New CBA will change way teams are built

AL STRACHAN

, Last Updated: 11:16 PM ET

This is a hectic time for general managers.

As Florida Panthers GM Mike Keenan said, "It's going to be like studying for the finals at university. There are going to be all-nighters and lots of coffee."

By the time all the bought-out players have found new homes, the free agents have been signed and the qualifying offers have been accepted (very few will be rejected), the National Hockey League will have a whole new face.

As a result, this will be a season unlike any other because the track records will be totally irrelevant. A team that has been abysmal for years suddenly could become a contender.

A good example would be the Pittsburgh Penguins.

They have good young players to go with Mario Lemieux and, thanks to the influx of money following the drafting of Sidney Crosby, they intend to get into the free-agent bidding.

Granted, some bad teams will stay that way. You can usually count on New York Islanders GM Mike Milbury to follow the wrong course of action and, by giving qualifying offers to his entire team, he did just that.

In the new NHL, success will come to those who are ruthless. While the new CBA does have some good quality-of-life clauses for the players and will allow the elite players to make excellent money, it will prove to be, for the most part, an unqualified disaster for most players.

It creates a landscape that gives the GMs a chance to be ruthless and under that kind of circumstance, it isn't long before you either become as ruthless as your competitors or you die.

This new CBA is not unlike modern western economies, in that the middle class will bear the greatest burden and may be all but eradicated in the process.

There never is a guaranteed formula for success, but in order to give yourself the best chance to win in Gary's Game, you have to target a few top-line players and fill the remainder of the roster with hard workers who can skate.

You need, as always, a top-notch goalie and you must be prepared to pay his price, even if it's the maximum 20% of the salary cap. Then you need two high-quality veteran defencemen and four elite forwards.

These seven players will be expensive by today's standards, probably averaging $3.5 million -- perhaps more if you had to play the goalie the full whack.

But they will be the core of your team. The goalie will make up for transgressions elsewhere, and in the new offensively oriented game with shootouts, will single-handedly pile up points for you.

The two stud defencemen will play about 35 minutes each, which means that in a regulation game, the other four defencemen need play only 50 minutes between them. A smart coach will move them in and out and make sure one of the top defencemen is on the ice at all times.

The four forwards will be the essence of two good lines. On each will be one solid but less expensive grinder who will dig out the puck, screen the goalie and so on while his two linemates do the scoring.

The rest of the team, the remaining 16 players, will average about $700,000. Three of them should average $500,000 because they're the fourth line and they rarely are going to see the ice.

Without the clutching, grabbing and interference, the elite forwards will be able to log more ice time. The fourth liners can go out once or twice a period and use their skating skills to stay close enough to the opponents to give them trouble.

Naturally, this in an ideal model. Injuries can affect it, but that's the case in any scenario. And there will be nights when everything goes wrong. And it also assumes the league is serious about opening up the game.

But all in all, it's the best plan. Build a quality core and then just fill the holes.

Forget the middle class.


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