With this weekend’s draft having the air of a very busy trading period around the league, I wanted to review Darryl Sutter’s history from draft weekends past, with a particular emphasis on moves where the Flames exchanged NHLers for NHLers. I’ll look at three specific moves from the ’06-’08 draft weekends, both from a hockey POV as well as from a cap-management perspective.
2006: Leopold for Tanguay
This move was a slam-dunk win from a hockey perspective for the Flames, IMO. Alex Tanguay has fallen off over the last couple of years due to a shoulder injury specifically, and maybe just a few too many hard miles generally, but his two seasons in Calgary were of a very high quality. Jordan Leopold never really played well in Colorado, with injuries being the main culprit in his ineffectiveness with the ‘Lanche.
Financially, this deal was almost certainly available for Calgary due to the cap position the Avalanche found themselves in after the lock-out. Colorado, like many of the high-end clubs after the resumption of play, were compelled to spend the first couple of years shedding salary. Tanguay was headed for a significant raise, and there were only so many dollars to go around, so getting a relatively cheap defender with top 2 minutes on the resume must have seemed like a good bet for Colorado. The Flames had some cheap contributors on the roster at the time in the persons of Phaneuf and Huselius, so signing Tanguay to a deal with a 5.25 million dollar cap hit was within the realm for Calgary. There are plenty of GMs that can’t make a deal even when they have the hammer in terms of resources and cap space, but Sutter did a good job in this case of identifying a good player to acquire, and the club got fair value from Tanguay for the money. Mike Keenan might have a differing view, of course.
2007: Zyuzin for Aucoin
Speaking of trades that ended up working out, obtaining Shinpad Aucoin for Andrei Zyuzin wasn’t a bad move, and from a strictly hockey POV, it was a pure win to get an actual NHL player for a stiff. Sutter did take some risk in the deal, of course, since Aucoin had two years left on a pricey contract. His first two seasons on that 16 million dollar deal were injury-riddled enough that the Blackhawks couldn’t wait to unload him, but any trade where you acquired Zyuzin should be considered a lost move irrespective of what you sent away. Aucoin was a respectable, if overpaid, third paring D in 07/08, and he was a solid partner for Robyn Regehr on the Flames’ first pair in 08/09.
From a cap perspective, the deal was just OK, largely because Aucoin was used as a third pairing defenceman for roughly half his tenure with the Flames. His 07/08 was not unlike Cory Sarich’s last two years with Calgary, in that Aucoin was fine in his role, but you can’t really pay that kind of money for a 5th/6th D. The Flames were able to add his salary and Sarich’s in the summer of ’07 largely because 07/08 was the last relatively inexpensive season for Phaneuf, Huselius, Kiprusoff and Langkow. Again, like adding Tanguay, the Flames had enough space that adding Aucoin for Zyuzin was manageable.
2008: Tanguay for Cammalleri (in practical terms)
The summer of ’08 was where the financial rubber hit the road for the the Flames. Phaneuf, Kiprusoff and Langkow had market-value deals, Aucoin and Sarich were expensive adds the year before, and the club didn’t have any chance at keeping Kristian Huselius. Huselius’ loss left the Flames looking thin in the top-six, and they really only had one big-ticket player left that they were willing to move. That player was Alex Tanguay, and he was more or less exchanged for Mike Cammalleri at the draft. On ice, as much as I admire what Alex Tanguay provided the Flames, they didn’t exactly take a step back with Cammalleri in the lineup.
Beyond the production that Cammalleri provided on a personal level, the other potential benefit to that move, for me at least, was the splitting of cap space. Tanguay was making 5.25 million, while Cammalleri’s hit for 08/09 was 3.35 million. That 1.9 million should have, at least in theory, allowed Darryl Sutter to get one more useful forward. The fact that the Flames spent that money on Todd Bertuzzi was
slightly wholly demented, but given the cap squeeze the club was in the premise behind the move was sound. I don’t want to revisit all the arguments about Mike Cammalleri’s long-term value, or how the Flames bet on the wrong horse (Joker) at the ’09 deadline, but I will say this; Mike Cammalleri was fair value and then some for that 3.35 million dollar cap hit in 08/09. Combined with the fact that Alex Tanguay wasn’t quite up to his usual standards in Montreal because of injury, the Flames did OK in the specific transaction, and what happened subsequent to those draft-day trades is fodder for another time. As an aside, if you’d told me last June that Jordan Leopold was going to be in a better bargaining position than Alex Tanguay this summer, I would have been very surprised, but given Leo’s good year and Tanguay’s continuing struggles, here we are. Strange world, sometimes.
Summing up, from an on-ice POV, Darryl Sutter got the better player three times out of three, but the move that was likely the best was the Cammalleri move, since the Flames needed to re-allocate salary rather than simply take on money from another team. You can always get a useful player if you don’t mind over-paying, as in the Aucoin situation, or if another team is under the gun, as Colorado was in the summer of ’06. Getting a good player and saving money is more of a challenge, no?
This summer, I suspect that the best that we can hope for from the Flames would be a few outright salary dumps, but later this week I’ll have a look at potential value for Flames on the current roster beyond the Three Amigos (Kotalik, Sarich, Staios).