Kipper nets big raise

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 1:11 PM ET

Miikka Kiprusoff may not have been enamoured with the process.

But in the end, the goaltender has to be tickled pink with the result of salary arbitration.

An arbiter yesterday awarded Kiprusoff $2.95 million US to be paid by the Calgary Flames for the 2004-05 NHL season. It's a hefty raise in pay for the Finnish goalie, who last season earned just $880,000.

And the Flames have agreed to the deal -- gladly -- rather than walking away from the terms of the one-year contract. The club had 72 hours to accept the settlement or allow the Vezina Trophy finalist to become an unrestricted free agent.

"It wasn't a surprise," said Flames GM-head coach Darryl Sutter, who's believed to have asked the arbitrator for an award of $1.4 million against a $4-million plea by the Kiprusoff camp. "The numbers we expected were going to be between $2 million and $3 million. The bottom line is we have Kiprusoff under contract.

"You want to get to a number that works for both sides. And quite honestly, that's what did happen."

What happens next for Sutter and the Flames is finding a workable number to re-sign superstar captain Jarome Iginla, who's due for a raise from the $7.5 million he made last season.

Although many believed Kiprusoff's figure would come in much lower, Sutter appears prepared to hammer out a deal for Iginla while staying within a budget of $36 million. With Kiprusoff now signed, the team salary is currently in the $30-million range.

"We're not signing any more free agents and (the Kiprusoff deal) doesn't affect our signings of entry-level players (such as first-round draftee Dion Phaneuf)," said Sutter, who is pleased by ongoing talks with Iginla's agent Don Meehan after meeting at length last week in Toronto. "In terms of negotiations (for Iginla), this doesn't have any bearing."

Sutter added he's also happy for his netminder, who was a main contributor in the Flames' successful season.

"If Miikka's your second-best player," Sutter continued, "then he should be your second-highest-paid player."

With the significant reward, Kiprusoff will be expected to play as he did last season in establishing a modern-day record goals-against average and backstopping the Flames to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.

In 38 games of the regular season, Kiprusoff recorded a 24-10-4 mark with league highs in both GAA (1.69) and save percentage (.933). In the playoffs, he posted a 15-11 record with a 1.85 GAA and .928 save percentage through 26 games.

Kiprusoff, who's in Europe preparing with Team Finland for the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, was not available for comment yesterday.

But the ruling likely offsets any ill will Kiprusoff felt for the Flames after Friday's hearing.

The club argued the goalie lost his backup job with the San Jose Sharks prior to his acquisition by the Flames.

The ruling also concludes this off-season's arbitration process -- one Sutter condemned yesterday as "awful" because the decision generally favours the players heavily.

"The bottom line is now we have Kiprusoff under contract. That means we only have one or two players left to negotiate with," Sutter added.

"That's significant when you look at other teams and what they're still dealing with."


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