SUN Hockey Pool

Making dollars and sense

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

You can't blame Dion Phaneuf if dollar signs are racing through his head.

With Alexander Ovechkin inking a massive 13-year deal with the Washington Capitals yesterday worth US$124 million, the Calgary Flames defenceman becomes the last of the 2005-06 Calder Trophy finalists without a new contract.

Sidney Crosby was the first of those big three to sign a post-entry-level deal. The five-year pact was worth $43.5 million, an average of $8.7 million to correspond with his sweater number and birth year.

Now comes news Ovechkin, who won rookie-of-the-year honours that season, has signed for an average of $9.54 million.

So where does that leave the Flames and Phaneuf?

The good news is Phaneuf's agent, Don Meehan, and the Flames have begun talking about an extension.

Meehan was in town a couple of days ago and said the process will continue the next few weeks.

Better news is Phaneuf wants to remain in Calgary and the Flames want to keep him in the fold.

Even better is the fact time isn't much of a factor -- the deadline before he becomes a restricted free agent is July 1.

However, there will be plenty of hand-wringing among the Calgary faithful until Phaneuf has signed.

At first glance, any fears seem realistic. With so many players already signed to lucrative deals -- Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff, Alex Tanguay, Matthew Lombardi, Robyn Regehr, Cory Sarich, Adrian Aucoin and Rhett Warrener are under contract for a total of $33.85 million next season -- the Flames don't have a ton of cap room to work with.

But there will be enough to fit Phaneuf.

Key unrestricted free agents are another story.

It's hard to imagine we'll see both, or quite possibly either of Daymond Langkow and Kristian Huselius after this season.

The biggest focus for now, however, is Phaneuf.

He's a rare talent. A top defenceman who can turn a game with both his scoring ability and physical presence.

Which is why the Flames will not let him walk away via an offer sheet.

Because of that possibility, Sutter and the ownership group know their best course of action is to re-sign the 22-year-old who just this week was voted a starter for the NHL's all-star game.

Last summer, the NHL learned the danger of allowing key players to become restricted free agents.

Thomas Vanek received a seven-year, $50-million offer sheet Buffalo matched after Edmonton tried to poach him. Then the Oilers nabbed Dustin Penner from Anaheim with a five-year, $21.25-million deal.

Should Phaneuf not be signed by July 1, you can take it to the bank one of the other 29 NHL teams, if not several, would be racing to hand him a ridiculous contract proposal worth more than the Flames could sign him for right now.

So the multi-million dollar question, is what will it take for the Flames to sign Phaneuf?

Usually, the best course of action is to look at contracts throughout the league. Sutter isn't the type to set a standard, so whatever contract he and Meehan come up with isn't going to be trendsetting.

Phaneuf is a great up-and-comer, but he's not a franchise player the way Crosby and Ovechkin are, so it's best to look at the deals other young stars have signed lately.

Exhibit 'A' could be a player who'll be front and centre against the Flames tonight: Goaltender Rick DiPietro and his 15-year, $67.5-million deal. Not necessarily for the dollar amount -- although the $4.5-million average per season doesn't look too bad for a franchise goalie's career -- but more the term.

It began the standard that led to extensively long-term deals for the likes of Ovechkin and Philadelphia's Mike Richards (12 years, $69 million, an average of $5.75 million).

Phaneuf is a raw talent yet still a conerstone player, so a deal in the 10-year range is believable. Remember, he'd be in his early 30s at the end.

Another group of deals to compare are those belonging to other key defencemen throughout the league.

At the top of the scale is Zdeno Chara's deal worth $7.5 million, signed in Boston as an unrestricted free agent and an example of what can happen when a player is overpaid on the open market.

Also in that stratosphere is Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom. In the final year of a deal worth $7.6 million, he recently signed a two-year extension at $7.45 million per season.

As good as Phaneuf is, and as good as he'll become, he isn't Lidstrom, who's won five Norris Trophies and a trio of Stanley Cups.

Phaneuf is among that next tier, so the clues are there regarding a likely dollar figure for his pending deal.

Contracts range from the $6.75 million per season Anaheim's Scott Niedermayer has, weaving through deals in the $6.5-million range for the likes of Ed Jovanovski and Wade Redden to totals such as Chris Pronger's $6.25 million, Brian Rafalski's $6 million and Andrei Markov's $5.75.

With so much potential, Phaneuf will likely end up in the upper part of that category, especially if the term is extremely long.

Undoubtedly, Phaneuf would receive a bigger contract by waiting until July and forcing the Flames to bite the bullet and match whatever comes his way.

But don't be surprised to see him follow the trend set in Calgary by the likes of Iginla -- taking less that he'd get elsewhere to remain in a city he loves -- and sign something like a 10-year deal that averages $6-to-$6.5 per season.


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