Bags of money won't buy a Cup in this year's market

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Do you think the Chicago Blackhawks in the West and the Tampa Bay Lightning in the East will meet in the Stanley Cup Final next spring?

Show of hands, please.

Hmm, this class might be smarter than a room full of NHL owners after all.

Okay, this one's a little tougher: In the years since the NHL returned from a season-long lockout, how many clubs have won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships?

Bonus points if you can name the last repeater even before the league shut down for the sake of cost certainty.

If your answers are none and Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and '98 consider yourself more in tune with the history of probabilities than say, oh, Marion Hossa is at the moment.

Got an idea as to where we're going here?

Since this is, at least in part, a class on the economics of sports, I assume you all know the rules of supply and demand, and that when there are far too many dollars (because the NHL spending "cap" has risen every season since its inception) chasing far too few players (a result of owners and their general managers tying up even the unproven with long-term contracts in a rush to keep them from the free agent market), the stupid amounts of money thrown around in the first two days of the 2008 NHL free agent period is not as stupid as it would appear.

It's just the direct result of an artificially constructed cap system that, after three seasons in operation, can easily be termed an abject failure in regard to the goal of "cost certainty."

But since this is also a class in economics as related to sports, it would appear to your dedicated instructor that the Blackhawks and Lightning bought themselves a goodly amount of publicity but vastly overpaid for talents that don't supply all of their many needs.

Consider spending $57.12 million dollars for defenseman Brian Campbell and another $22.5 million for goalie Christobal Huet. For those of you who are mathematically challenged, that's near $87 million dollars over the life of the respective deals -- eight years for Campbell, four for Huet.

For that, the Blackhawks got a stellar puck-rushing defenseman who is no great value in his own end -- an area where the Hawks had serious problems last season. They also got a goalie who just last February was shipped from Montreal to Washington because he wasn't considered a No.1 netminder over the long haul. Now he joins a No.1 goalie in Nikolai Khabibulin, who even if the Hawks wanted to move him, is somewhat encumbered by the $6.75 million due for the upcoming season.

Now, it's acknowledged that Khabibulin has not been everything the Hawks have hoped for when they signed him to a then-staggering contract in the free agent market four seasons ago. It's a given that they will always have one highly paid netminder on the bench during every game this season. That's a lot of money to give a guy a good seat -- money that might have been better spent on the kind of stay-at-home defenseman the team truly needs.

Given that the Hawks were horribly weak in their own end last season and that Campbell will likely do nothing to change that, it's hard to imagine they've improved markedly despite the tremendous cash outlay.

GM Dale Tallon tried to justify that expenditure (a cost increase that no doubt has deceased owner William "Dollar Bill" Wirtz sinking ever deeper into his grave) by saying that the club had some momentum in regard to ticket and sponsorship sales, but it's hard to imagine those two items will cover the overall costs of a team that didn't even make the playoffs last season even if they do qualify next spring. Harder still to see the Hawks as Cup finalists.

One could make the same argument for the Lightning, a team that also failed to qualify for the playoffs last season and played so poorly that it was able to secure the No.1 pick in the 2008 Entry Draft: a blue-chipper in the form of 18-year old Steven Stamkos.

The Lightning, which also paid a few bucks to revamp its hockey department, committed to about $75 million (figuring-in possible bonuses) in a makeover that even the folks at Harpo Productions would conclude was excessive. For the money, Tampa Bay got some talent and depth at both the forward and defensive positions, but they still have a question mark in goal that is about as extreme as Ty Pennington's ego.

Unproven Mike Smith is the starter. To be fair, the Bolts picked up veteran Olaf Kolzig, a former Vezina Trophy-winner, from Washington. Then again, Kolzig was optioned to the bench last season when the Caps picked up the now departed Huet. A combination of Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur these two are not.

The wheeling and dealing leaves coach and former TV commentator-turned coach again Barry Melrose (a head-scratching hire in its own right) with a team that, with a few recent minor signings, has nudged itself over the cap limit, This development has inspired a request to their best defenseman, Dan Boyle, that he waive his no-trade clause. As of this writing, there had been no response.

Change can be good, but it must be change for the better and the Lightning are a little loose in proving to anyone except themselves that they've done that just yet.

And that brings us to Hossa.

The initial knee-jerk reaction in media was that Hossa selflessly turned down megabuck, multiyear offers from a slew of teams to play for the Cup with defending champion Detroit.

Somewhat overlooked was the fact that Hossa happened to play for the Cup less than a month ago and had he been at least as quick in the Red Wings zone as he was in making the decision to join them, he might have scored the goal that would have forced a Game 7 for his now ex-teammates, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

That puts him in a somewhat unfavorable light in Pittsburgh, where there is a cogent argument that says had Hossa offered to sign a one-year deal with the Pens or had he at least let them know he had no intention of coming back before the free-agent market opened, they could possibly have kept enough of their core to unseat the defending champions next season.

Even if that didn't happen, it's reasonable to question what Hossa, who is now joining his fourth team in as many seasons, is doing. It's one thing to play, oh, say 20 some seasons with the same team before going off to chase the elusive Cup dream with another club. It's something else again for a 29-year-old with more team sweaters than to go Cup shopping.

Hossa, a client of Edmonton-based agent Rich Winter, said the decision was difficult, but Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero let it be known that he wasn't offered the one-year option that Winter gave to Detroit. (Memo to Ray: read the history of another Winter client, Dominik Hasek, and his forced trade to Detroit. You got away easy).

Now, this is a good deal for Detroit to be sure, but history says the team on the rise often has a better chance to get back to the Cup final rather than the team trying to defend the silverware. The cynics among you might argue that Hossa wanted out of Pittsburgh simply because, as rumored, he didn't like playing for head coach Michel Therrien. But a more likely scenario is that Hossa is aware that several of his ex-teammates in Pittsburgh moved on when the Pens couldn't find money under the salary cap to pay them while several of Detroit's best players will be playing for contracts next season, and if he's on the ice with those Red Wings, he's likely positioned himself for even greater riches as a free-agent at season's end.

Assuming he can stay healthy --and rest assured that will be a priority -- Hossa's plan appears to be to pocket $7.4 million and an oversized ring and then sell himself to a high bidder not as the guy who missed his chance at the Cup, but as a seasoned player and a Cup-winner.

He'll likely get the money, but history shows he's got no guarantee of the Cup.

He'll also have the reputation of something less than a team guy.

Oh and one last question: How many in this class are wondering if Hossa has any?

Well, what do you know?