Do they sell wingers at the dollar store?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

    • Come on dotfras, "Darryl is too dumb…"? He's smart enough to get Kipper for a 2nd rounder and Bouwmeester for Leopold and a 3rd. You may not agree with some of his moves but resorting to name calling is unintelligent at best and childish at worst. Everyone with the exception of a few on these forums has pretty much proved they make intelligent observations, even if they don't agree with any of Darryl's moves.

  • I'm hoping whoever is holding the reins come FA day will make some splashes. First and foremost they need to free up cap space:

    Sarich, Staois, Kotalik, and maybe even Moss have to go.

    Guys I'd like to see signed are White (3-3.5?) Higgins (2.5) Mayers (1.5) and Nystrom (1-1.5)

    That leaves like no room for free agent signings.

    Man the more I look at this the worse it gets – Some good FA's, 0 cap space.

    • flamesfanfreddy

      We do have cap space. This is what I previously posted.

      My two cents is that Langkow and Sarich need to go. That's 8 million of cap space. Mayers and Conroy need to go. In theory, between Langkow, Sarich, Mayers, and Conroy that's 10.5 million. Borque and Stajan salary increases negate Toskola's salary dump.

      That leaves the Flames with 9 forwards, 6 defence, and 1 goalie. 6 rosters spots to fill for 10.5 million in salary dumps + the 4 million they already have in cap space. (4 forwards, 1 defence, 1 goalie, right?)

      To sign back Nystrom (1 million-ish), Higgins (2 million-ish) and White (3 million-ish) leaves 8.5 million in cap space for 2 forwards and 1 goalie. Those spots can be filled for maximum of 3 million, leaving minimum 5.5 million in cap space.

      With a little maneuvering the Flames could add some needed CREATIVITY to their lineup. Demitra for 3 or 4 million-ish? Frolov for 4 or 5 million-ish? Making enough cap room to make serious offers to Marleau or Kovalcuck seems like a long shot (assuming any of these players make it to UFA and are not signed by their teams) but could be done with some creativity.

  • @ Flames fan Freddy

    That's all that Lindy told you? Weird.

    Anyways, When are you heading back to your ranch for the offseason?

    By the way, I heard that Treehouse TV is making an unauthorized cartoon series based on the Rocky films. Since they are unaffiliated with the actual Rocky franchise, Sylvester Stallone will be unavailable to lend his own voice to the program. In the event you, uh, lose your job in the near future, have you considered volunteering your vocal talents to voice the role of Cartoon Rocky Balboa as a source of income?

  • Jean Lefebvre

    For all the "we have no first round draft picks" critics. From 2004-2008 the Flames selected 24/26/26/24/25 in the first round. Darryl is just playing percentages because his teams finished some well during the regular season. Only half of all first rounders play 500 NHL games and most of those are in the top half of the first round. Look what Burke traded for Kessel, same logic.

      • flamesfanfreddy

        But doesn't that prove my (our) point about the scouting staff. I do not think that the cost of the scouting staff counts against the salary cap so why don't they throw money at some of the top scouts in the industry. Also, with Darryl's logic I guess that he is not familiar with the term "diamonds in the rough". How many of the tops players in the league were not drafted in the first round? No offense to the Flames I am about to mention but Nystrom, Moss, Pardy, etc. are only 3rd or 4th line material.

        Kent – are you aware of the process at these "exit meetings". If the player does not want to play for the coach and/or GM does he tell them to their face and take a chance of being black-balled by these guys or does he go to "management". I am wondering about the process if enough players are concerned about the Coach/GM/President if they would go directly to a guy like Harley Hotchkiss.

        Finally, we have all heard the story that some other GMs were not made aware that Phaneuf was available. If this is the case then I would think that Ken King or Harley Hotchkiss (representing the owners) would like an answer as to why that occured.

        Waiting for 1:00PM to hear what excuses/plan of action is going to be talked about.

  • flamesfanfreddy

    We have all heard and read that GM Sutter has looked at re-tooling the team from just paying the core players to distributing the wealth and hopefully having an abundance of 20-30 goal scorers. So I am assuming that the players which he has brought in are to do that.

    I do believe that the current roster needs very little tweaking.

