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THN.com Blog: Avalanche consistently strong at the salary floor

Paul Stastny of the Colorado Avalanche reacts after scoring an empty-netter against the Atlanta Thrashers with Daniel Winnik and Ryan O'Byrne. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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Paul Stastny of the Colorado Avalanche reacts after scoring an empty-netter against the Atlanta Thrashers with Daniel Winnik and Ryan O'Byrne. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Shortly after Greg Sherman was hired as GM of the Colorado Avalanche in the summer of 2009, he said the following sentence with a straight face: “The Colorado Avalanche organization is about winning, so certainly our expectation is that.”

Most others couldn’t hold their guffaws over that one and it had nothing to do with the awkward syntax. Most of us assumed the Avalanche were going to continue to bumble their way around the bottom of the NHL standings, while running the organization on a shoestring budget.

Most people wouldn’t be able to pick Sherman out of a police lineup, but there is no doubt he has proved his critics wrong. After Sunday night’s 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens, the Avalanche were riding a six-game winning streak, sitting atop the standings in the Northwest Division and had an overall record of 62-40-13 (.596 points percentage) under Sherman as GM.

Their success this season has come in spite of the fact the organization has been ravaged by injuries, including not having Peter Mueller all season and missing the likes of Chris Stewart, Craig Anderson and Kyle Quincey, who’s out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, for extended periods of time. And even then things have worked out. If not for all the injuries to the blueline corps, the Avs might not have found out so early what a good NHL player Kevin Shattenkirk would be.

Giving Sherman too much credit for the resurgence of the Avalanche would represent a case of gilding the lily just a little. Much of the organization’s young talent was already in place when Sherman took over and since the hiring of Joe Sacco as coach came just one day after Sherman took over as GM, we have to assume the decision to hire Sacco wasn’t entirely Sherman’s. And the fact he was assistant GM for seven years prior to his hiring indicates he was a big part of the brain trust that put the Avalanche into dire straits in the first place.

But the one thing Sherman has done with the Avalanche has been to keep them competitive on a ridiculously low budget. The bulk of the Avalanche roster for the past two seasons has been homegrown with a couple of acquisitions from outside. In fact, aside from Kevin Porter, Tomas Fleishmann, Ryan O’Byrne and Matt Hunwick, the bulk of the roster has either been drafted and developed or signed as free agents. The Avalanche are still spending to the cap floor, proving that a successful rebuild can be done without spending stupid amounts of money. For the Avalanche, building from within is pretty much just a euphemism for not spending money. It’s not as though they’ve had a choice in the matter.

And that’s where the Avalanche might enjoy their biggest advantage. While much of the focus of the shortcomings in the CBA has centered on the financial advantages revenue-rich teams enjoy, the fact remains the Avalanche have turned their situation into an advantage as well. They’ve cashed in on revenue-sharing money for the past two summers, but have been forced to keep it and spend it on the players they have instead of frittering it away on high-priced and unproductive free agents with long-term contracts that don’t make any sense.

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That can’t be making their competitors very happy, particularly the ones that are spending up to the cap and looking up at the Avalanche in the NHL standings. But it does provide at least a glimmer of hope that a team can survive and even thrive in today’s NHL if they simply draft and develop their players properly and live within a budget.

LOWDOWN ON PHOENIX SALE

Well, we’re finally about to find out whether or not Phoenix is truly a viable hockey market. With the Coyotes seemingly there to stay, fans can now fall in love with Kyle Turris and Shane Doan without worrying they’ll be playing in Winnipeg next season.

Thanks to the sweetheart deal prospective owner Matthew Hulsizer was able to strike with the City of Glendale, he now basically has five years to turn the ship around. A source with knowledge of the deal said Hulsizer basically paid $50 million out of pocket to purchase the Coyotes from the league. The $100 million up-front payment from the taxpayers of Glendale went directly to the NHL and, according to the source, Hulsizer had to sign a credit note of $50 million to the league to protect it against having to prop up the Coyotes if Hulsizer, like former owner Jerry Moyes, ever decides to stop paying the bills.

Another $97 million will be paid to Hulsizer over the next five years in exchange for managing the arena, which could also turn over more money to Hulsizer if he can bring in more revenue from non-hockey events.

That will go a long way toward covering the losses Hulsizer will endure for the next five seasons.

The Coyotes situation provides a blueprint for all would-be owners of NHL teams. And that is, get the public purse to put in as much money for new arenas as possible. That way if things go south, the city will only be too happy to pour even more money into it for fear it will have to padlock the doors.

In the real world, people call that throwing good money after bad.

 

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear every Monday throughout the season.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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