The bigger they are ...

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 5:03 PM ET

While most teams toasted in celebration when a new collective bargaining agreement legislated some much-needed sanity into NHL contracts, a handful of free-spenders were left crying in their beer.

The Colorado Avalanche lost two of their best players - Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote - because they couldn't afford them under the new economic system.

The Detroit Red Wings lost a couple of their own cornerstones, Derian Hatcher and Darren McCarty, because they just didn't fit into the budget.

The St. Louis Blues, with their long history of driving inflation to ridiculous heights, bid adieu to Chris Pronger and Pavol Demitra. Because of money.

After years of negotiating deals in which money was no object, they finally get a taste of how the other half lives, and they don't like it.

"It's definitely affected us a lot,'' said Detroit Red Wings veteran Kris Draper.

"You can look at us, the Detroit Red Wings, as a model of how we've been affected by the new CBA. We had to buy out three quality hockey players and three quality people in Darren McCarty, Ray Whitney and Derian Hatcher.

"We had a lot of money tied into a lot of players. Kenny (GM Ken Holland) had to step up and make some changes to free up some money. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get all the guys signed we wanted to sign and we had to have some buy-outs.

'Unfortunate thing'

"That's the unfortunate thing of what this has done. It kind of handcuffed Detroit. Our team has changed quite a bit.''

With all 30 teams operating under the same $39-million salary cap, chequebook management is a thing of the past. The Toronto Maple Leafs can no longer throw good money after bad, with nothing to show for it but grand illusions and bad investments. Philly, Dallas and the Rangers actually have to watch what they spend.

With their financial advantages all but eliminated, those teams will now have to rely on drafting, developing and smart personnel decisions to win a championship. Imagine that. "Obviously there's a number of teams, six to eight, that probably spent more than other teams to keep their players,'' said Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic, whose club has two of the biggest holes to fill. "So, yeah, you definitely lose that (advantage).''

Filling holes

Add Patrick Roy's 2003 retirement to the list of dearly departed and the Avs aren't nearly the intimidating powerhouse they once were.

"There's no question we're going to be different,'' said Sakic. "We're going to miss those guys, but I think we've done a good job in filling holes and getting a lot of depth with our club. So I think while we're going to miss those guys tremendously, the depth of our team is going to be pretty good. I look around at the guys here and I think we're going to be a pretty exciting team.''

Over in New Jersey, a perennial Stanley Cup contender has to slash one of its front-line players to meet the cap - just like the Oilers had to give up everyone from Wayne Gretzky to Doug Weight to meet its budget.

"It's a little disappointing, especially with our team the way it's been built,'' Devils winger Jamie Langenbrunner said. "We're going to end up giving a good player away.''

But Sakic is confident that big-money teams that have a history of drafting well and making smart personnel decisions, like Colorado, Jersey and Detroit, will still be successful in the even-money landscape.

"Everybody is on the same playing field,'' he said.

"But teams that have the good scouting staffs and manage their teams well are still going to be on top. We have a great general manager and scouting staff here, so we're sure we're still going to be one of the competitive teams in the league.

"I expect us to be right up there with everybody else competing for the Cup this year.''


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