    Contrary to what I have heard when listening to Overtime on Fan 960 I think that all of the players involved in the Dion trade will fit nicely into the Flames plans. I was pleased at how quickly the Regehr-White combo seemed to mesh. Hagman has shown some excellent offensive skill and seems okay in the defensive zone and at $3 mill may end up being a bargain. Stajan is a young talent who it looks like should have little problem hitting 20+ goals and is still developing. I had thought that Mayers was just a knuckle-duster but have been impressed with his all-around play and ability in the face off circle as well but may have trouble hitting the 20 goals but still a solid player.

    As for the Olli deal I think that Higgins is a keeper. This kid bangs along the boards and plays tough every night and will hit 20. Kotalik has shown some spurts and is another player who should hit the 20 goal mark.

    Getting Staios may have more to do with bringing a new set of leadership skills into the dressing room. He can play both forward and D.

    Conroy, Nystrom, Dawes are all keepers. Moss played hard but with limited results. Will Vesa take a discount to play here?

    I think that two areas need to be addressed and quickly – the powerplay and the scouting. Obviously the PP was a problem and if Coach Sutter had stressed defensive awareness on the PP this has to be tossed out. A PP is where some creativity has to come into play. The players also have to realize that not all goals can be picture perfect – just get the puck on net.

    As for the scouting – what is the Flames success rate of draft picks being successful compared to other teams?

  • To hope that Backlund is going to be Matt Duchene next year is a little unrealistic I think. The team NEEDS someone to play with Iggy or '10-11 will be a repeat of this year's season.

    There are alot of upcoming free agents – Sutter could do what he did for Bouw and dump some salary for the rights to a player could he not?

    I think that Pelech or Negrin are both feasable options, and Pardy is capable. I think Mayers needs to stay – he's played pretty good in Toronto, a lot better than I've ever seen him play in a Leaf jersey – He was one point short of matching his total from before the trade deadline in like 17 less games too. Nystrom is a hard worker – I think he needs to stay also.

    My mind is boggled as to why D.Sut would sign Stajan for 4 years, the guy IMO is brutal.

    Here's hoping this is a summer of positive change, a bit of rebuilding, and an eye opener to the boys as their on the golf course or watching the playoffs from home. UGH.

    • Jean Lefebvre

      If White was their primary signing target, a pretty good chance.

      But many fans will want them to get a scoring forward and if the Flames do that, there's no way they can afford White unless they dump substantial salary.

  • Jean Lefebvre

    Nice article.

    You can only hope there's some other Vandermeeresque arrangement with Sather re Kotalik and/or Tambellini re Staios. Or else bury said anchors in the minors/Russia. Or just bury them period.

    Perhaps they'll keep Mayers on in a serviceable semi-enforcer role. That doesn't seem the worst option out there and certainly better than McG. I suspect Higgins would come cheap too. And Conroy, 3 goal season notwithstanding, has been decent as the Iginla pr spokesman.

    If he still (inexplicably) has a job, Sutter has talked better talent out of free agency. I somehow don't see Nystrom splitting.

    All that to say, the uber-optimistic best-case scenario is that the team doesn't slide further. It would take some nifty maneuvering to land a top six forward (especially seeing that the free agent market's wafer-thin this year). Let's just hope Stajan and Moss step up and they don't have to turn Backlund into a "young gun."

  • Jean Lefebvre

    Well done. I really enjoyed your analysis of the Flames cap situation.

    My two cents is that Langkow and Sarich need to go. That's 8 million of cap space. Mayers and Conroy need to go. In theory, between Langkow, Sarich, Mayers, and Conroy that's 10.5 million. Borque and Stajan salary increases negate Toskola's salary dump.

    That leaves the Flames with 9 forwards, 6 defence, and 1 goalie. 6 rosters spots to fill for 10.5 million in salary dumps + the 4 million they already have in cap space. (4 forwards, 1 defence, 1 goalie, right?)

    To sign back Nystrom (1 million-ish), Higgins (2 million-ish) and White (3 million-ish) leaves 8.5 million in cap space for 2 forwards and 1 goalie. Those spots can be filled for maximum of 3 million, leaving minimum 5.5 million in cap space.

    With a little maneuvering the Flames could add some needed CREATIVITY to their lineup. Demitra for 3 or 4 million-ish? Frolov for 4 or 5 million-ish? Making enough cap room to make serious offers to Marleau or Kovalcuck seems like a long shot (assuming any of these players make it to UFA and are not signed by their teams) but could be done with some creativity.