Regardless of what you think about Sutter, one can't help but somewhat admire his vagueness in managing the Flames. Almost every trade or signing comes without warning or anticipation, and he never makes trades for the sake of doing so. I have no idea how he keeps the media out of his office.
With that in mind, as excited I was for the UFA season this year after reading Eklund for the past couple weeks, deep down I knew I had no idea what Darryl had up his sleeve. From all indications, however, I can't blame Sutter for not trying - Eklund reported that Smyth chose Colorado over Calgary in the end. Another one of Sutter's likely targets, Hannan, joined Smyth in Colorado, which to me was a bigger disappointment almost than not getting Smyth. The Flames fan mantra has been for three seasons now: "In Sutter We Trust." With that in mind, I'll examine the Flames' moves so far, from the perspective of a fan who feels this is a crucial year for the Flames - if Iron Mike doesn't work out, this season could turn into a nightmare which could have dire consequences for the future.
Above all, I applaud Sutter for showing restraint and not resorting to, arguably, old-NHL GM tactics like the Flyers and Rangers have. Instead, Sutter seems to have focussed most of his attention on re-signing our "Big Four" RFAs - Iginla, Kiprusoff, Regehr and Phaneuf. Iginla and Regehr are already on the verge of signing for BARGAIN prices - Iginla $7 million a year for 5 years, Regehr $4 million for 5 years (which if you ask me was the best deal made today.) These deals show our players' commitment and believing in our team's potential. Sutter understands the philosophy of building a team around franchise players, not building a team OF franchise players.
This raises the question, of course, how is Sutter doing in that regard? Sutter signed Sarich from Tampa Bay for $3.6M a year, presumably to replace Stuart. Roman Hamrlik left us for a lucrative (and overpaying) contract with the Canadiens. I feel the same way about this deal as I felt when Craig Conroy left for L.A. back in 2004 - sad to see him go, but there's no way I'd pay that much for him. Of course, we also have Aucoin, but whether or not he was intended to replace anyone I'm not sure. After Stuart signs elsewhere, I can see Sutter acquiring another D-man.
However, amid these good moves lies today's signing of 35-year-old Owen Nolan. Sutter has been interested in Nolan for at least two seasons, but I thought the rumours were dead. Nope, Sutter gave him a one-year, $2 m, incentive laden contract. When I first heard it from Ek, I prayed it wouldn't come true...then I swore at my computer for about five minutes when it was confirmed by TSN. Since then, however, I've calmed down a bit. I didn't realize Nolan scored 16 goals and 40 points last year for Phoenix in 76 games (! he's not as injury prone as I thought). His contract is relatively risk free, it's only $2 million, one year and incentive laden. Essentially, he's this year's version of Jeff Friesen, who signed a similar contract with the Flames last year. On one hand, Nolan could become my new "*******' LEOPOLD!!" or this year, "*******' ZYUZIN!!" scapegoat who I uncategorically and half-jokingly blame for every mistake on the ice, whether or not he's on or not, or Sutter could surprise me like he usually does with these moves. However, I don't think Sutter is done with the UFA market either - he has plenty of cash to burn, but short-term moves are more likely.
The Flames desperately need to get bigger and get some playmaking forwards. There are plenty of forwards still on the market. On Sunday, Jeremaine Franklin from TSN reported Sutter intends to cap his payroll $2 million under the league cap of $50 million. With Sarich and Nolan's cap hits factored in (nhlnumbers.com hasn't updated Calgary's payroll since two days before UFA Day) I calculate our payroll to be about $42 million - this gives Sutter $6 million to spend. The contract extensions we are giving the Big Four don't come into effect until next season, so I'm guessing Sutter will sign a few short term deals. Personally, if Sutter wants to keep playing risky this summer (he gambled everything when he hired Keenan, and from what I've read didn't make much of an effort to re-sign Stuart and Hammer) I've got a feeling he might go after Forsberg...but then again, that might be my virtual GM from NHL 2000 talking...Nils Ekman is another possibility, he played with Darryl in San Jose and is a proven 50-point scorer. I'd really like to see him here actually.
In Sutter We Trust?