It'll be an interesting off-season for the Flames this year.
To look ahead, this will be a make or break off-season in regards to whether or not the team will be able to compete in the two or three years thereafter.
Currently there is 40 million locked up towards next year's salaries, with about 10 million to spare. The question remains, what will we be able to do with 10 million?
Dion Phaneuf (2007-08 Salary: $942 000)
The Calgary Herald reported that Dion Phaneuf rejected a 5-year, 30 million contract. The Calgary Sun then ran a story saying that these rumours are false according to Phaneuf's agent, Don Meehan. A defenceman with only three seasons in the league thinks he should be getting top of the line franchise money, and based on his play, you can't blame him. He'll be a restricted free agent, and is easily the best young defenceman in the Western Conference if not the entire league. Unless Calgary is able to re-sign him, some team is going to offer some long-term deal at maximum money in the fun world of modern RFA rules.
Kristian Huselius (2007-08 Salary: $1 400 000)
Another important piece of the puzzle is the flames' 2nd most talented goal-scorer, Kristian Huselius. Since Darryl Sutter snagged him from the Florida Panthers, he has 163 points in 179 games. On top of that, he has a +31 rating in that time, and an even more impressive stat - 72 powerplay points in comparison to the 74 penalty minutes he has had. All of this without getting many shots - his highest total being 173 in the 2006-07 season.
Right now, Huselius is making a lowly 1.4 million - the same amount that the Flames are paying Wayne Primeau, the journeyman center with "leadership" skills and a career inability to score.
It'll be tough for the flames to re-sign Huselius, who is easily worth Tanguay money (5.375 mil).
Daymond Langkow (2007-08 Salary: $2 442 000)
Daymond Langkow's career never panned out as the Tampa Bay Lightning expected. After being drafted 5th overall in the 1995 NHL Entry draft, he scored only 61 points in parts of four seasons with the team that drafted him. After a trade to Philadelphia, he made a name for himself as one of the most under-rated second line centers in the league. He continued this in Phoenix, before coming to Calgary. In the past two years, he's proven himself as a solid #1 center in his peak years. Unfortunately, with good results comes raises. Langkow was making 2.4 million annually for a player who deserved at least 3.5-4 million, and he may cash in on a big contract this off-season.
I am a big fan of Langkow's overall game, but unfortunately, I don't think we will be able to re-sign him for the money he is going to want, and so be it - at his age, he may have a couple more years of peak play left and he could very easily be looking for a long-term contract. The only question is whether or not Matthew Lombardi will be ready to fill his skates as a first-line center.
Craig Conroy (2007-08 Salary: $2 850 000)
Craig Conroy is a fan-favourite. And, when you're a fan-favourite, your obvious flaws get over-looked more often than not. After a dismal season in Los Angeles last year, he was traded back to the Calgary Flames and put up some pretty solid numbers - 21 points in 28 games with a .205 shooting percentage. His numbers this year leave him on a pace to score 10 goals and 29 assists, which for the Flames is still efficient secondary scoring. However, this off-season Conroy will be 38, and unless he is willing to take a substantial pay-cut from the 2.85M he is making this season, we will be paying a man whose numbers will continue to decrease as he gets older.
Owen Nolan (2007-08 Salary: $1 750 000)
Owen Nolan's 1.75 million contract was hardly a gamble for a player who is a 9-time 20-goal scorer, but it seems all the injuries have caught up with the once #1 overall draft pick. This year he is on pace for 25 points, which isn't horrendous considering no one really knew what to expect from the veteran, but when you consider he is the 2nd best right-winger on the depth chart (only behind Jarome Iginla), you have to wonder whether or not the Flames will want to bring him back next year.
Stephane Yelle (2007-08 Salary: $1 250 000)
Stephane Yelle is one of the most heartening players in the league. Time after time he demonstrates that he is the best defensive forward on the team, blocking shot after shot. Not to mention he is the best face-off man on the squad as well, which was what the Avalanche loved so much about this guy. This year, Yelle is making 1.25 million deservingly. If the Flames could trade or release Primeau, I expect Yelle will be re-signed and will come back for his 6th season as a Flame.
