Money talks ...

CHRIS STEVENSON

, Last Updated: 1:10 PM ET

It's not often your boss gives you $44 million US to spend.

But that's what four Sun writers got the other day and I have to admit, if it was the real deal, the best NHL team I could buy wouldn't be at the top of my list for that lettuce (think swaying palms, a golf course and cold adult beverages).

But, sadly, that $44 million is tabbed for the best NHL team myself and other writers across the Sun chain can put together under the NHL salary cap.

So, just what does $44 million buy you in the NHL these days?

Building a team under the salary cap is a balancing act.

Do you go for the established star making top dollar? If you do that, you know you are going to have to counterbalance his big salary with one (or three) players close to the minimum somewhere else.

Look at it this way: If you want to carry 21 players on your roster, with a salary cap of $44 million, that works out to an average of $2,095,238 a player.

For a $7-million player on your roster, you are going to need about four close to the minimum of $450,000 to counterbalance the hefty salary.

It's important to understand the salaries used for this exercise are the players' salaries for salary cap purposes and not their actual salaries for this season. A player's salary cap hit is his average per year salary over the life of the contract.

A player signing a $9 million deal over three years, which pays him $2 million the first year, $3 million in the second and $4 million in the last year -- would have a cap hit of $3 million a year.

If you opt to go with a superstar at each position, you are going to have to fill in the rest of your roster with some unproven, younger players who cost less.

BALANCED BLUE-LINE

In building a team, the goal was to come up with a bona-fide team, strong in all areas, a blend of scoring, grit, penalty killers, checkers and a blue-line balanced between finesse and the ability to play a physical game.

One strategy is to start at the back end and work your way out, content in the knowledge there is a bigger pool of good bargain forwards than at any other position.

A guy like Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, for instance, is one of the best goaltenders in the league and, at $2.6 million, has a salary that is about a third of some of the top-paid goaltenders in the league.

Another philosophy is to get a proven, bona-fide star at each position and then fill in around him with strong, young players at lesser salaries. There are lots of great young players around the league right now which allows you to have a guy like Scott Neidermayer anchor your blue-line.

New York Rangers forward Jaromir Jagr is a unique bargain because as part of the deal that saw him dealt to the Blueshirts from the Washington Capitals, the Caps pick up a good chunk of his salary.

That leaves the guy who has been the league's leading scorer this season at a cap hit of less than $5 million this season.

That's not a bad place to start building your forward ranks.

Like in the real world, having a pool of strong, young players who are making less than the approximate $2-million average you have to spend is critical to building a strong team.

NHL clubs who have a strong pipeline of prospects will have a huge advantage over their adversaries who don't.

Those top prospects, who must sign three-year entry level contracts in the $1-million range, give clubs a lot of flexibility to spend on higher-priced established players.

Players like Miller, forward Chris Higgins of the Montreal Canadiens and defenceman Dion Phaneuf of the Calgary Flames are perfect examples of young players who are among the best at their positions while making a fraction of the other star players at their positions.

So, gents, start spending that money...


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