KELLEY notes: Why spending big won't save Rangers

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Jim Kelley

It¿s a good bet that New York general manager Glen Sather is the toast of the town today. After all, he just signed solid two-way forward away from the hated new Jersey and he signed gritty defenseman away from the Colorado . He also brought back Ranger heart-and-soul (largely because he couldn¿t sign ) and that¿s a near-perfect mentor for up-and-coming goaltending prospect . Heck, if he signs former Chicago forward , Sather could probably give New York Yankees skipper Joe Torre a run in the popularity department, at least when it comes to getting face time in the media in New York. Nice, but has he improved his team? To a degree, yes. The have a very good chance to end five years of frustration and perhaps make the playoffs next season. Since you have to be in the playoffs before you can win the Stanley Cup, such a step forward would certainly rank as an achievement of sorts, but are the Stanley Cup contenders? Did they get that much bang for hiking their payroll by another $70 million or so over the lives of those overly generous (in both time and money) contracts? No. In fact Sather simply did what he has always done since arriving as the newest savior in New York. He bought talent because he could. Sure it¿s different talent, a little more defensive minded and physically tougher than in the past, but it¿s still talent acquisition for the sake of acquisition. Which makes you wonder what the plan is in New York. While the big name signings always make a splash (remember when , , (a trade of sorts) and company were the answer?), a great many things have to go right for the this coming season and that¿s just to make the playoffs. First off, all the new players have to mesh. That¿s no small accomplishment in New York and history shows the have yet to make it happen under Sather¿s tenure there. The have a great sense of identity and even talk like a team, but they seldom play that way. Sather has attempted to address that by adding Holik and Kasparaitis and bringing in a new coaching staff, but that¿s not the way team chemistry is built. Take it from Detroit assistant coach Barry Smith, who in a recent seminar in Montreal told aspiring coaches that the real key to the ' success in recent years (three Stanley Cups in the last six seasons) wasn¿t the acquisition of high-profile talent, but the blending of newcomers into a team that pretty much coaches itself. Smith identified the key areas of Detroit¿s success as enthusiasm, commitment, pride, determination, confidence, competitiveness and talent and said the key element for the Wings in their run to the Cup this June was commitment. "This year's team was the most committed of the three Stanley Cup teams (1997 and 1998 were the others)," Smith said. "There was a lot going on about us being fat cats, the New York Yankees of hockey, of being too old, too slow, of resting up for the playoffs, of having a captain (Yzerman) playing on one leg, of having guys stay with one player to keep him from playing video games all night." OK, the video game thing isn¿t all that important, but it does show what lengths the go to. The key is having the team come together and play for each other. When was the last time you saw the do that? The Wings seem to do it more often than not. Certainly they were the league¿s most talented team, but there was no denying that commitment and dedication to winning is what righted the Wings when they got off to a slow start vs. Vancouver. Those two factors were the essential ingredients when they got past the Colorado in seven games. Though talent alone would have carried the club past Carolina in the finals, the Wings didn¿t rely on just that. They put their game into high gear and outworked the ¿Canes as well as outplayed them, shutting them down on defense, taking them down physically and then breaking them down mentally. After that, it was relatively easy to outscore them. So how do the do it? Well, for one thing, general manager Ken Holland doesn¿t throw money around like Sather. Certainly his payroll is high, the highest in hockey right now, but Holland has kept his budget in line with the pay-for-performance approach. Use the recent acquisition of goaltender as an example. The Toronto were prepared to make Joseph, their netminder for the past five seasons, the highest paid goaltender in the game this summer and the are rumored to have offered even more than the Leafs. Holland, however, put a package on the table that would pay Joseph only the same amount as two of his best -- and -- were making. That meant an average of about $8 million per season. That¿s pretty close to the money he¿ll be offering when his contract comes up again in another season. The idea is to make certain the best players earn the most money and that everyone else is slotted in (by percentage) in accordance with their contributions. It helps that the win a lot and that players want to be a part of that, but it should be noted that that doesn¿t just happen, the Wings make it happen. A quick look at the roster and it¿s obvious that there are -- and have been -- a great many players who have never won anything of consequence and have -- or had -- defined themselves strictly by how much money they make. Lindros has long been in that category. So were Fleury, and other. It¿s why so many big name players go to New York yet never realize a championship. In recent seasons, they haven¿t even realized a playoff berth. It¿s different in Detroit. The do sign big-name players, but with a purpose. When they signed Hasek and , they paid fair-market value, but not unheard-of sums. Management knew the two had never won a Cup and given the money they had already made through their careers, earning a little less for a team that had the potential to win was more important than grabbing whatever the market would bear. That held true for as well. He had already won his Cup in Dallas, but he wanted another and signed for considerably less than market value just to play with his All-Star buds in Detroit. Joseph was the latest player to buy into that. It¿s also why Detroit defenseman lasted just about 24 hours on the free-agent market before quickly re-signing with Detroit. In the grand scheme of things both New York and Detroit spend a great deal of money on talent. The difference, however, is that the do it wisely and from a position of strength. The have built a team first and added additional talent later. They also make certain it fits. The did sign a winner in Holik and some character in Kasparaitis, but still appear only to have gotten it half right. There¿s no tradition of winning there and the building blocks still do not appear to be in place. Some additional notes on free-agent signings: If the land -- and we say it will be highly unlikely -- it will only be because the , and didn¿t want him. The had an interest, but it cooled after they signed and then shrewdly picked up . Young isn¿t in the same class as Amonte, but he¿s still pretty good and the were aware there was a certain chemistry between him and when the two were together in St. Louis. Turgeon is the forgotten man in Dallas after an admittedly poor season, but he and Young should make an effective second-line combination behind and Guerin. The would actually have to clear some room for Amonte, hence all the rumors about center Peter Nedved being available in trade. However Amonte doesn¿t improve the at center or defense, two areas where they still need help. Don¿t rule out Amonte going to the . Though much of that talk is an attempt by Amonte¿s agent to create something of a bidding war between the two rival New York teams, the do need an additional scoring threat and Amonte has the added benefit of being a durable player. The had health issues in the playoffs last spring and could use a sniper who can generally stay in the lineup. The may look again, but only if Amonte lowers his price a bit. The Leafs also remain interested, but balked at a five-year, $32.5 million price tag. The Leafs are more interested in acquiring a defenseman and are said to have initiated trade talks with the Calgary . Calgary has long been dangling .

