Busy summer for Sutter

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

The Calgary Flames' free-agent crop of 2007 is important but hardly the biggest morsel on Darryl Sutter's plate.

Looming over it is the crew due up the following summer.

Sure, now that the Flames are out of the Stanley Cup chase, the GM has to decide how hard he wants to pursue a couple of key defencemen in Brad Stuart and Roman Hamrlik and some complementary forwards in the likes of Marcus Nilson, Wayne Primeau and Jeff Friesen.

Likewise, he has to find out whether the ones -- or maybe even the one -- he wants to keep also wish to remain with the Flames.

But so much of what Sutter accomplishes this summer hinges on the slew of contracts that expire July 1, 2008.

As it stands now, that's when nearly every core player with the team will need a new deal. And almost every one of them will be an unrestricted free agent.

That's not to say the time has come to say goodbye to those with contracts expiring this Canada Day.

Stuart is likely atop the list of those Sutter dearly wants to retain. If not, Hamrlik is a solid Plan B. Nilson, Primeau and Friesen are all strong pieces of the puzzle but fit under the category of depth.

And then you have those who may have skated for the Flaming C for the last time.

That would include Tony Amonte -- the effort was always there but the results weren't -- Eric Godard, Darren McCarty, Jamie McLennan and Byron Ritchie, although you never know seeing as the last couple of those players come with small tickets.

But any move this year will be predicated on what Sutter plans, or even knows, to expect with his key players next summer.

In '08, Miikka Kiprusoff, Jarome Iginla, Daymond Langkow, Kristian Huselius, Robyn Regehr and Craig Conroy are all due to be UFAs. Plus, rising star defenceman Dion Phaneuf is due to be a restricted free agent.

Don't bank on the Flames being able to keep them all in the fold.

Which means we can expect for some serious upheaval between now and September's training camp.

As much as Sutter has an eye on winning the Stanley Cup in 2008, he's also focused on the years beyond.

How he'll put together those teams for the coming years will be an interesting study in building.

Based on the short playoff run, the key cog is goalie Miikka Kiprusoff. Provided the netminder is willing to sign a long-term extension that would keep him in Calgary at the dollar figures the Flames are thinking -- and we have no reason to think otherwise -- bank on him remaining. Be sure Sutter has an inkling what Kiprusoff and his agent are thinking, or he will very soon.

Since Sutter is a firm believer in defence, we'll go there next.

Just imagine a blueline brigade boasting Regehr, Stuart and Phaneuf. That's a big three teams would all covet. It's not a stretch to believe Sutter wants all three together, given his druthers.

To do that, he'll have to sacrifice in the last area, the forwards led by Iginla. But the Flames have plenty of talent with the likes of Langkow, Huselius and even Alex Tanguay coming off career seasons.

Which is where things get dicey. Talk of trading Iginla -- more his contract than him as a player or person -- was heresy a few years ago. Now, with it very possible he could walk away at the end of next year, it's becoming a subject fans are willing to discuss. Especially after seeing the Edmonton Oilers part ways with Ryan Smyth. Those dollars may be needed to keep others around.

Or maybe Alex Tanguay and his US$5.25 million per season deal could be dangled. It would seem strange, though, seeing as Sutter signed him to that deal a year ago and has been adamant Tanguay's place in a first-line role is a big reason for Huselius's breakout.

Even Langkow, coming off the best season of his career, could be just too costly with campaign around 80 points or more.

As much as it would be great to assume all the top players will remain with the Flames, the salary cap simply won't make it possible.

And seeing as the Flames are coming off a second season stopped well short of expectations, maybe it's time to change some key components.

So, prepare for a summer of discontent, likely a year before we'd all expected.


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