Another disappointing end to what was looking like a promising season. But I have to admit, the effect and anticipation for the playoffs has worn off. I've had to brace myself for early departures in each of the last 3 seasons as it truly seemed inevitable.
My season-long problem was Mike Keenan. He proved early and often that he's about 10 years removed from being a capable NHL coach. That's why he had his ticket bought and was all but boarded for Sweden before Darryl Sutter swooped in and saved him.
It's all about loyalty for Sutter. Sometimes to a fault.
But that's not why I write today. I'm not going to get in to my numerous reasons why Keenan needs to be fired. It just takes too much energy these days. I've written about it (on different sites) numerous times already and its getting played out. His body of work this season speaks for itself.
I'd rather talk about what Darryl Sutter will do this off-season. It's one of my favorite things to do when the season ends. You can check my archives for off-season analysis from the last couple seasons. I love to break down the lines and the contracts to see just what Darryl will have to work with.
Perhaps I should have discussed this earlier in the blog, but anyone who thinks Sutter's job is in jeopardy might as well get that out their head right away. He's going nowhere. Nor should he. He's provided our team with much-needed stability and given us a playoff-worthy squad with potential; every, single, season. Many point at Olli Jokinen as a questionable trade (and from sources close to the Sutter family I gather Olli can be quite the headache and they were aware of that), but the fact remains, with a proper coaching staff and proper motivation, he can be all-world.
So let's get at it. Here's a look at the Flames forwards under contract for next season and what we might see for a line formation. (LW/C/RW, blank spots indicate spot up for grabs.)
___________ -- Olli Jokinen -- Jarome Iginla
Rene Bourque -- Daymond Langkow -- ____________
Curtis Glencross -- Craig Conroy -- David Moss
Eric Nystrom -- Wayne Primeau -- ____________
(9/12 forward spots; $23.74 mil)
UFAs: Mike Cammalleri, Todd Bertuzzi, Jamie Lundmark, Andre Roy, Warren Peters
RFAs: Kris Chucko, Kyle Greentree, Dustin Boyd
Prospects: Mikael Backlund, Brett Sutter, David van der Gulik
Backlund has been destroying the WHL in the playoffs, including the CHL's #1 ranked team, the Calgary Hitmen. I would say he would be the front-runner for the spot on the top line right now. In all likelihood, he's not ready for that yet. But he'll likely get a shot. Dustin Boyd will be resigned for roughly 750 to 900,000 with a qualifying offer; I expect both Greentree and Chucko to get qualifying offers from Sutter as well. As to whether they sign them, we'll have to see.
I'll address the bigger names near the end when the cap numbers come out.
For now, here's a look at the D.
Regehr -- Sarich (would love them to be re-teamed for a superb shut-down pair)
Phaneuf -- Vandermeer
(5/6 D spots, $17.31 mil)
UFAs: Adrian Aucoin, Jordan Leopold
RFAs: Adam Pardy
Prospects: Matt Pelech, Keith Aulie, John Negrin, Gord Baldwin
I expect Adam Pardy to resign for a contract similar to that of Giordano's from last off-season. He'll get a shot at a regular roster spot come training camp, and rightfully so. The best thing that could have happened to the Flames was an injury to the D early, because it forced Keenan to play Pardy, something he would have never done without being forced into it.
Another who's play in the WHL playoffs (and WJC) has helped his stock rise is Keith Aulie, all 6'6 of him. Aulie, Pelech and Negrin will challenge for a spot, but I'm interested to see; would they stay up as a 7th D-man?
(1/2 goalie spots, $5.83 mil)
RFAs: Curtis McElhinney
Prospects: Leland Irving, Matt Keetley
This is going to be interesting. Neither Irving or Keetley are ready to start 15 games in the NHL. CMac was nearly useless throughout much of the season. Even when he was given a chance, he was brutal. He'll have a cheap price tag, but Sutter wants a backup who will win 6 of 10. At best, Mac gives you 3-5.
All in all, here's how the numbers add up.
Current Salary Cap: 56.7 mil
09-10 Contracts: 46.88 mil
-- 5 spots to fill (plus press box)
Remaining Cap: 9.82 mil (based on the cap not moving, another issue)
Spend/Player: 1.96 mil
I don't want to get into an argument about the cap, it could go down, it could stay the same. The only thing that seems certain is that it won't go up.
If it stays where it is the Flames are still in decent shape. They have some offensive prospects who should get a look on the top 2 lines. They come with a cheap price tag too.
Same goes for the D.
Sutter promised at least one rookie on the roster for next season. Which, by looking at those already under contract, would mean that Aucoin and Leopold are likely on the way out. Paycut or no paycut. And I would fully support that.
If Sutter fills the remaining spots with youth and farm, we should field a potent lineup with cap to spare.
Then we have to take into account Cammy. 39 goals. Hard to let go of that. It's not impossible for Sutter to bring him back in at 4-5 million and still fill the rest of the roster with the farm, but there goes your wiggle room. And isn't that part of the reason the Flames faltered down the stretch?
It just doesn't seem likely.
As for Big Bert. I would love to say good-bye. I've been a big Bertuzzi supporter throughout his career and was more than happy to welcome him here. But even when he was healthy I never saw him once take a straight line to a puck, stop/start to backcheck, or make a tough defensive stop on his man when we needed it. He's a big lazy lug with soft hands. Maybe with a coach (is it just me, or do we keep coming back to that point?), he would be able to turn his game around. But I doubt it.
Once again, Sutter is going to be a busy man this off-season. He won't be pursuing UFAs... he might make some draft-related trades... but it looks like his biggest job will be evaluating and signing our RFA's.
And, of course, letting nature take it's rightful course with Mike Keenan.