It's not enough to give your blood, sweat and tears if you want to compete in the NHL.
It takes money and brains as well.
Teams that want to compete for the Stanley Cup championship have to go about the business of building a team by excelling in the draft, finding functional players through free agency, trading for solid players and finding superstars in any way possible.
This requires excellence up and down the organization as well as the ability to act quickly and decisively.
When you are a team like the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins or Vancouver Canucks, you have enough money to make things happen whenever you need to make a deal. Having the financial resources does not mean you will know what to do when the opportunity arises, but if you can find the right deal you can complete it.
That's what the Rangers did during the summer when they acquired Rick Nash. While it was a trade that cost the Rangers Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a first-round draft pick, they wouldn't have been able to make the deal if they didn't have the cash to pay Nash's imposing $7.8 million salary (source: USAToday.com).
Dubinsky, Anisimov and Erixon will be paid $7.825 million in combined salary, while the Rangers will pay nearly that same amount to one player.
That's how the rich operate. But the Rangers did not win the Stanley Cup or even make the Stanley Cup Finals last year. Instead, they were beaten by the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals in six games. The Devils would push the Los Angeles Kings to six games before losing in a 6-1 massacre.
The Devils are not among the NHL's financially secure teams. Neither are the Phoenix Coyotes, yet they made it to the Western Conference Finals where they were dispatched by the Kings.
How do teams that teeter on the brink of financial viability thrive on the ice?
They have top-of-the-line general managers.
Lou Lamoriello of the Devils is clearly one of the best leaders in all of sports and probably has done more than any other NHL general manager with what he has.
Don Maloney of the Phoenix Coyotes runs his rudderless team with the NHL's cash and does not have much to spend. Yet he built a team that features a hard-nosed and physical defense along with strong goaltending to have its best postseason in team history.
When the Devils lost superstar Zach Parise to the Minnesota Wild during free agency, it was clear that the Wild were stepping things up financially.
However, Lamoriello refused to acknowledge that the Devils were unable to compete in the free-agent market. He said that Parise indicated to him that he wanted to go home to Minnesota to play and that was the main reason behind his decision (source:Yahoo.com).
That's not Lamoriello denying reality, it's coping with it. If he acknowledges his team's lack of financial wherewithal, he's providing a reason for failure in the future.
That's not in Lamoriello's nature.
Maloney's team is probably in worse financial shape than Lamoriello's. However, instead of concentrating on what he couldn't do, Maloney directed his focus on the task at hand: creating a winning culture.
There are no guarantees what kind of team the Coyotes will have this season, but last year, Keith Yandle, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Rotislav Klesla, Michal Rozsival (recently signed by Chicago), Adrian Aucoin and Derek Morris gave them a strong and consistent defensive crew. Mike Smith was excellent in goal, compiling a 2.21 goals against average, a .930 save percentage and eight shutouts.
With an opportunistic offense led by Shane Doan and Ray Whitney, the Coyotes were quite competitive.
Both Lamoriello and Maloney have been successful because they are highly skilled in personnel procurement and building a philosophy for their teams.
Lamoriello has done it over the long haul, but that does not diminish Maloney's accomplishments.
They are two of the sharpest general managers in the NHL.