SUN Hockey Pool

Squad strikes balance on blueline

STEVE MACFARLANE, Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:21 AM ET

Giving up Dion Phaneuf was a gutsy move.

By bailing on the franchise defenceman who is still only 24, the Flames realized they would be judged for months, maybe years, on a few levels.

One, what they received from the Toronto Maple Leafs in the trade.

Two, how Phaneuf plays now and in the future.

Three, how the Flames defence performs without him.

So far, things are looking good for GM Darryl Sutter’s early returns.

Not only has Matt Stajan blossomed with Jarome Iginla and Rene Bourque on his wings and signed up for four more seasons, Jamal Mayers has been a solid addition and both Niklas Hagman, and Ian White are meshing well.

White has taken Phaneuf’s jersey number and his spot alongside Robyn Regehr. He’s now plus-10 with five assists in a dozen games with the Flames.

His mustache alone is more popular than Phaneuf was in his final few months with the Flames.

Averaging about 20 minutes a night, White has become a key cog in a defensive unit that has really come together since Steve Staios was scooped up from the Edmonton Oilers at the trade deadline.

In the four games since Staios was inserted into the lineup, the Flames have averaged a measly 1.75 goals against and gone undefeated (putting Staios right behind the retro third jerseys, which now have a 5-0 record).

Staios and Jay Bouwmeester have actually been the most porous pair — the only duo that has a minus rating in the past four games.

But the minutes are being shared in a way not possible when Phaneuf, Bouwmeester and Regehr were the team’s Big Three.

At even-strength, their numbers are all ranging between 14 and 17 minutes, with more work going to the special-teamers.

The balance is noticeable.

Cory Sarich is playing his best hockey of the season. Mark Giordano continues to impress as his partner. And the White/Regehr tandem continues to act as a shutdown duo that is committed to defence first.

That’s something Phaneuf always struggled with.

— Steve Macfarlane


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