For me, the past 45 days have been spent wanting the playoffs to go on as long as possible, to prolong the inevitably long offseason for the Calgary Flames. Oh, and because it makes for better hockey, but I digress. The offseason is finally here. And my first blog post since the Flames' elimination from the playoffs will focus on two important Flames rumors: Daymond Langkow's extension and the long running rumors about Darryl Sutter pursuing top-line centers Patrick Marleau or Olli Jokinen. The re-signing of Langkow may have a symbiotic relationship with acquiring one of these players because they have the impact on the team's improvement that merely re-signing Langkow does not; additionally, Langkow's long, expensive contract could only handcuff the Flames in the future, potentially dark years if Darryl Sutter fails to acquire either player, since Sutter's best opportunity to improve the team, starting with the center, is now.
The delay in officially announcing Langkow's extension has me worried for a different reason than it potentially falling through: whether the deal is a good idea in the first place. The reported terms of 4 years and $20 million are undoubtedly fair market value for Langkow. However, Langkow's age, combined with the fact the contract runs for 4 years at $5 million per, and the condition of the Flames in the short term, make me wonder whether it is really worth it to re-sign the center.
Langkow will be 32 years old at the start of next season. His reported contract not only handcuffs the Flames' cap space for 2009, it places them at risk of paying prime money for a center who could be past his prime well before the contract expires. Re-signing Langkow gives the Flames only $6 million to spend on signing seven more players. I have already detailed this, and have made well known the fact that I do not think the Flames will be any better in 2009. Re-signing Langkow is a move that will certainly strengthen the Flames' chances of making the playoffs for the fifth straight season. But will the $5 million anchor tied to the team really help, or hinder their chances of being more than constant first round exits in the coming years?
There is optimism beyond 2009 for the Flames. As it stands, after 2009 they will have $26 million in cap space (if cap projections prove correct) to spend on 13 players. $26 million is a fair bit, even with inflation. However, Sutter's prime opportunity to bring the Flames a first line center is now. Olli Jokinen and Patrick Marleau both appear to be on the market. Do the Flames have the assets to acquire either of these centers? I conclude no, unfortunately.
Every time I ask my fellow Flames fans whether or not the Flames can really acquire Jokinen or Marleau, they always bring up a proposal that usually contains some combination of Matthew Lombardi, Alex Tanguay, Dustin Boyd or another of the Flames' prospects, and a top draft pick or two. I would like to express my confident opinion that neither Doug Wilson nor Jacques Martin will take a speedy-but-offensively useless center to replace their top center on their teams. Dustin Boyd is still the Flames' top prospect and I believe he is a given in any trade for a top line center. I am willing to trade him and pretty well any other prospect for that, but don't forget that the Flames are ranked very, very low on prospects and Boyd isn't rated THAT highly. Alex Tanguay simply has to be moved, if only for financial reasons, if the Flames are to acquire either player, but I don't think San Jose or Florida would want him, so he would have to be salary-dumped in a separate deal. (While we're on the subject of salary dumps, neither of these teams want Adrian Aucoin either). A 1st round pick is also a certainty in a trade for either player, but I'm sure Columbus (my pick to win the Marleau sweepstakes) or another team could give a better pick than the Flames' mid-rounder. Now that I am done criticizing what I see as a pipe dream of some Flames fans, I should offer what I think the Flames could give for Jokinen or Marleau. The problem is that I can't come up with anything better.
San Jose may be trading Marleau because he is too expensive and possibly past his prime, but they will still want a decent return for their captain. They are still very close to a Cup, and the wrong move with Marleau could close their window of opportunity. Columbus' reported offer of Nikolai Zherdev and the #6 overall pick is an offer the Flames cannot beat. As for Florida, it is important to remember they asked for Marian Gaborik from Minnesota and the Sedin twins from Vancouver. If you believe Eklund, all the Panthers are asking of Minnesota now is Mark Parrish and a 1st, a bid the Flames can easily beat since Alex Tanguay has put up much better numbers than Parrish. However, I do not see any reason to believe this rumor; Parrish and a 1st for Jokinen would be an absolute robbery.
Without Jokinen or Marleau, how useful is Langkow? I like Langkow very much, and won't deny credit to his 65-point season. But Langkow is not the first line center the Flames need. I believe he would better fit on the second line. A one-two punch at center of Marleau or Jokinen on the first line and Langkow on the second would be very effective, but if Langkow centers the first line again with a mediocre second line center, then it is merely the status quo. I still have hope, if not necessarily faith, that Darryl Sutter can get back to his 2004 form and work some magic this offseason. But unless he does that, all re-signing Langkow does is perhaps help secure a playoff spot for one, maybe two seasons. I hate missing the playoffs, but losing in the first round is not much better. Langkow's contract is not as much of a cap risk as I thought. But it does not solve the Flames' problems or team needs in the short term. Langkow is only one piece; the Flames don't just need a top line center, they also need more secondary scoring and defense, a vastly revolutionized powerplay and penalty kill, more team speed, a repaired relationship between coach and goaltender, and younger players. If I were Darryl Sutter, I would prefer to sign Langkow to 2 (or even 3 years) rather than 4, but Langkow is a family man and so would probably receive a similar deal on the UFA market. It's a bit of a Catch-22, one which is a microcosm of the dilemma facing the Flames: should we spend heavy on short term and hope we can get lucky on the trade and free agent market, and maybe contend faster, or take the safer route of a slow rebuild?
I do not have much doubt that Langkow will indeed be re-signed, and I would be surprised if the terms of his contract differed very much from what has been reported. But the question of how much difference it makes to the Calgary Flames depends on what Darryl Sutter can do this offseason; in the short term, it depends on what I see as the pipe dreams of Patrick Marleau or Olli Jokinen, in the long term, it depends on how much a $5 million anchor will bring the team down in 2011 and 2012.
(Addendum: I intentionally did not mention several other factors and possibilities because this post was entirely theoretical. First off, I do not believe one bit that Jason Spezza or Vincent Lecavalier will be traded (the Flames would not have a hope of getting them anyway). There is also Mats Sundin, but I believe he will both want to stay in the East and/or play for a contender. There's also the matter of Calgary's complicated cap situation that would have to be resolved.)
(On a personal note: after much editing, I managed to cut this post by about 200 words. Still way too long for most people to read, but at least I'm trying...)