Mark Smith (2007-08 Salary: $488 000)
Mark Smith was an interesting pick-up from San Jose. He fits Darryl Sutter's grind line style, and fills a void left by the under-achieving Darren McCarty. No one ever expected Mark Smith to make the NHL, being a 9th round draft pick. He proved everyone wrong, and played for San Jose in parts of six seasons. He is fast, and he is a fighter. I think he is a great 4th line fit for the Calgary Flames, as his penalty minutes are considerably low for the type of player he is. This year, he is making 488k - next year he is an UFA, and if the Flames choose to keep him, he will probably make 550-600k.
Eric Godard (2007-08 Salary: $475 000)
Being a Flames fan means you generally get to see a great deal of fighting. To many, it's exciting to see a brawl. To me, I find it humourous to watch two guys attempt to hit each other while attempting to keep balance. However, this isn't Slap Shot or American Gladiators, and being overly aggressive does not help a team win.
Yes, Eric Godard, I'm talking to you. It's fine if you want to get game misconducts and fight people, because a 5-minute major doesn't hurt the team. However, all the useless minor penalties from a guy who does nothing but throw punches and cares none about scoring (40 career shots on goal in 164 games) is not going to help the Flames win the Stanley Cup. I know lots of fans love him, but you have to think about fundamentals. Sure, he can fight, but he isn't a grinder. There's a difference. If he is re-signed, it will probably be for 500-525k. (That's 1% of the payroll that could be spent much better next year.)
David Hale (2007-08 Salary: $590 000)
When David Hale came over to Calgary, he didn't get much of a chance to play, being scratched for the post-season. Yes, David Hale is no better than a 3rd-line defenceman, and he may not be as good as some of our 3rd line defenceman of recent years (Andrew Ference, Mark Giordano, Toni Lydman). David Hale, however, has done nothing to prove he isn't worth being a #6 defenceman. He has a career +19 and doesn't get overly penalized, and the Flames are paying him a lowly 590,000 to do a decent job. Whether or not he'll be back is based on how much money Hale wants, and whether or not Sutter thinks it'll be worth his time.
So next year, we have ten million dollars (barring salary cap changes) to sign three key players (Phaneuf, Langkow, Huselius), a fan-favourite (Conroy), a face-off winning machine (Yelle), and four others.
Phaneuf will not sign for less than 6-7 million. He wants franchise money. Huselius deserves 5, and Langkow deserves 4-5 himself. Out of the three, the least important for us to re-sign (and most improbable) is Langkow. It's true. Why? Because we already have a first-line player who can play center in Alex Tanguay. He was a long-time center in Colorado, and a line of Huselius, Tanguay, and Iginla is extremely potent. Also, as a center, Tanguay might start shooting the puck more - something that, through his career, he hasn't done a lot of despite having 20 goals in all his seasons except two, and having an incredible shooting percentage of .198 - a mark that even Jarome Iginla has never achieved in ANY season.
Our defence on the other hand, which has underperformed all season long despite the big names, will have five of our six regulars return next year barring any trades, with Phaneuf and Hale left to be re-signed. Sarich and Regehr are locked up long term, and I fail to believe Warrener is truly worth the 2.5 million we pay him to get injured. Matt Pelech, Tim Ramholt, and John Negrin are all waiting in the wings.
As for our goalies, Miikka Kiprusoff is locked up long term. He will be making 24 million over the next 3 years, and his contract will slowly decline after that. Curtis McElhinney will prove to be a solid back-up, as would Brent Krahn. Both players are RFAs and you have to wonder if the Flames will finally let Krahn go elsewhere after his disappointing career thus far as a Flame. Behind them is the young Matt Keetley who has all the skills and poise to be an NHL goalie if something happened to Kiprusoff. Then after Keetley, don't forget Leland Irving, the Flames' 1st-round pick from 2006.
The Flames have a lot of salary cap work to do in order to re-sign some of the key players. The Flames lack secondary scoring and should keep drafting more forwards as most are way too expensive to sign and the Flames will not have the money to do so. Trade Primeau, Nilson, and let Godard go. Re-signing Huselius will be key, otherwise the Flames will have quite an offensive deficit next year, and Iginla can't be expected to single-handedly carry the team's offense.