SUN Hockey Pool

New CBA has been good for Canadian teams

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

For years, the disparity among NHL teams has been framed in financial terms.

The rich -- Toronto, New York, Philadelphia, Denver, Dallas -- were profligate spenders.

The poor -- Edmonton and Buffalo come to mind -- were unable to compete because of the size of their markets and the economics of the game.

Stop me if you've heard this before.

NEW LANDSCAPE

The new CBA was supposed to be about changing all that, at least in theory.

This month's free-agent spending spree, now slowing to a trickle, offered a revealing look at the new landscape and gave the first glimpse at whether the new CBA is workable.

So far so good.

Some little teams brandished their newfound clout. Happily, they were Canadian, where the Edmonton Oilers acquired stalwart defenceman Chris Pronger from St. Louis and signed him to an long-term deal. The Oilers got Mike Peca from the New York Islanders to boot. The Calgary Flames, meanwhile, picked off Darren McCarty from Detroit and landed Tony Amonte, liberated by Philadelphia via the one-time buy-out.

And yes, the storyline of the small team winning out against the big club, Adam Foote leaving Colorado for Columbus, Ziggy Palffy ditching Los Angeles for Pittsburgh, played out often enough.

But as important as the flow of power from large centres to smaller ones was the erosion of considerable talent from Western Conference teams to clubs in the East.

That is a surprise.

With financial parity among the teams, lifestyle decisions, in other words, proximity to the beach or the golf course, was supposed to swing the pendulum in favour of Western-based teams. All things being equal, and the CBA assures that they are, why not play in paradise, or at least the paradise that comes with a big pool and a bigger security guard at the gate?

But the most significant signings of an Eastern Conference player by a team from the West came with Anaheim's landing of Scott Niedermayer, one of the top rearguards in the game, at the expense of the New Jersey Devils.

That signing easily was trumped by one club. The Philadelphia Flyers raided Western Conference teams for three upper-level players by signing Peter Forsberg from Denver, Derian Hatcher from Detroit and Mike Rathje from San Jose.

When a worthwhile Eastern Conference player was signed away, it was usually by another Eastern league club.

Alexei Zhamnov went from Philadelphia to Boston. Brian Leetch left the Maple Leafs for the Bruins. Martin Lapointe ditched the Bruins for Chicago. Eric Lindros came home to Toronto rather than play in New York.

It works for me. Aside from being the official team of the upper body injury, the Maple Leafs will be entertaining to watch.

Built like a pyramid, but entertaining.

In Canada, things look good.

The Oilers are comers and Peca will help. The Flames, owners of one of the league's best defence corps, will add rookie of the year candidate Dion Phaneuf. The Vancouver Canucks returned their captain Markus Naslund and will have Todd Bertuzzi back for opening day.

A Stanley Cup contender in Ottawa makes the prospect of an all-Canadian final more possible than in seasons past.

RIVALRIES

Meanwhile, new emphasis on play within the conference means the Leafs will play Eastern teams exclusively in October and November and will face Western Conference teams only 10 times over an 82-game schedule.

That ought to create the requisite rivalries.

Whether that will wipe out the enmity between fans and the game will take years to find out.


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