BOSTON (CBS) – In the offseason prior to the 2003-04 season, Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya opted to take a little less money in order to rejoin forces – they’d once been teammates in Anaheim – with the Colorado Avalanche.
And when the 2004 Stanley Cup Final concluded, the Avs achieved their goal and hoisted the Cup over their heads. Oh wait, Colorado actually lost in the second round of the playoffs and hasn’t won the Cup since 2001.
The salary cap did little to stop the New York Rangers, who before the current collective bargaining agreement threw money around like Mark Cuban, from anteing up to ink both Scott Gomez and Chris Drury. The Blueshirts were far and away the big winner in free agency that summer. And by June they were crowned champs of the league. Oops, the Rangers, like the ’04 Avs, were done after just two rounds of play.
The point of this brief history lesson is settle down the folks already planning a championship parade for the Twin Cities in June. It was a major coup for the Minnesota Wild to sign both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the top two free agents available this summer, in a July 4 bonanza. Of course, it cost the Wild a ton of cash, a commitment to both players that’s conclusion might coincide with the NHL expanding to Mars, and any right the Wild have to ever claim again that they’re a “small market” organization. But now the Wild have two faces to put on all their posters, they’re a legitimate road-game draw for the foreseeable future, and they should be able to challenge Vancouver for supremacy in a historically week division.
Nonetheless, we know from the NHL and other sports that spending big on the big names all at once doesn’t guarantee and instant championship. Most title-winners, especially in hockey, need time to grow, mold and bond. The Los Angeles Kings of this season, the ’11 Bruins, the ’10 Blackhawks – their management teams did more than just throw cash at a couple of big names to create a championship team. The Wild now have a glut of forwards, with some aged, inconsistent bodies filling those spots. Beyond their top three on defense, they’re going to have to be creative to put serviceable bodies that can create a championship-caliber corps in Minnesota sweaters.
That the Wild have a great pipeline of prospects on the way is all well and good. Again, that doesn’t help them win now with so much money invested in two players.
The Parise/Suter story is interesting. I can’t call it a great story, because while the folks in St. Paul are celebrating, there are people in New Jersey and Nashville that feel scorned. In Nashville, in particular, a team that’s always on fragile ground now has to take a couple steps back after failing in its attempt to go all in and win in ’11-12.
Back here in Boston, the Bruins can breathe a sigh of relief that Pittsburgh or Philadelphia or another Eastern foe wasn’t able to land both or one of the two stars of the market. And that the Devils have been weakened is another plus for Boston.
Still, I would put the Bruins – flaws and all – and several other perennial contenders (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Detroit) ahead of the Wild on the pecking order for next Cup winner. And there are other also-rans (Edmonton, Colorado just in Minnesota’s division) that might also have done more to improve their all-around team even if their maneuvers are completely overshadowed by the Wild’s shopping spree.
What the Wild have done is make it easy for preseason magazines to pick them to win it all or come close. However, I’m not sold that they’re not still at least three to four years away from having a chance. History shows building a title team is never as easy as Minnesota might currently think it is.