There are seven million reasons why projecting the 2010-11 Calgary Flames lineup is somewhat of a fool’s errand.
You see, the whole crystal-ball bean-counting game for the Saddledome squad would be very different if one chooses to put any stock in the semi-heretical discussion about team captain and long-time headliner Jarome Iginla collecting his paycheques elsewhere. The merits of dumping No. 12 is a debate for another day, but there’s no question that expunging his $7M cap hit for three more winters would give the Flames quite a bit more financial freedom.
For the sake of this exercise, however, let’s assume the Flames have no desire to move Iginla or that the nine-time 30-goal man has no intention of surrendering his no-movement-clause protection.
That leaves Darryl Sutter or his successor (yet another debate for another day) with the following lump of clay with which to start shaping next season’s Flames — 17 players under contract for a combined cap blow of $53.4M. If the cap ceiling increases to the rumoured $57.7M, that theoretically gives Calgary a maximum of $4.3M to fill the four or five remaining roster positions.
This is precisely why it’s not so ridiculous to wonder aloud whether the Flames can afford to retain fourth-liner Eric Nystrom, he of the 19 career goals in 203 games.
Of course, not every single cent of that committed $53.4M is likely to remain on the books by the time next year rolls around.
Sutter has previously made clunker contracts vanish but those fumigations came at price and besides, it’s dangerous to assume that Ales Kotalik is as easily disposable as Wayne Primeau. Some message-board posters have been blindly optimistic in their suggestions to dump contracts — especially wince-inducing was the proposal to send Kotalik, Cory Sarich and David Moss to Dallas for Brad Richards and a first-round draft pick.
That said, here are three examples of the Flames alleviating a cap crunch and the price that was paid to do so:
- Prior to the 2008-09 campaign, the Flames dumped battered blueliner Rhett Warrener and his $2.5M salary on the long-term injury reserve list. The cost of that move was that those dollars didn’t completely disappear and Warrener’s presence on LTIR was part of the chain of events that forced Calgary to stick Dustin Boyd in the minors late in the season and to play some critical with an undermanned lineup.
- Last summer, Sutter got rid of Primeau’s $1.4M salary by sending the oft-injured fourth-liner to Toronto. The Flames in exchange received Anton Stralman and Colin Stuart, neither of whom played a single game for Calgary, as well as a seventh-round pick. The Flames, meanwhile, had to throw in a second-round pick. Calgary did recoup a third-rounder when they traded Stralman to Columbus.
- Also in the summer of 2009, Jim Vandermeer — who was conspicuously overpaid at $2.3M — was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes for Brandon Prust. Flames fans, even the male ones, offered to bear Coyotes GM Don Maloney’s children after that one. Then came word that the trade may have actually been Part II of the deadline-day swap that had sent Prust, Matthew Lombardi and a first-round pick to Phoenix in exchange for Olli Jokinen (the reasoning being that the Flames at the time were too thin on the blue line to immediately part with Vandermeer). Well, we all know how that turned out. Jokinen was eventually run out of town by being traded to the Rangers (and coincidentally, Prust went with him). So when it’s all said and done, the Flames got rid of Prust, Lombardi and a first-round pick while replacing Vandermeer’s $2.3M problem contract with Kotalik’s $3M problem contract. Yikes.
It’s also worth noting at this point that the Flames have never availed themselves of the buyout option under Sutter’s watch.
All of this preamble is to make the point that while it’s highly unlikely the partial roster as is also the partial roster as it will be in September, neither are there any guarantees the Flames will be able to do anything to create substantial cap space for themselves. Let’s face it, the Flames can drop hints all they want about how lovely Yaroslavl is in November, there’s just no sure-fire way to convince Kotalik to pull an Alexander Radulov.
Here’s the breakdown of the 17 players under contract for 2010-11 — 10 forwards (including Mikael Backlund), six defencemen and one starting goaltender.
Let’s start with the vicious circle that is the Flames’ goaltending situation. In the off-season, amateur accountants rarely ever want to dedicate much more than the minimum for Miikka Kiprusoff’s backup. But towards the end of the season, when the issue of Kiprusoff’s heavy workload again rears its ugly head and Vesa Toskala is suddenly considered a viable option, going on the cheap doesn’t seem like such a hot idea.
Internally, candidates are 2006 first-rounder Leland Irving and pending RFA Matt Keetley. Toskala, who collected more than $800,000 from the Flames to make three starts, is a UFA.
On the back end, everyone is signed save for Ian White and his moustache. The Flames would no doubt like to re-sign White, but he won’t come cheaply. A while ago, the folks at Pension Plan Puppets crunched some numbers to find four defencemen who could be used as performance and age comparables for White and came up with Matt Carle, Ryan Suter, Ryan Whitney and James Wisniewski. Those four guys made between $2.75M and $3.5M this past season (White pulled down $950,000 on the final year of his expiring deal).
If you’ll recall, the Flames theoretically have only $4.3M to spend on four or five players, so the team will have to do something creative in terms of shedding salary elsewhere in order to retain White. Otherwise, it means bringing up a kid like John Negrin or Matt Pelech or finding a cheap free-agent acquisition to compete with Adam Pardy for the No. 6 spot one back end.
Up front, Nystrom, Craig Conroy, Christopher Higgins, Jamal Mayers and Brian McGrattan are all pending UFAs.
The Flames’ scoring woes suggest acquiring a top-six or at least a top-nine forward is a necessity, but the budget may force Calgary to hope Backlund is ready to assume that type of role.
If so, the team would then be left only to restock the fourth line and reserves whether that means re-signing Nystrom, taking Conroy up on his offer to continue his career, giving Brett Sutter a full-time gig or selecting something from the Zellers bargain bin of free-agent forwards.
Keep in mind that if there’s no change in the GM’s office, Sutter has always insisted on having a policeman in the lineup and with Prust gone and Mayers and McGrattan going, there is no such animal on the signed-for-2010-11 list.
All in all, a grim situation with little fiscal hope to justify any fan’s aspirations that an Ilya Kovalchuk, a Tomas Plekanec or an Alexander Frolov is coming to town.