SUN Hockey Pool

Cap gambles leave Flames shorthanded

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

Let's get something straight: The Calgary Flames are not guilty of mismanaging their salary cap.

They're the victims of a rash of late injuries to high-priced players.

Forced to play shorthanded the past few games because of a lack of wiggle room under the strict ceiling of $56.7-million, their situation serves as a warning of what can happen under this system if a team gambles with the addition of a high salary at the trade deadline and is struck by injuries down the stretch.

Begging the question, 'What would happen if a team were to exceed the cap?' The answer isn't what you might expect.

Quite literally, as one Flames business-type said this week, "It can't happen."

Not only are teams aware of the impact of the cap implications of every move they make, the league is a watchdog prepared to reject any addition that would put them over the limit.

Be it potential trades or simple call-ups, the NHL oversees transactions daily to make sure everything fits.

Unlike the Canadian Football League, where a team can go over the cap and be penalized with fines or the loss of draft picks, the National Hockey League has no punishment in place.

They just ensure no violation can occur.

Playing shorthanded is penalty enough for the Flames, who dressed 16 skaters and two goaltenders in Minnesota and a 4-0 loss to the Wild, 17 skaters in their 4-1 win at home over the Los Angeles Kings, and 17 again in Tuesday's 4-1 loss against the Canucks in Vancouver.

The addition of Olli Jokinen's hefty $5.25-million contract, combined with call-ups in the wake of injuries to defencemen Robyn Regehr and Cory Sarich are to blame as the Flames make do in one of the most important stretches of the season.

It's not mismanagement, it's risk versus reward.

Knowing the trade-deadline acquisition could lead to some hand-tying over the final days, general manager Darryl Sutter and his staff decided it was worth it to add an impact player such as Jokinen.

Everyone will find out whether it was indeed worth the risk when Jokinen suits up for his first NHL playoff game next week.

Next week also happens to usher in the end of the cap concerns.

Not only is the roster limit going out the window for the playoffs, but so does the ceiling.

If Regehr (who's battling an undisclosed lower-body injury believed to be a knee issue) and Sarich (who took a shot off the inside of his foot last week and has been spotted on crutches since) can't return, the Flames can turn to the experience of Anders Eriksson, whose $1.5-million salary has been buried in the minors all season.

Rhett Warrener -- who made $2.5-million while trying to get his shoulder healthy this season on the long-term injury list -- might also be an option if he can get medical clearance.

Meanwhile, the Flames will make do with rookies Adam Pardy and the recently recalled Matt Pelech playing larger roles while leaning on veterans Jordan Leopold, Adrian Aucoin, Jim Vandermeer and Dion Phaneuf.

A man short up front, head coach Mike Keenan will continue to double-shift players if necessary in the back-to-back against the Edmonton Oilers tomorrow and Saturday.

It's a temporary handcuff.

Although the salary cap could come down next year, the Flames have enough money coming off the books -- most notably Aucoin's $4-million and Michael Cammalleri's $3.35M hit -- to leave them in decent shape for next season.


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