Phaneuf 'thankful'

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

Dion Phaneuf could have held out for more.

The Calgary Flames defenceman had the opportunity to wait until he became a free-agent, albeit restricted, and watch the ridiculous offers rain down.

Had he not signed by July 1, some team out there would have likely stepped forward with a ridiculous Tomas Vanek-like offer sheet.

Hey, it would have been worth a few more bucks than the US$39-million, six-year contract extension announced yesterday.

Phaneuf, however, let it be known he didn't believe it necessary to put the Flames through that process in the chase for a bigger cheque.

"I didn't want to go that route," he explained. "I'm very thankful for the way Darryl (Sutter), Ken (King), Mike Holditch and the ownership handled the whole negotiation process. It was lengthy, it was long, but it was very professional.

"I never wanted to leave Calgary, and am excited to be here the next six years."

Less than a year ago, it appeared a tall order for the Flames to keep most of their key pieces in Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff and Robyn Regehr -- who'd all have been unrestricted free agents this summer -- on top of Phaneuf.

Instead, Sutter has them all in the fold on long-term deals of at least five seasons, and all for less money than they could have received by going on the open market.

"Good teams have big cores," Sutter said. "I think we have one, and that's why we've been successful for, other than the lockout year, four years.

"I think we're in good shape. As an ownership and as a management team, you're trying to secure top players for as long as you can, which -- if they are in fact top players -- keeps your team competitive for a long time, which this does."

Looking to next season, the Flames currently have 14 players (seven forwards, six defencemen and Kiprusoff) signed for a combined $45.4 million hit against the salary cap.

Conventional thinking would say it'll be impossible to re-sign pending UFAs Daymond Langkow and Kristian Huselius, unless the Flames shed a big salary or two. It's hard to imagine keeping even one with the salary cap rising a couple of million dollars from the $50.3 million figure it's at this season.

Then again, Sutter said don't rule out anything yet.

"We have the ability to keep all our unrestricted players if we want -- and if they want," Sutter said.

"The unrestricted players, who we keep and who we don't keep, will be based on team performance and individual performance."

Besides, the Flames are now a team built around Iginla, a top-level goalie and a pair of defencemen, one of which is pegged as a future Norris Trophy winner at the age of 22. Phaneuf has already come a long way since being chosen ninth overall in the extremely deep draft class of 2003.

"If you'd look at the age group of those defencemen, and there's some pretty good ones in there, Dion is the head of that class," Sutter said.

"He's basically came in and demonstrated that right from the start, offensively. He's still working on improving other parts of his game, but that's coming for him."

Phaneuf surrendered two years of unrestricted free agency, although it wouldn't have been a surprise to see him signed to a deal of double-digit length.

"I think six is a long term, don't you? That's a long time," Sutter said.

"For a guy like Dion, we were fine going out that long, too, but at the same time a lot of things come into it, insurance, injury."


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