Selanne stays put

re-signed with the San Jose only after he couldn¿t come to terms with the Dallas . Selanne wanted to stay in the Western Conference and he had no problems re-upping with the . When the declined to make him an offer he couldn¿t refuse, he was more than willing to ink with the club he seems to like best. He took a pay cut of nearly $3.5 million to do it, but he¿s still going to make about $6.5 million next season and for a superstar whose skills are in decline, that¿s pretty darn good money.

Jackets play free-agent game

You don¿t often see newly minted teams playing the free-agent game, but Columbus got involved because it could and because it had to. The lacked toughness and blue-line depth and addressed both issues in signing and . The play to sellouts every night and have one of the lowest payrolls in the NHL given that they are just two seasons removed from expansion status. The also freed up some cash in opting not to re-sign Derron Quint. Quint has talent, but he also has a history of off-ice issues and had worn out his welcome with general manager Doug MacLean. The allowed more goals than any team in the West last season and were not difficult to play against, especially after they moved last spring.

get a makeover

The big trade between New Jersey and Anaheim was not just window dressing to cover the loss of to the in the free-agent wars. In acquiring solid puck-moving defenseman and rugged forward , the continue to change the look of their team. The makeover started when was shipped out last spring and in moving , the key player in this deal, general manager Lou Lamoriello sent a message that the time for waiting on potential was over and that he wanted performance; now. Sykora was whispered to be in the Lamoriello doghouse ever since he missed playoff time in the Carolina series with a bruised foot. Lamoriello is still said to be disgusted by that loss and Sykora¿s role in it. Sykora has been accused of pouting since his linemate, Arnott, was traded. Now he too is gone. Friesen did not have good numbers in Anaheim, but he played well enough in San Jose and is just now coming into his own as a power forward in the game. He can play center or wing. If he plays on the wing, look for the to move to center. The now have three defensemen -- Tverdovsky, and -- who can move the puck out of their own end. Carolina exposed that weakness in the playoffs. Friesen fills at least part of the gap caused by the loss of Holik. He also brings more speed, another weakness Carolina exposed in the playoffs. The gave away a chunk of their future in Mike Commodore, a defensive prospect with an NHL career ahead of him, but the always seem to have replacements at the ready. This is a deal that doesn¿t hurt the Ducks, however. That team needed a chemistry change as well as an infusion of talent. Sykora can certainly play with and the newly signed . Anaheim also added some prospects, which should help stock a slim farm roster.

Look for Lewis in Detroit

Look for Detroit to name Dave Lewis head coach sometime this week. Lewis replaces the retired Scott Bowman. Expect assistant Barry Smith to stay on with an upgrade in title. Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Bruins, Flames, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Stars, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Flyers, Penguins, Avalanche, Sharks, Blues, Maple Leafs, Canucks, Capitals, Ducks, Panthers, Blue Jackets, Bill Guerin, Derek Morris, Tony Amonte, Chris Chelios, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Luc Robitaille, Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Mike Modano, Pierre Turgeon, Jason Arnott, Scott Niedermayer, Petr Sykora, Patrik Elias, Brian Rafalski, Bobby Holik, Luke Richardson, Curtis Joseph, Paul Kariya, Jeff Friesen

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