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Stu Cowan, CanWest News Service
Published: Sunday, January 14, 2007

The key to success in the new NHL -- with a $44-million US salary cap this season -- is for general managers to get the most bang for their bucks.

In other words, it you're paying big money for a player, he'd better produce.

After looking through the team-by-team salary lists on, I discovered there are 70 players in the NHL this season earning $4 million or more (43 forwards, 18 defencemen and nine goaltenders).

Every team in the league has at least one player at or above the $4-million tax bracket. The Montreal Canadiens have two: Saku Koivu ($4.75 million) and Alex Kovalev ($4.5).

The team with the most players earning $4 million or more is the New Jersey Devils with five: Patrik Elias ($7.5 million), Martin Brodeur ($5.2), Scott Gomez ($5.0), Brian Rafalski ($4.2) and Brian Gionta ($4.0).

As the NHL heads into the second half of the season, it's interesting to note which financial strategies have paid off so far -- and which haven't.

Heading into Saturday's action, the Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres and Nashville Predators were the three best teams in the NHL.

Ducks general manager Brian Burke decided to spend his big money on defencemen, with Scott Niedermayer ($6.75) and Chris Pronger ($6.25) earning a combined $13 million, or 30 per cent of the team's payroll. Both players have produced, combining for 82 points and a plus-34 (all stats through Friday's games). But Pronger is now out with a broken foot.

The only player on the Sabres earning $4 million or more is Daniel Briere, who was awarded $5 million by an arbitrator during the off-season. It has been money well spent, with Briere leading the team in scoring with 51 points in 44 games.

The Predators have two players earning more than $4 million, with Paul Kariya and Jason Arnott both taking home $4.5 million. Kariya leads the team with 47 points, while Arnott has 29.

The three worst teams in the NHL heading into Saturday's games were the Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets and St. Louis Blues.

Former Flyers GM Bobby Clarke decided to spend big money on forwards Peter Forsberg ($5.75 million) and Simon Gagne ($5.25). Gagne leads the team with 33 points, but Forsberg has missed 16 games due to injuries and the Flyers are 0-13-3 without him. It doesn't help that Clarke, who resigned in October, signed slow-footed defencemen Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje to contracts that pay them $3.5 million each. Hatcher, who is averaging almost 24 minutes of ice time per game, incredibly has only one assist and is minus-19, while Rathje had one point in 18 games and is out with a back injury.

The Blue Jackets have three players earning at least $4 million: Sergei Fedorov ($6.08 million), Rick Nash ($4.5) and defenceman Adam Foote ($4.6). Fedorov has 28 points, Nash 30, while Foote has eight points and is a team-worst minus-18.

The highest-paid player on the Blues is Jay McKee at $4 million. The defenceman, who suffered a broken hand early in the season, is pointless in 21 games and minus-9.

It's common knowledge you're never going to win the Stanley Cup if you don't get great goaltending. So it's interesting to note there are only five goalies who are the highest-paid players on their team: Chicago's Nikolai Khabibulin ($6.75 million), Vancouver's Roberto Luongo (tied with team captain Markus Naslund at $6 million), Dallas's Marty Turco ($6 million), Washingon's Olaf Kolzig ($5.45) and Edmonton's Dwayne Roloson ($4.5).

The Lightning let Khabibulin get away as a free agent after the winning the Cup in 2004, electing instead to spend their big money on three forwards. Brad Richards ($7.8 million), Vincent Lecavalier ($7.16) and Martin St. Louis ($6.0) account for 48 per cent of the team's payroll. While the Big Three have combined for 154 points, the Lightning ranks 22nd in goals-against average at 3.13 with goalies Marc Denis ($2.8 million) and Johan Holmqvist ($600,000).

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