Let me start by saying that's a seemingly unfair title for this entry. But in flipping through the latest issue of The Hockey News, I noticed a page that listed the top salaries (not cap hits, but actual salary) for the upcoming season, broken up into 15 goalies, defensemen and forwards.
Noticeably missing? Any Hurricanes. Carolina did not post one player in the top 15 of any of the three categories. I'll tell you why that's good in a few minutes. But first, let's look at some fun items from the lists.
In net, Mikka Kiprusoff is the highest paid for next year, raking in $8.5 million (probably worth it, too, since he has to to deal with Mike Keenan). Not many big surprises on the list, though checking in at No. 12 was Boston's Manny Fernandez ($4.75 M), and he's likely the B's backup in 2008-09. Two Southeast netminders made the list: Tomas Vokoun at $5.5 million (eighth) and new Caps netminder Jose Theodore at No. 13 ($4.5 million). For the record, Cam Ward is set to make an $2.5 million this coming year, a $500,000 raise from last year. The final year of his deal will see him get half a million more and earn $3 million in 2009-10.
On the blueline, the biggest thing that stands out is Anaheim boasting three of the top 15 salaries for next season. Scott Niedermayer (eighth, $6.75 M), Chris Pronger (11th, $6.25 M) and Mathieu Schneider (14th, $5.75 M) all made the list. Tops was Philly rearguard Kimmo Timonen and new Ranger Wade Redden, who'll each bring home $8 million this season. Best-defensemen-of-our-generation Nicklas Lidstrom is fourth at $7.45 million, $50K less than No. 3 Zdeno Chara. Only Mike Green (No. 15 at $5.25 million) represents the Southeast.
Finally, at forward Dany Heatley will take home $10 million from the Sens next year, making him the highest paid player in the league by a million bucks (Crosby and Ovechkin will each get $9 million). With Jason Spezza (T-No. 4) set to make $8 million, the Sens join the Rangers as the only team with two players among the top-15 paid forwards. Last year's big free-agent acquisitions Scott Gomez (tied with Spezza at $8 M) and Chris Drury (last on the list at $7.1 million) will tie up plenty of coin long term in the Big Apple. Along with Ovechkin, the Southeast is represented by Ilya Kovalchuk (T-ninth at $7.5 M) and 13th-placed Vincent Lecavalier ($7.2 million).
This brings me back to Carolina. Eric Staal will make the most of any Cane this season, but he comes in at a fair rate of $5 million, and will then cash in next season as an RFA (Brian Burke says: Thanks for screwing up the second contract, ex-Oilers GM). Captain Rod Brind'Amour's second at $4 million this year, and will take home $3 million each of the following two seasons before his deal expires and he re-signs to take him into his mid-50s (would you bet against him doing it?). Ray Whitney's $3.55 million puts him just a notch above new blueliner Joni Pitkanen, who will be the top paid d-man at $3.5 million.
While some will surely disagree, GM Jim Rutherford has put Carolina in excellent position moving forward. Next season, Carolina will only need to pony up big cash for Staal and fellow RFAer Tuomo Ruutu (unless RFAs Casey Borer or Anton Babchuk or pending UFA Dennis Seidenberg has the kind of season that warrants a big raise). While having graybeards Whitney and Scott Walker tying up a combined $6 million in 2009-10 may not be ideal, if they can stay relatively healthy they'll be a bargain compared to the deals given to Markus Naslund ($8 million over two years by, yup, those they'll-never-learn Blueshirts) and the nauseating seven-year deal the Lightning gave Ryan Malone (I hope the Bucs got Mark Malone to play quarterback as part of the signing) at an average of $4.5 million of a season.
But Justin Williams' deal (even with the questionable knees) is among the league's best bargains at $3.5 million a year for the next three seasons. If Patrick Eaves can cash in on his considerable potential, he'll be making fourth-line money as a top-six forward. Even contracts that the team wouldn't mind shedding right now, like Frank Kaberle's, are reasonable in a world where Jeff FInger is making $14 million for four years in Toronto.
Couple the salary space (we won't call it cap space, because we all know Carolina works on a budget) with a rebuilt prospect pool that will include cheap contributors like Brandon Sutter, Zach Boychuk, Drayson Bowman and Jamie McBain, all ready to jump in before the decade is out, and the salary situation is in control.
So yes, the Canes have cash in the bank ... but they're not using it to line their pockets, their saving for the future.