Anyone still want to second-guess the genius of Darryl Sutter?
Could there be anyone stubborn enough in Calgary left to suggest, as an increasing number have for months now, the Flames GM is out of touch with today's players, or is one more playoff loss away from being fired?
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Fact is, not only has Sutter's recent track record solidified his stay in town indefinitely, it is also what helped him land the biggest free agent in club history. (Let's face it, that's what he was).
As if parlaying a third-round pick and 48 hours of negotiating time into a five-year commitment from Jay Bouwmeester wasn't enough, he convinced the strapping young stud to leave millions on the table in the process.
Several agents agreed yesterday Bouwmeester's $6.6-million annual salary is anywhere from $500,000 to $1.5 million less than he could have garnered elsewhere had he become an unrestricted free agent yesterday.
Given the recent trend of signing players to decade-long deals, Bouwmeester may have foregone a 10-year, $70-million deal for the five-year pact he inked at $33 million.
A fair deal and a fair amount of money for the 25-year-old defenceman, to be sure, there was little reason to believe the Edmonton native wouldn't at least field dozens of offers first before signing anywhere.
"Money is not the only thing," said J-Bo, who never saw a playoff game (or a full house) in six years with Florida.
"I came from a situation there was a lot of turnover and it wasn't an ideal situation at the time so I was just looking to move onto something more solid."
And where is it more solid than Calgary?
Nowhere, thanks to Sutter.
Clearly selling Bouwmeester on franchise stability, the new coach, the character of his players and a virtual guarantee of being on a contender the life of his deal, Sutter pulled off the move of the summer.
So perfect was the acquisition, the Jim Vandermeer trade that freed up salary for the move also opened the door for Bouwmeester to wear No. 4 in Calgary.
Not bad for a GM everyone figured would be quiet this summer as he had no money to spend.
"Isn't it always the draft or free agent or deal that was not possible for us to make?" grinned Flames president Ken King following the franchise's second monumental signing in a week (see Brent Sutter).
"At some point, maybe, there will be a deal we can't make, but Darryl is a very sophisticated manager, a very complex and strategic thinker and it's never for show or flash or dash. He gets done what we need to get done. Look at all his achievements and accomplishments and weigh them against whatever you see the negatives are and there's a staggering preponderance of evidence for a brilliant hockey mind."
Sutter insists he didn't have to do much of a sell job on the club, which is a testament to what he's built here the last six years -- a base that includes pillars that are the envy of the league.
Defensively, the team is now unmatched with Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr being joined by what Sutter called "maybe the best all-around defencemen in the league.
"It's ownership -- I'm just the messenger," said Sutter, heaping praise on those giving him free reign.
"The most impressive thing for me is that he wanted to come to a market like this. You talk about him leaving money on the table -- the tradeoff is playing on good teams. You could go elsewhere and spend five years before you're in the playoffs. He wanted to take that next step."
Calgary is clearly the place to do it. With the league's best defence corps, veteran leadership, balanced scoring, proven goaltending, new coach and a full building, the Flames will enter this season and several to follow as one of the top four Stanley Cup contenders.
Months after playoff disappointment and the imminent loss of Mike Cammalleri had more and more questioning him, Sutter's magic has once again put a bounce in their step.
And given the club as rosy a future as any in the NHL.