SUN Hockey Pool

Big-ticket deals weighed down Flames

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:43 PM ET

Darryl Sutter won’t flat-out admit he made a mistake signing too many players to big-ticket contacts.

His actions Sunday, trading away Dion Phaneuf, did it for the Flames GM.

As much as Sutter was lauded the past couple of years for keeping together his core group of players — Jarome Iginla, Daymond Langkow, Robyn Regehr, Miikka Kiprusoff and Phaneuf — while adding a couple more high-salaried skaters in Olli Jokinen and Jay Bouwmeester, it had become obvious he had to reallocate some cash.

Too little money was spent on the wingers beyond Iginla. It didn’t help the highly paid centres haven’t produced to expectations — nor have Iginla or the blueliners this season, either — but Sutter decided he had to deal Phaneuf and his US$6.5 million salary cap hit to create some depth.

“You have to remember how the economics and the numbers affect that core group. You have a lot of money tied up in four or five guys, and I’m not convinced that’s the best route,” said Sutter, who took that route. “Being able to spread it out reflects why we brought this group in. It balances it out.”

By dealing away Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom and defenceman prospect Keith Aulie in exchange for wingers Niklas Hagman and Jamal Mayers, centre Matt Stajan and defenceman Ian White, Sutter opted to go for quantity over quality.

It was a decision made because of a lack of other options, the emergence of Mark Giordano, but Sutter stated not because of any off-ice issues involving Phaneuf.

“I still do think very highly of him. It’s very tough to trade him,” Sutter said. “This move wasn’t made because of Dion. He’s a great kid, he’s a really good hockey player and will continue to be a really good hockey player.”

Sutter, who denied on several occasions a few weeks ago he was going to trade Phaneuf, said the genesis of the deal came during scouting meetings.

“You go through organization, your depth charts, your strengths and your weaknesses, and you have all your ‘what if’ scenarios, and that was one of the ‘what ifs,’ ” he said.

The Flames receive in Hagman a winger capable of 25-30 goals, while Stajan is a depth centre, although he’ll be likely given a shot to play alongside Jarome Iginla, and Mayers provides grit.

White is a tantalizing piece of the puzzle, a small defenceman with strong puck-moving skills and capable of flourishing on the right point on the powerplay.

“When you talk about Dion, when you talk about what you need in return, a big part was making sure you could get somebody who could handle the even strength minutes and fit in with the rest of the group,” Sutter said. “You had to get the defenceman back who could play those even-strength minutes and play that side of the ice, the right side. The next part was getting one or two forward that could play in the top nine, and clearly Stajan and Hagman can do that.

“I don’t think our centremen as a group have been as good this year as they could be. It was our most veteran position on our team, with Conroy, Daymond and Olli. It has nothing to do with Jarome. You guys have been here longer than I have, and Jarome puts up big numbers every year.

“It’s not a one-trick pony, it’s about the whole group. You need guys to complement the group.”

Sajan is due to be an unrestricted free agent, and it would appear this deal gives Sutter the ability to re-sign him and Rene Bourque.

“It gives us flexibility in a lot of areas, money-wise and player-wise. It should create a very competitive forward group,” Sutter said. “It’s gonna play itself out.”

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca


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