Darryl Sutter would happily do the Dion Phaneuf deal all over again.
And of all the reasons the embattled Flames GM had for sending his most prized draft pick to Toronto last January, two stand out: Rene Bourque and Mark Giordano.
“Absolutely, I’d do it again — if we didn’t trade Dion we would have lost Bourque and Gio,” Sutter told QMI Agency on the eve of Phaneuf’s highly-anticipated return to Calgary.
“It allowed us to keep them, as both were unrestricted free agents. We would have lost Bourque last summer and Gio this summer. And they both wanted to play here.”
Is that to suggest Phaneuf didn’t want to play here?
Not at all, says Sutter. In fact, he went out of his way yesterday to reiterate Phaneuf never asked for a trade.
“Hey, Dion’s a great kid,” said Sutter, who drafted Phaneuf ninth overall in 2003. “We did everything we could to keep him happy. We couldn’t make him a captain because we already have a pretty good one.”
His comments support the notion that while Phaneuf saw himself as a leader, few others in the room did.
So, Phaneuf and his $6.5-million salary were packaged up with Fredrik Sjostrom and Keith Aulie and sent to the Leafs where he was made captain over the summer and immediately became the face of the franchise.
Phaneuf said while he was shocked at first, it was the best thing that ever happened to him.
Although Sutter has taken increasing heat for assembling an aging team sitting 14th in the west, few can argue the importance of locking up 29-year-old Bourque (six years, $20 million) and 27-year-old Giordano (five years, 20.1 million). After all, they’re two of the youngest pillars on a roster handcuffed by several other deals authored by Sutter.
Deemed by many to be a panic move by Sutter last year following the team’s slow start, it has been suggested Sutter didn’t shop Phaneuf around enough or get proper value in return for the league’s most feared hitter.
Not so, said Sutter, who pointed out how limited a market there is for players making that kind of cash.
“Because we live in a cap world and only seven or eight teams (can spend to the $59.4 million limit) due to revenues, that means at least
15 teams have no chance at that player,” said Sutter who, for that reason, had meaningful trade talks with less than a handful of teams.
“It’s not hard to figure out.”
The offensive production that helped make Phaneuf so popular here his first three years has continued to taper off in Toronto to the point he got his first goal of the year Tuesday in Edmonton — his third in 40 games as a Leaf.
Leafs GM Brian Burke, who chastised some Leafs fans for booing Phaneuf last month, said he, too, is happy with the deal largely because of the attitude Phaneuf brings — one of the very things that, ironically, prompted the trade.
While Phaneuf’s offence is down, the former 20-goal scorer is still one of the game’s best hitters — something that often made Flames fans overlook regular defensive lapses his first three years. By year four here, he was one of the fans’ biggest targets. Sutter insists he, too, is happy with what he got in return even though Matt Stajan has one goal to show for the four-year, $14-million deal Sutter inked him to after the trade.
“I give him more latitude than everybody’s giving him — he missed all of camp and probably came back from a concussion too early because he wanted to come back,” said Sutter.
“Matthew is going to be fine. He’s a young guy who gives us a No.-2 centre. He’s got to be our Daymond (Langkow, who is sidelined indefinitely with a neck injury). Those are tough shoes to fill, but Daymond was a 20-goal, 40-assist guy, and Stajan was that last year.”
As for Niklas Hagman, Sutter is content with the seven goals he’s scored to fill a top six role. With Ian White destined for free agency and too expensive to keep Sutter moved him and son Brett for bit players Anton Babchuk and Tom Kostopolous.
“I don’t regret the deal at all,” said Sutter.
“It’s good for both teams.”