SUN Hockey Pool

Blueline bonanza

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

Brent Sutter knows it won't be easy for his brother to get Jay Bouwmeester's autograph anytime soon.

However, if Darryl Sutter can convince the 25-year-old blueliner to forego free agency and sign with the Flames before Wednesday, Brent is convinced no other NHL team could match Calgary's back end.

"You can probably look at it and say it's as good as it can possibly be and it could be as good as any six defencemen in the league as far as a team," said the new Flames coach yesterday, understandably giddy over the prospect of working with three Team Canada prospects in Dion Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr and Bouwmeester.

"Obviously, when you can have all three it's impactful, but I look at what it does for your overall core and how it sets up your defence. When you think about all the possibilities or who could play with who, you become just a real solid group."

Indeed, only the top three in Detroit -- Nik Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski and Nik Kronwall -- are comparable to what Calgary's top trio might be.

Full of praise for Cory Sarich as well as Mark Giordano and the unsigned Adam Pardy, Brent is also keenly aware of the crop of youngsters ready to push for a spot in the defence-first system he was hired to implement in Calgary.

"When you look at the calibre of guys and the prospects coming through, the defence in Calgary is set up extremely well moving into the future," he said. "It's such a big part of the game, especially with the new rules now and the way the game is played -- your back core is so important. They've got to be able to move and be intelligent and be assertive. Jay brings a little bit of everything."

Having coached the Red Deer Rebels against a teenage Bouwmeester who was clearly destined to be one of the top picks in the draft (third in 2002), Brent saw no weakness in a game that has improved through six years in the NHL.

"I remember seeing him when he was 15. I said, 'Oh my god, this guy is good' because he had the size and the speed," said Sutter of the 6-foot-4, 215 pounder who will be the undisputed top dog of the free agent pool if nothing comes from the Flames' freshly-acquired negotiating rights which end Wednesday.

"Obviously, he's a big guy who is an extremely good skater and very smart player. His intelligence and the way he skates are what makes him so good at both ends of the ice. I remember him in junior -- at 16 years of age, he was dominant that way."

Asked to compare Bouwmeester to Phaneuf, whom Sutter coached for four years in Red Deer, Sutter balked.

"Two different types of players," he said. "Both are very good in their own right, but there's a physical part of Dion's game that makes the rest of it better when he's in that mode and is involved."

In short, Dion excels offensively while Bouwmeester excels everywhere.

Darryl Sutter essentially dished out a third rounder for a few days of money talk with the Edmonton native, who will most likely wait to see what his market value is before deciding which of the dozens of teams interested is the best fit for him.

While many other teams will likely offer more than Calgary is willing or able to throw towards the durable ice-hog, the prospect of staying in his home province and augmenting an already-solid team has to be intriguing, even at a slightly lower paycheque.

It's certainly not impossible for him to sign here for a little less money after examining his options. Either way, he's a cinch to make well over $7 million annually.

"We'll just have to wait and see," said Brent, echoing the tact Bouwmeester will likely adopt.


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