Hey big spenders

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:59 AM ET

Three players on one-way, NHL contracts, one earning $1.3 million.

Three more with six-figure deals.

A backup goalie making $650,000.

Is it just me, or have the Manitoba Moose become the American Hockey League's big spenders? The New York Yankees of minor-league hockey.

OK, so that's a stretch.

But a close examination of AHL salaries, obtained by the Sun, reveals some rather startling numbers.

The AHL's top regular season team has a combined payroll of more than $4.2 million this season.

SIGNIFICANT

A good portion of that, of course, is picked up by Manitoba's NHL parent club, the Vancouver Canucks. But not all of it.

Most significant is the $605,000 star forward Jason Krog is collecting.

Krog, like injured forward Michel Ouellet and goalie Curtis Sanford, is on a one-way NHL deal, which means he earns the same amount whether he's here or in Vancouver.

But unlike Ouellet and Sanford, the Moose agreed to pick up all of Krog's salary when he's here -- easily the fattest contract the Moose have ever paid out.

"That's fair to say," owner Mark Chipman said yesterday. "It was unique this year, for sure. The franchise has been financially stable enough to invest in players."

Why the looser purse strings, you ask?

"We're trying to win," Chipman said.

Who do these guys think they are, the Chicago Wolves?

I remember when the Wolves were the evil empire, outspending everybody in the old IHL, and how it had the Moose climbing the walls every spring when they lost to Chicago in the playoffs.

If you want to point the finger at somebody now, maybe it's the Moose -- the best AHL team money can buy.

I mean, there aren't a lot of deals like Krog's out there.

The next-highest salary we could find in the AHL's top 20 scorers was that of Grand Rapids' Darren Haydar, who pocketed $335,000.

Krog ranked third in AHL scoring with 86 points this season. Hershey's Keith Aucoin was second, but he earned just $200,000, one-third Krog's ticket.

Chipman says Manitoba's overall payroll is not dramatically different than in the last few years, but it is higher.

Maybe even the highest of the AHL's independently owned teams, although that's difficult to know. Contracts for players signing AHL-only deals, apart from the NHL, aren't readily available.

The Moose are relatively frugal when it comes to AHL deals, captain Mike Keane's $75,000 paycheque leading the way (although they did shell out $100,000 for goaltender Karl Goehring, since traded).

By comparison, we know of at least four players from other teams who earned $200,000-plus on AHL-only contracts (two of them, Jamie Rivers and Steve Martins, in Chicago).

But we don't know of another AHL roster that carries six players with salaries of more than $200,000, like the Moose do.

"It's one of the highest paid teams I've definitely played on," six-figure forward Jason Jaffray said. "The guys they brought in, you're really not rolling the dice with."

Not coincidentally, they finished first overall.

Forward Guillaume Desbiens has to be the bargain of the year, 17th on the salary chart with $50,000, but No. 4 in team scoring.

Michael Grabner scored 30 goals, the same as Krog, but earned barely one-tenth the pay of Krog, with $62,500.

How about AHL goalie-of-the-year Cory Schneider, earning a paltry $70,000 on his two-way Vancouver deal, while Sanford, his backup going into the playoffs, collects more than half a million bucks?

We bring all this up as the Moose prepare to face the Toronto Marlies in Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs, here, tonight.

By virtue of finishing first, this team already has a target on its back.

Now, it appears, there's a dollar sign, too.

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MOOSE PAY

THE BIG ONE

M. Ouellet $1.3 million

THE FAB FIVE

C. Sanford $650,000

J. Krog $605,000

M. Cullen $250,000

N. Baumgartner $225,000

J. Jaffray $100,000

THE REST

M. Fortunas $85,000

M. Keane $75,000

N. McIver $75,000

C. Schneider $70,000

A. Bolduc $65,000

R. Sawada $65,000

M. Fistric $62,500

M. Grabner $62,500

D. Rahimi $62,500

S. Heshka $55,000

M. Bliznak $50,000

G. Desbiens $50,000

Z. Fitzgerald $50,000

T. Ramsey $45,000

P.C. Labrie $42,500

D. Collins $40,000

T. Maxwell $40,000

G. Rallo $40,000

(Thanks to NHLSCAP.com for its salary information)


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