Just rewards

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

Like angry Motel 8 patrons being kept up all night by a party in the room next door, some of our neighbours to the east are steaming mad these days.

Stomping on the floor and banging on the walls, they're urging party-goers in the west to keep down the noise.

Insanely jealous over the rare good fortune that had Alberta residents celebrating the long-term signings of two established NHL superstars Wednesday, Leafs fans pull the cover over their head trying to figure out how on earth the new CBA benefits everyone.

Turns out, it doesn't.

It only helps the smart teams -- teams that know how to stay within budgets, develop talent, build long term and cultivate team unity.

Leafs GM John Ferguson, whose inactivity this week has drawn criticism from fans and the media anxious for him to get in on the unprecedented signing frenzy, is now paying for his club's past failures.

Sure, he signed Tie Domi last night but that's hardly the type of news that should have Leafs fans jumping for joy.

Unable to cultivate youngsters selected via the draft in the past, the party is over for teams like the Leafs who've spent their way out of binds for years by restocking via free agency whenever their cupboards got bare.

Not only is that gravy train over but Fergie is finding out like the rest of Torontonians that Hogtown isn't necessarily a place people want to play or live these days. There are too many better alternatives.

Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk made that abundantly clear by departing for hockey-mad Florida early in the week, sparking more Fergie criticism for allegedly handling the aging duo poorly in the boardroom.

If anything Fergie, should be ripped for failing to prepare for the new reality, something teams in Alberta positioned themselves well for thanks to the sharp hockey minds of Kevin Lowe and Darryl Sutter. Obviously no one knew exactly what the new world would look like but clearly it would be one where fiscal restraint was introduced at some level.

Those who criticize a $39 million cap for tying the hands of wealthier teams who want to "spend for their fans" should look at GM Bob Clarke in Philadelphia, who's made the biggest moves despite a massive payroll for years. He has that ability based largely on his scouting staff's success in drafting top young prospects while also keeping the club competitive. For that, they deserve to be rewarded.

So do the Flames, whose signing of Iginla Wednesday marked the first time in the club's 24-year history it was able to keep an established superstar long term. Chris Pronger's acquisition by the Oilers is also a welcome rarity 'round these parts that speaks volumes of the excitement the CBA has brought to most cities.

Pity the poor Avs who lost Adam Foote, Peter Forsberg and might have to trade either Alex Tanguay or Milan Hejduk to free up some money. The Red Wings will also be unable to add anyone of significance.

Detractors complain that fans in Toronto, Colorado, Detroit and other big cities frozen out of the free-agent pool this week deserve better for supporting their clubs so well. Well, for years people in the prairies, Pittsburgh and Columbus -- not to mention Winnipeg and Quebec City -- have stood on the sidelines watching the big teams buy up all their stars.

Meanwhile, fans in cities where team operated on lean, responsible budgets continued to support their teams despite having little chance to chase the Cup.

All that's changed now and just because the party isn't heating up for the Leafs or other irresponsible clubs doesn't mean the system won't work.

It just means they'll have to get wiser because if they don't, the party out west and most other places will get louder and the big boys can no longer escape by upgrading to the Westin.


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