One of the few flaws in Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren's rebuilding process a few years ago was that he got too close to the salary cap with contracts such as the eight-year pact given to Danny Briere.
When injuries forced Holmgren to tinker with the team during the 2008-09 season, he eventually had to waive veterans Glen Metropolit and Ossi Vaananen to stay under the cap. Critics cited the losses of those key role players as one reason why the Flyers lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Penguins.
Holmgren learned from his mistakes. Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, arguably the best in the business, apparently didn't.
Lamoriello gave a massive contract to forward Ilya Kovalchuk in the offseason that put the Devils right up against the cap.
Just three games into the season, the team started paying the price (no pun intended).
Playing against the division-rival Penguins on Monday, New Jersey dressed just 15 skaters - three fewer than usual - because two players were injured, a third was suspended, and Lamoriello had no cap room with which to replace them in the lineup. The Devils lost 3-1 and fell to 0-2-1 on the season.
Both injured players were still out Wednesday, leaving the Devils with 16 skaters against Buffalo, but they pulled out a 1-0 overtime win.
Lamoriello got "lucky" Wednesday night when he learned that Brian Rolston will miss an extended period of time due to surgery for a sports hernia. While Rolston is on long-term injured reserve, his hefty salary won't count toward the cap.
So for now, it appears, the Devils again will be able to field a full team. And, hey, Lamoriello is a brilliant GM, so maybe he'll end up with the last laugh as he sips from the Cup.
But the Devils embarrassed themselves. When was the last time a pro team in any sport put itself at a competitive disadvantage by not being able to field a full squad because of mismanagement?
And as the season winds down next spring, when the Penguins and Devils are fighting for playoff position, New Jersey fans can look back to Monday's game as one they basically threw away.
Suddenly, waiving Glen Metropolit and Ossi Vaananen doesn't look quite so bad. At least Holmgren always has been able to field a full team.