It's the best time of year!
Spending the most money doesn’t exactly translate, in some cases, to on-ice success. Anthony and I debate which team furthest from the salary cap will be on top of their game when all 30 teams drop the puck on the 2011-12 season.
By Ryan Porth
David Poile, Barry Trotz and the Nashville Predators seem to always do more with less. Currently sitting at $48.4 million – $0.1 million above the cap floor – they’ll be looking to continue that annual success with one of the league’s lowest payrolls.
When the media makes their predictions next month, they will once again overlook the Predators due to off-season losses. However, when you look at it closer, they didn’t lose too much from the club that made its first ever second round appearance. That’s not to say they won’t be in a similar situation come March, fighting for their playoff lives.
The Preds possess one of the top back ends in the NHL. Between Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne, it’s hard to come across a better defense/goaltending combo. Their future, together, in Nashville is a question mark, but Trotz and company will have them on board for at least another season.
At forward, the team’s cap hit is just $27 million, the fourth-lowest total in the NHL. Martin Erat will be the highest paid in 2011-12, coming in at $6 million ($1.5 million above his cap hit). Veterans David Legwand and Mike Fisher will also be making north of $4 million. Other than that, Poile is trying to manufacture offense while spending on the cheap.
One example of that last season was Sergei Kostitsyn. The Montreal castoff raked in $550,000 last year, which was $25,000 less than enforcer-turned-broadcaster Wade Belak. Kostitsyn tallied 50 points in his first season as a Predator, tied for the team high.
Poile is hoping to get similar production out of Niclas Bergfors, who was signed for dirt cheap ($575,000) in July. Bergfors is talented, but the fact that he has been on three teams in the last two years at 23 years old isn’t a great sign. That said, Kostitsyn is similarly talented and was an afterthought in Montreal.
And don’t forget the youngsters that the Preds have; Ryan Ellis and Jonathon Blum are promising blue-chip defensemen, while Colin Wilson still has some growing to do in his game.
Overall, this Preds team sets up to be playoff caliber once again. Are they the best team furthest from the salary cap? If you ask me, yes they are.
New York Islanders
By Anthony Curatolo
Numbers quite often tell a story. For a few clubs around the NHL, those stories are quite unique. The New York Islanders, who are roughly $2.4 million below the cap floor, have taken strides during Garth Snow's tenure to provide a decently balanced on-ice product.
However, fans and players alike (difficult to sign top tier UFA's to go play out on Long Island) have looked down upon the Isles for quite some time now.
This season, not only is time running out in many different scenarios for the club, but patience is wearing very thin amongst their fan base. Their own town of Hempstead voted in a negative manner against the proposal for a new arena within the county.
Regardless of what goes on down the road, the 2011-12 Islanders have to focus solely on this season. Their GM will be under the microscope if they fail to play on a consistent basis pending any major injuries.
Sitting somewhere within the five-year plan, Snow put forth during his inauguration is an answer to the question, ‘How can anyone put together a winning combination when, frankly, there is little chance a big name talent jumps on board the ship to help right it?’
Clearly, there is enough cap space on the Island to likely fill the old barn with dollar bills. But who is to blame? Can't blame ownership; Charles Wang has done everything in his power to rebuild the organization both on and off the ice.
The answer: You breed your own talent (or pluck a stud or two off the waiver wire when opportunity arises). When looking at this club, a few names jump out at you instantly: John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Mark Streit, Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner.
Add Evgeni Nabokov to the likes of the aforementioned youngsters, along with the rest of the roster makeup, and there could very well be a surprise team in the Atlantic Division this season.
Even for an organization that has to overpay some of their players simply to be able to ice a team come October, Blake Comeau, Andrew MacDonald and P.A. Parenteau – to name a few – have provided quite the spark for this team. If all pans out accordingly and these players are able to play the way we have previously witnessed, there is no reason to count the playoffs out on Long Island this upcoming NHL season.
Photos credit: Getty Images
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