While a looming player lockout has some top NHL teams tightening the purse strings, teams like the Detroit Red Wings are still spending, and spending big. The disparity may preview the upcoming labor battle as teams with means are likely to battle against teams without.
The NHL's agreement with the players' union expires on September 15, 2004, and with seemingly no new labor agreement on the horizon, team owners are threatening a lockout. Teams are operating without knowing whether the NHL will have a salary cap, a luxury tax, or will play at all during the 2004-05 season.
Still, the Red Wings lured former Dallas Stars longtime captain Derian Hatcher with a 5-year, $30 million contract. And when the Wings lost Sergei Federov to Anaheim, Detroit added left wing Ray Whitney to a multimillion-dollar deal. Such high-profile, big-dollar signings either express high optimism for the league's upcoming labor struggle or represent the "win now" attitude that has become so pervasive in professional sports.
That attitude-reflected in the Wings' $68 million payroll last year (second highest in the NHL)-doesn't always result in Stanley Cup glory. The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim ($39.2 million payroll, the 16th highest) swept the Wings in the first round of the playoffs this spring.