Time for Flames to buck defence trend

WES GILBERTSON, Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:55 PM ET

The Calgary Flames’ defence spending isn’t as bloated as that of the U.S.

military.

It only seems that way.

And it’s a problem the club must address if the management expects to build a team which will score more goals next season.

As much as this year’s team is filled with forwards who underachieved with their offensive output, that group of skaters will need more help.

That means freeing up some dollars currently ticketed for the blueline brigade.

The Flames were in trouble going into this past season because too many dollars were committed to the defencemen — nearly US$23 million, and that was before acquiring Aaron Johnson to give the club eight blueliners on one-way contracts.

Considering the salaries of Jarome Iginla, Daymond Langkow and Olli Jokinen, there simply wasn’t enough left over for proven scoring depth.

The decision to trade away Dion Phaneuf at the end of January was to help alleviate the problem, which, in theory, it did by allowing the team to have more financial resources for its forwards.

With the move, the Flames added 20-goal forwards Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman, along with fourth-liner Jamal Mayers, while Ian White replaced Phaneuf’s offence from the point, with a better plus-minus, too.

(The fact Stajan and Hagman didn’t deliver to expectations after the trade is another story.)

However, acquiring Steve Staios at the deadline, with a

$2.7 million contract for next season, and having to re-sign White puts the team pretty much in the same spot.

As it stands right now, the Flames have nearly $18.6 million committed to six of their top seven defencemen — Jay Bouwmeester, Robyn Regehr, Cory Sarich, Mark Giordano, Adam Pardy and Steve Staios.

That doesn’t include what White will receive. The pending restricted free agent has completed his deal that paid US$950,000 this past season, with a US$850,000 cap hit.

Nor does it count Staffan Kronwall, whose one-way contract the club hid in the minors for about half this past season is worth US$500,000 — the same salary he’s owed in the 2010-11 campaign.

The Flames have at least one young defenceman waiting in the wings, provided Matt Pelech can overcome the blood clot issues that put him on the shelf the past couple of months.

They also have high hopes for John Negrin, although he may be another year away.

The time is right to bring in a youngster. Pelech — who was drafted in 2005, the same year as Sidney Crosby — is reaching that make-or-break point in his career.

The Flames would serve themselves well by moving Staios or Sarich and freeing up some cash. They may have no choice if they can’t figure out a way to rid themselves of Ales Kotalik’s $3 million due in each of the next two seasons.

The lack of offensive punch provided by Bouwmeester was a major factor this season, and a bounce-back year from him and more of the same from Giordano should translate into more production throughout the team.

Still, the Flames need to re-think their goal-scoring plan from this past season.

It didn’t work.


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