Music to Flames fans' ears

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

While few envied Darryl Sutter while he was trying to come to terms with the game's best young defenceman, suddenly he and the Calgary Flames are now the envy of the NHL.

Simply put, no team is in better shape going forward than the club Dion Phaneuf signed on with for six more years yesterday for $39 million.

While some shudder at the thought of having five players account for $28.5 million in cap space next season, the reality is those five players are all worth far more on the open market.

And outside of Alex Tanguay, they're all here for at least the next five years.

A Vezina-winning goaltender in Miikka Kiprusoff, the hardest-hitting defenceman in Phaneuf, one of the most fundamentally sound defensive-types in Robyn Regehr and arguably the game's best captain, Jarome Iginla.

Call them the Flames' Fab Four.

And all at prices that will prove to be even more and more attractive deals every year, assuming the salary cap continues to grow.

Unlike in Tampa Bay where the Lightning franchise has struggled since signing deals that pay a collective $20 million to forwards Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, the Flames' big five are scattered across all the key positions of the ice, giving the club unmatched stability and balance.

Just seven years after staging a Flames Forever, S.O.S. campaign, this is now the NHL's model franchise both on and off the ice.

Now all Sutter has to do is fill smaller holes and roles along the way, which should be even easier given how attractive playing in Calgary is these days.

Like the big four Sutter locked up for the next half-decade, others will now consider taking a little less money to play in a hockey mecca where the game matters, the fan support is second to none, the team is a perennial Cup contender and the city itself has grown to be world-class.

If the team's farm club in Quad City can finally start producing significant talent, Sutter can use prospects more often or swap for trade deadline additions.

That's not to say the Flames are hockey's New England Patriots, poised to win Cup after Cup. Heck, one bad week and they might not even make the playoffs this year.

But no GM would deny Sutter is in the best perch.

Perhaps most exciting for someone like team president Ken King is with such framework in place, the waiting list of season-ticket holders will grow exponentially. So will revenue from advertisers and rights holders, as everyone now knows exactly what to expect for the next five-plus years.

Had Phaneuf tested restricted free agency, someone would have paid him at least $2 million more a year to anchor their club. Instead, he decided to take less to stay here where he'll soon wear an 'A' and challenge perennially for the Norris Trophy.

As much as the richest deal in Flames history says about Phaneuf's talent, it says even more about what Sutter has built around him.

That is to say, it's the NHL's most complete franchise.


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