SUN Hockey Pool

Light in the wallet

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:59 AM ET

Darryl Sutter is days away from making it official: He'll be back to coach the Calgary Flames this year.

And when he pieces together his squad for the upcoming season he'll do so with a whole lot less money than local fans might expect.

"The misconception is markets like ours will have more resources," said Sutter, who promised two years ago he'd soon focus strictly on his GM duties.

"We've got our own cap but in that cap is the revenue part of it."

While the Flames have long made clear they have no intention of nudging anywhere near the expected $37- or $39-million US salary cap, Sutter said the 24% salary rollbacks will keep his club far away from the $36 million it spent in 2003-04.

Of grave concern to Sutter is the huge hit of roughly $4 million in payments previously available through the soon-to-be-abolished Canadian assistance plan.

Complicating the bottom line, the Flames likely won't benefit from the new CBA's revenue-sharing plan either, which will cause the top third of NHL revenue generators to pay into a pool for the bottom third.

"If I'm a top-10 team in terms of revenue and I have to share with the bottom 10 teams, I can't imagine there's any way I'm also going to chip in for Canadian teams," said Sutter.

Flames owner Harley Hotchkiss introduced the system in which U.S. clubs helped Canadian teams make up the currency disparity.

"You have to assume the Canadian assistance will go away and we're a mid-market team. That's why I assume it won't change the way we spend."

So, with a self-imposed cap of likely no more than $28 or $30 million US, how then are the Flames going to be able to keep unsigned captain Jarome Iginla, who will demand close to the 20% maximum of the team's payroll?

"It definitely doesn't make it any easier," said Sutter, who hopes to keep the core of the 2003-04 finalists despite the fact early fan backlash will even further diminish revenues.

"Our intention is to try to keep our top players and at the same time win, unlike past years. We have a group of guys unsigned and they're all our highest paid players.

"There are some decisions to make."

For example?

"There's nothing official from Roman Turek's camp (as to whether he'll return to the NHL) and guys like Dion Phaneuf and Eric Nystrom are going to take someone's job," said Sutter, who needs to ink Miikka Kiprusoff, Jordan Leopold, Daymond Langkow and Steve Reinprecht, among others.

"We're in the toughest division in the league where it's already hard as hell to make the playoffs."

True, which is why he feels the need to add as much familiarity to the team as he can by re-assuming his position behind the bench while wearing the GM's cap.

"That's the way I'm leaning," said Sutter, who likely would've passed on the coaching reins to assistant Jim Playfair or Rich Preston if it weren't for the lost season.

"I'm going to make the final decision in the next few days. We've got all our coaches contracts done. When we talked about it -- it was all about establishing stability and continuity. It's probably important I coach the team again."

Although he insists the landscape of the new CBA will give teams like Calgary long-term sustainability, the tough transition ahead likely makes it easier for him to remain the face of the franchise in every way.


Videos

Photos