The Flames won an important character game against San Jose tonight, 5-4. Not only did they beat the league's best road team at home, they also beat the second-ranked Sharks for the second straight game. Jarome Iginla remained goalless for the eighth straight game, so the Flames remedied this with a hat trick from...Owen Nolan! It was what you might call Trade Bait Night for both the Flames and Sharks. Patrick Marleau opened the scoring in the first, knocking home his own rebound. He later almost tipped a second goal in later. (For those keeping track Marleau now has 8 points in his last 9 games.) For the Flames, Alex Tanguay got two assists including a pretty pass on Nolan's first goal. On top of it all, Miikka Kiprusoff was excellent despite allowing 4 goals (none of which could be blamed on him) as he continues to get back to form after the wake up call in the form of Curtis Joseph.
What was even better news for Flames fans than the win, though, was Pierre McGuire's announcement from the Flames bench at the start of the second that Calgary had reached an agreement in principle with Dion Phaneuf for a long extension, reportedly at a cap hit of $6.5 million a year. (I have heard 6 years and $39 million). Darryl Sutter seems to have perfected the art of contract negotiations. This might be his best deal yet, even better than Iginla's $7 million a year for the next five years. I cannot tell you how much of a relief it is to finally be able to kill these ridiculous Phaneuf trade rumors that Eklund reports day after day. With said rumors out of the way, the first question raised by TSN's professional rumormongerers was, of course, how it impacted Calgary's cap situation.
If it is true that Dion's hit will be $6.5 million, then the Flames now have approximately $44.5 million committed to next season's payroll. The TSN pundits predicted the cap might rise to $56 million next year, which seems reasonable as it increased from $44 million to $50.3 million at the end of last year. That leaves the Flames with $11.5 million to re-sign Kristian Huselius and Daymond Langkow (the only two of Calgary's pending UFAs who I think the Flames should make a big priority to try and re-sign). I've explained before that Kristian Huselius is eligible for around the same hit as Alex Tanguay ($5.25 million). Assuming he does get this salary, that's $6.25 million left. Langkow's salary is a bit of a mystery at this point. Patrick Sharp, who is on pace to score 14 less points than Langkow at this point, got a 4 year contract with a $3.9 million hit. At least $3.9 million leaves Calgary with $2.35 million left. If Calgary is serious about acquiring a top line center, as I believe they are and should be, this is nowhere near enough.
The first thing to be done to get us out of this cap predicament is to trade Alex Tanguay. Yes, I realize his potential and I realize what he can do for the Flames. The fact remains that Tanguay isn't playing up to his $5.25 million hit, and he is the easiest way out. While I would prefer waiting until after this season to trade him, as I think he could be a valuable playoff performer, that leaves less time to negotiate extensions for Langkow and Huselius. Another way of dumping salary would be to dump some of the salary in our expensive defence. The first player Sutter should look to trade is Rhett Warrener. Although he has a ton of heart and is still a great defensive defenceman when healthy, it simply isn't worth it for Calgary to pay him $2.35 million. Cory Sarich may be another possibility at $3.6 million. Fellow Flames fans, what do you see in him? He hasn't done anything to impress me since arriving here. Another, but less likely, possibility I see is Sutter trading Huselius and/or Langkow for cheaper, perhaps younger players.
The possibility of Dion being traded appears now to be dead. With his name on a new six year contract, the Flames' focus shifts towards either clearing cap space to re-sign Huselius and Langkow (among possible others), or trading them. If we were to re-sign both we would almost certainly have to trade Alex Tanguay and probably some of our defence if we really want a top line center.
I've been blogging about this for the past week, so I apologize if I'm getting repetitive. But I ask you, Flames fans, what do you think Darryl Sutter should do to get out of his cap crunch?