto. Vancouver. He could have gone to any of them. Perhaps he could have pushed them to the Cup. But, instead, he signs for less than $7 million a year to go to...Disney Land.

No, it wasn't a surprise that Nieds jumped to Anaheim (which, of course, previously belonged to Disney). The reason to head there was in his name. Brother Rob will be his teammate again, which hasn't happened in sixteen years, since the two were midget teammates. But even so, to head to 12th place Anaheim from a squad that had given him three more rings during his tenure? That had helped him push his way to several All-Star Games, First All-Star teams and an extra piece of hardware in his house? All essentially to play on a team inspired by a movie (yes, Mighty Ducks led to the creation of a NHL team). I'm not criticizing his move. Everyone would like to play with their brother in the pros. But it is still an odd move.

That is not the least of it. Former Tampa 'tender Nikolai Khabibulin jumped from sunny beaches and the Stanley Cup to the Windy City and Bill Wirtz. For the same details as Niedermayer (4 years, $27 million), Khabibulin will lose the Stanley Cup, the trio of St.-Louis-Lecavlier-Richards, a standout defence, and not make the playoffs. Surely he can sacrifice a little dough to hoist that cup again...or maybe not.

Two All-Star calibre defencemen, Sergei Gonchar and Adam Foote, both left the loft for the basement. Foote will head to the hinterlands to play with Rick Nash and Co. in Columbus, while Gonchar heads to the Steel City to team up with Mario, Sidney, and others.

Columbus finished 27th in the league, while Pittsburgh came last.

The Penguins, however, look to improve a lot with their additions of marquee names. Along with Sidney Crosby and Gonchar, Zigmund Palffy has joined Reneissance forces. He will earn a cool $4.5 million this year to play under other teams. He could have at least had a shot, however, at the playoffs with his former team, Anaheim's California counterpart, Los Angeles.

Khabibulin will also be joined by some top names. Adrian Aucoin of the Islanders will sacrifice a possible (a very thin margin, of course) playoff berth to suffer under Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz. Joining them are defenceman Jaroslav Spacek and checking winger Martin Lapointe. At least Spacek moved up one spot in the standings (he played with the Blue Jackets), wheareas Lapointe gained more money but lost more chance for the Cup (He was a Bruin).

Also notable playoff-sacrificers are: Bobby Holik (Thrashers), possibly Miro Satan (Islanders), and, of course, the duo of Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk (Panthers).

So, it seems we have just lost a number of top names in this season's playoffs. It will be told at the end of the year that gaining more green doesn't always pay off if you're looking to win a silver Cup.

Get ready to see some shocking names painting the cellar.

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