I'm sure I wasn't the only Flames fan who almost had a heart attack when they logged on to Hockeybuzz to find a Phaneuf trade rumor on the front page. I probably take Eklund's rumors more seriously than most should. I'm still pale skinned and shivering with the possibility. However, the idea of Phaneuf being traded is both more and less possible than some might think.
There should be no doubt that Phaneuf is Darryl Sutter's #1 priority. He is the primary reason for the Tanguay trade rumors (or he might not be, depending on what the Flames would get for Tanguay.) I laid out the current cap dilemma the Flames find themselves in on my blog post on the 19th. The decision that Sutter makes in regards to Dion could affect the franchise for the next ten years.
Last week I wrote that Dion might take a home town discount like Iginla or Regehr did. This would certainly require less contracts to be dumped, but it's a huge if. Sutter's secretive GM nature means that nobody really knows how the Phaneuf contract negotiations are going. Most reports on Phaneuf call him a player with supreme confidence. I have seen Phaneuf in more advertisements in three years than I have seen Iginla do in six. He even managed to get himself in one of those Esquire watch ads in Sports Illustrated. (It might have been Esquire or not, all I know is it was the same watch Tom Brady endorsed.) Dion should end up with at least a $7 million salary, but who knows how much that could be when the cap goes up again.
The higher salary Phaneuf wants, the more salaries that might need to be dumped on the Flames in order to create a balance between keeping the franchise players and meeting team needs. Essentially, what it might come down to is: how much would Sutter be willing to give up for his probable franchise defenceman?
Taking into consideration Kevin Lowe's offer sheet escapades last summer, if the Flames and Dion Phaneuf cannot reach an agreement by July 1, he must be traded. At first, the idea of him being traded seemed absurd to me, as even if the Flames and Phaneuf couldn't reach an agreement, they would get four first round draft picks in compensation (four first rounders are awarded on any offer sheet worth over $5 million a year.) However, Darryl Sutter cannot control where these offer sheets come from. Conventionally thinking, Sutter would have to make a trade where Calgary recieved the equivalent of those four first rounders. I think all Flames fans would agree, though, that they'd rather see Phaneuf shipped to far away Jersey as opposed to seeing him play the next eight years in, say, Edmonton. That is, if we have to part ways. If.
Most of you seem to have taken the Phaneuf rumor a lot less seriously than I did, and with good reason. The indisputable fact remains that the Flames must re-sign Dion before July 1st if they wish to keep him. If they don't, they either have to trade him or run the risk of losing him to a close rival for a long time. The Phaneuf decision may turn out being the most important transaction Darryl Sutter has ever made as GM of the Flames, with the ramifications potentially reaching into the next decade. To many of you it may seem like not much of a decision at all. I agree with you, if I had to choose between losing Dion Phaneuf or making him the highest paid player on the team, I would pick the latter in a heartbeat.
Assuming the NHL cap raises to around $55 million for next year, the Flames will have $17 million in cap space ($22 million if they trade Alex Tanguay). Unfortunately, math's never been my strong suit. So, Flames fans, help me out on this. I ask you some questions to contemplate regarding Dion.
1. With a $55 million cap, how much do you see Dion's cap hit being? Remember, the cap hit is the total salary divided by number of years on the contract. An 8-year, $80-million contract would have a cap hit of $10 million a year, which seems reasonable to me given the current market value (it would tie him with Briere and Vanek for highest-paid player in the NHL.) Will Phaneuf make the Flames drive up the market value?
2. Based on the extension what contracts would the Flames have to dump?
3. Will Phaneuf's extension hinder the ability of the Flames to solve team needs of speed, a power play and a top line center?
4. Am I being paranoid? I have a good feeling the answer is "yes". Remember, this is all just speculation. Contract negotiations are a long and winding road and who knows what will happen. I would feel nothing but relief if my scenarios prove to be false and the Flames sign Phaneuf to a long extension. Which is what I deep down believe will still happen.
On a more positive note, in their last game before the NHL all-star break, the Flames squeaked by the Wild 2-1 to take another inevitably brief lead in the Northwest. (Colorado and Minnesota play each other on Thursday and Vancouver still has a game left, making it impossible for the Flames to hold the lead. The game winner was scored by Craig Conroy, and Stephane Yelle scored the first goal. This is the seventh straight game that Jarome Iginla has not scored a goal (excluding his shootout winner in Minnesota last Wednesday), yet it's also the Flames' third straight win. Kristian Huselius is also cold, with just 2 points in the last 7 games. Yet the Flames keep winning. However, the three games the Flames have won have come:
- in a shootout against Minnesota, Huselius scored and Iginla scored the winning SO goal
- against the bottom dwelling Kings
- against Minnesota again tonight (congratulations)
Still, it's good to know the Flames can win without their two top line wingers after the four-game losing streak which preceded the three game winning streak, in which Iginla and Huselius, coincidentally, didn't get any points.