NHL's next cash 'Kow?

ERIC FRANCIS, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 7:53 AM ET

Apparently it's that time of year for those who cover and follow the NHL to let their imaginations run wild.

Time for the laundry list of asinine Alex Tanguay trade rumours out of Montreal and the ol' Olli Jokinen speculation out of Florida.

This year, the pulp fiction is being spiced up locally by fabricated contract offers for Dion Phaneuf, manic mentions Mats Sundin could land here and even talk there is a snowball's chance in hell Kristian Huselius will re-sign in Cowtown.

Yet somehow, through it all, no one is talking about Daymond Langkow.

Hardly surprising given the fact it has long been contended in this space he's not only the most underrated Flame, but may just be the most underrated player in today's NHL. (Apparently, Don Cherry recently concurred.)

The precious few who agree Langkow should have at least a couple Selke Trophy nominations by now as the league's top defensive forward know it's what he does without the puck that makes him every bit as valuable as what he does with it.

Defensively, he's as conscientious a backchecker as the Flames have, forever present to help his defencemen in the corners and often making the first pass out of his zone.

His tenacity often leads to him springing Jarome Iginla in what is surely a Hart Trophy season, but the versatile forward also has finish.

For the sixth season in a row, the gritty Edmonton native hit the 20-goal mark Friday thanks to a hat-trick in Calgary's 6-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings. One came off a brilliant deflection, the other two he roofed with quick releases from the slot.

Entering the game tied with $10-million counterpart Scott Gomez for 19th in scoring amongst NHL centremen, he finished the evening equal with another $10 million man, Daniel Briere.

Along the way he passed Jokinen, who rakes in a mere pittance at $5.25 million.

None of this is to suggest the 31-year-old, who has made $2.4 million each of the last three years, is worthy of commanding anywhere near the same sort of loot such aforementioned luminaries are stealing, but suffice it to say he's not out of place amongst such elite company.

With 20 goals and 25 helpers to his credit in 48 outings, it's a foregone conclusion he has played/priced his way out of town this summer.

The good news for Flames fans is Langkow is an integral part of any potential playoff run the Flames might mount, meaning GM Darryl Sutter wouldn't dare dream of moving the pending unrestricted free agent at the trade deadline.

The bad news is, there's little chance the Flames will be able to afford to keep him given the monstrous money Phaneuf will command. That is, unless Phaneuf balks at the Flames best offer, elects to forego plenty of money to remain alongside Iginla, or one of the Tanguay rumours come to pass, opening up $5.375 million in cap room.

Sad, given the fact he's unquestionably the team's top centre with 30 powerplay goals and a plus-35 rating in his three years in Calgary -- not bad for someone whose name never comes up when key pieces of the Flames puzzle are discussed.

Exactly who will replace the durable two-way centre who provides the club with 18 minutes solid minutes every night?

No one in the organization would be able to even come close, meaning we could also expect a significant drop in Iginla's number's next year.

Of course, that's making the ballsy assumption the likes of Sundin, Jokinen, Michael Ryder or any other outgoing Canadiens' castoffs won't be hitting town anytime soon.


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