CALGARY — High above the Air Canada Centre ice surface, in the Foster Hewitt Media Gondola, an Eastern Conference scout wandered over to have a chat.
It was Feb. 2, 2010, and the joint was buzzing over Dion Phaneuf’s debut as a Maple Leaf against the New Jersey Devils. When Phaneuf was greeted with chants of “Dion, Dion” after crushing one of the Devils during his first shift in blue and white, the building pulsated with an electricity not felt inside the Bay St. barn in a long time.
The scout knew it, too.
“What were the Flames thinking?” he asked. “They could have gotten so much more for Phaneuf. My bosses didn’t even know the Flames seriously were shopping him.”
Over the course of the evening, which featured a 3-0 victory by the Leafs, those same sentiments were echoed by two other representatives of NHL teams.
The names of those officials will not be listed here. They were speaking off the record and, as such, do not deserve to get into hot water with their respective clubs by being identified.
Besides, almost 11 months after the trade, you don’t have to dig very deep to find observers here in Calgary who are asking the same questions.
Why not more, Darryl Sutter?
Why could you have not snapped up a more lucrative package for a deal involving Phaneuf than Matt Stajan. Nik Hagman, Ian White and Jamal Mayers?
Interesting food for thought, especially after digesting Sutter’s comments to colleague Eric Francis in Thursday’s edition of the Calgary Sun.
In the story, the Flames GM, when asked about the Jan. 31 deal that also landed defenceman Keith Aulie and third-line winger Fredrik Sjostrom in Toronto, told Francis: “Absolutely, I’d do it again.”
Sutter stressed that Phaneuf and his $6.5 million US salary needed to be moved in order to lock up a pair of pending free agents to extensions. Keeping to his word, he followed up that blueprint by inking forward Rene Bourque, 29 (six years, $20 million) and defenceman Mark Giordano, 27 (five years, $20.1 million).
Sutter added that, because of the NHL’s cap system where only a finite number of franchises can afford to spend the maximum allowed, at least 15 teams could not afford Phaneuf’s contract.
Maybe. But that still leaves 14 teams that could, doesn’t it?
The bottom line: The Leafs won this trade. Canvass executives of various teams around the league, especially those who would have enjoyed the opportunity to make an offer of their own, and that’s the message you get.
Stajan is a stand-up guy who sticks up for his teammates and is known for doing community work. But obviously coach Brent Sutter has issues with the ex-Leaf, judging by the fact that Stajan was a healthy scratch in the two games leading up to Thursday’s Leafs-Flames tilt at the Saddledome.
Meanwhile, if money issues played such a key role in the decision to move Phaneuf, why immediately sign Stajan to a four-year, $14 million pact, a deal many critics back in Toronto felt was far too generous?
Hagman shows offensive flair, but only in clumps. A nice enough guy, sure, but he is far too inconsistent to be relied upon on a nightly basis.
Mayers left for San Jose as a free agent in the off-season while White was traded along with Brett Sutter for Anton Babchuk and Tom Kostopolous.
Have all these moves made the aging Flames a better team? Even with Bourque and Giordano having been locked up long term, it’s tough to see how.
Additionally, in an organization thin on prospects, why include Aulie, one of the precious few in their system?
In the end, Sutter needed to get a better return in this deal.
Maybe he would do the deal all over again. But there are very few in Calgary or around the hockey world who share that opinion.