The Flames' need, or at least want, for a top line center to play with Jarome Iginla seems to have expanded beyond the realms of fans playing armchair GM. During the second intermission of the Flames-Sharks game on Wednesday, TSN's Darren Dreger reported that, with the issue of re-signing Dion Phaneuf now all but officially out of the way, Darryl Sutter is shopping for such a center. He later reported this in his TSN.ca column as well.
Sutter's interest in a top line center is probably not news to Flames fans. After all, if you believe the Calgary sports scribes, he's been trying to get Olli Jokinen long before Jokinen's reported conflict with Florida management that is the fuel in the Joker's trade-rumor fire. The Flames have also been rumored to be front runners in the Mats Sundin sweepstakes for the past month. I still believe, however, that Jokinen would be the Flames' best option for a top line center if they could get him, so it was one particular quote of Dreger's that really caught my ear:
Sources say the Flames and Florida Panthers have already discussed Calgary's interest in Olli Jokinen, but the asking price is high - believed to be forward Alex Tanguay and a young player or a prospect.
- Darren Dreger
I was shocked at Florida's reported asking price for Jokinen. It seems like a major discount to me, since I think Jokinen has the most potential value of any of the "big four" centers on the market (Jokinen, Sundin, Marleau and Forsberg). Not only is he under contract for two more years, those two years come at a great price ($5.25M, coincidentally, the same hit as Tanguay's.)
Since I see Tanguay being traded as an inevitability if only for cap issues alone, trading him for Jokinen would be a coup for Sutter. However, Florida's reported asking price seems to be too good to be true to me, even from a trusted and respected source such as Dreger. While much stranger trades have certainly happened, I don't see this trade happening for a number of factors.
First, the primary reason for Tanguay being involved in trade rumors remains his salary and its impact on Calgary's 2009 cap situation. I've explained this in at least three previous posts so I won't elaborate. Yet, as I mentioned, Jokinen has the exact same cap hit as Tanguay's - $5.25 million. So unless Sutter manages to convince Florida to take another cap-eater such as Cory Sarich or Rhett Warrener, he won't improve his cap situation at all, beyond the minuscule amount that would be cut with the "young player" (Lombardi perhaps?).
Second, there is the obvious, but often overlooked factor of Tanguay's no-trade clause. The no trade clause is overlooked by some rumormongers who feel that, to paraphrase Eklund, players won't tend to stay at a party if asked to leave by the host. I agree with this assessment but think that players really want no-trade clauses so they can control where they go if they are placed on the block. Would Alex Tanguay accept a trade to Florida, a team seven points out of a playoff spot and about to trade their best asset?
I think that if Florida really is asking for only Tanguay and a young player/prospect for Jokinen, they are either bluffing in order to get better offers from other teams or just plain stupid. If it's the former, the most likely Jokinen-to-Flames deal I can see is:
Booth or Olesz?
I don't know if this trade is fair to Florida, however. Help me come up with a better trade. I do believe, though, that any Jokinen deal is contingent on Tanguay and his no trade clause, as I don't see him not being involved in a Jokinen deal.
So if the Flames couldn't get Olli out of Florida, let's look at the other three top line center possibilities: Forsberg, Sundin and Marleau as a huge longshot (mostly speculation by me).
Dreger's report has the Flames looking at Forsberg first. The Flames apparently have the cap space to do a one-year deal, and he would obviously be the least risky long term option, as they wouldn't have to trade anyone immediately. Forsberg could be a very high reward signing if he is indeed still in hockey shape. That is the key factor to me, and the biggest risk in the signing. At this point, though, based on the way Sutter operates I have a feeling Forsberg is the most likely possibility for Calgary, despite being in the reported running for Jokinen and Sundin.
The rumor that just hasn't gone away regarding the Flames remains Mats Sundin. To me, this has the worst risk-reward ratio of all the top line centers on the market. The Leafs probably want a deal similar to what Nashville gave for Forsberg last year - two 1st round picks and two prospects - perhaps even more than that, since unlike Forsberg, Sundin's body is not a wreck and he is still putting up impressive points on one of the worst teams in the league. The debate over Sundin's value is one of the few times I agree with Leafs fans - he's a better potential rental than Smyth, Forsberg, or any of the other rentals were last year. That doesn't mean, however, that I think it would be worthwhile for Calgary to acquire him. I think the Leafs would demand Dustin Boyd and I don't know if I'd be willing to part with him for a rental. My position on Sundin remains the same: it would only be worthwhile if it led to a Cup. (For potential clarification if it's needed: that statement does not necessarily mean I believe the Flames have a good shot to win the Cup.) I believe this is a realistic proposal the Leafs could ask of the Flames, but I wouldn't take it if I were Sutter:
Remove Boyd and I might be fine with it, but remove Boyd, and you remove Sundin. In short, I don't believe the Flames trading for Sundin would be worthwhile.
The last, but not least, but least likely top line center on the market that the Flames could get is Patrick Marleau. While they are not mentioned as much as the Eastern teams interested in Marleau, I have heard the Flames have interest too. Calgary makes sense for Marleau because of Sutter's history in San Jose. The biggest stumbling block for any Marleau trade is his impending $6.3 million salary. This obviously makes Calgary's cap dilemma even more complicated, which makes a Marleau trade a long shot. However, Marleau's salary also makes it seem to me that Calgary would have to give up the least to get him. Trading Tanguay for Marleau makes no financial sense but, like a potential Jokinen deal, they could dump at least some salary by adding in another cap eater. My theory: if the Flames got Marleau they would do so in a three way trade that gives San Jose the puck moving defenceman they need in addition to Tanguay. Maybe something like this?
SJ 2nd (08)
To San Jose:
SJ prospect/young player (Setoguchi?)
SJ 1st - contingent on Campbell signing extension with Sharks
In conclusion, I think that if Calgary were to acquire one of the four available ones, in order from most worthwhile to the Flames to least worthwhile, I rank them Jokinen, Marleau, Forsberg, and Sundin. I originally had Sundin above Forsberg, but he's only below him because Forsberg has virtually no risk involved outside of injury problems. I'm sure I might get comments from Leafs fans about why Marleau is higher than Sundin too. If this was just based on the potential point output for the rest of the year and playoffs, I'd put Sundin in second without hesitation. But I'm basing how worthwhile they could be to the Flames on more than just the short term. To me, focusing on the short term - is now until the end of the season even long enough to qualify as short term? - is only worthwhile if it can make us serious Cup contenders THIS year. Darryl Sutter gambled and lost badly on a rental last year with Brad Stuart. He should be more careful this year.
If the Flames were to acquire any of these four centers, there would be huge risk involved in each acquisition from their end. Although Forsberg is by far the safest idea for the Flames, to thrust him into the top line center role is taking a risk that could impact the Flames' fate at the end of the year. Trading for Jokinen scarcely improves the cap "dilemma", so the Flames can say goodbye to at least Kristian Huselius if they traded for Jokinen. Patrick Marleau poses an even bigger financial risk than Jokinen, but poses the least risk of losing prospects or picks. Overall, Jokinen is still the best option I see for Calgary.
Another part of Dreger's report I haven't mentioned, though, is the second last sentence, which is an important thing to keep in mind when making such ambitious rumor mongering.
Forsberg, Sundin and Jokinen are longshots and may never be available or attainable.
- Darren Dreger
The biggest reason why is not for market reasons, obviously, but the risks involved for Calgary.