Captain ecstatic

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

The text message was over a different celebratory reason.

Tuesday evening, Jarome Iginla received a quick note from Jason Strudwick regarding the addition of sniper Tony Amonte.

"Merry Christmas," it read.

Little did Strudwick and the rest of the league know that wasn't the only present awaiting under the tree for the Flames captain.

Ready to be unwrapped was a three-year, $21-million contract. The Flames announced yesterday their cornerstone player had signed.

Iginla could have become an unrestricted free agent after the coming season but opted for a longer pact.

"I was very happy that they didn't want me to take a one-year (deal) because I didn't want to take a one-year," Iginla said. "I was excited to hear that with the new CBA, free agency was going to be lower because as a player you like to have a choice where you're going to play earlier than 31 years old if you come in at 18.

"But this is the choice we were very happy to make. As a free agent, you take into account the pay, no question, then you take in the living and then comes winning and winning might be near the top.

"After getting a taste with our group in the playoffs the way this city reacts and how much fun it is to be a part of it, I want to win so bad and believe this is a spot we can do it in."

Certainly the Flames' chances improved with the re-signing of the player who tied for the league lead with 41 goals in 2003-04 before leading the team to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. And with the league-wide arms race going on thanks to the free-agent frenzy, Flames GM/head coach Darryl Sutter is happy to see Iginla remains in his arsenal.

"I think, quite honestly, we've signed the No.-1 free agent in the market. I don't think there's anybody else that compares," Sutter stated. "Jarome is the face of the Calgary Flames. Jarome is the captain of the Calgary Flames. Jarome is the leader of the Calgary Flames. Jarome wants to win a championship with the Calgary Flames and he made that commitment to us. And our owners made that commitment to him."

Sutter said he tried to sign Iginla to an even longer deal than the pact that puts his star fifth in the league's salary structure behind Jaromir Jagr, Keith Tkachuk, Nick Lidstrom and Alexei Yashin.

Iginla's salary in 2003-04, including signing bonus, was $7.5 million US.

"From almost a selfish standpoint, the longer you can go is better but I understand the dynamics. In three years the opportunity for his contract to go up is probably pretty good," chuckled Sutter.

Though there will be fears the end of the deal will mean the end of Iginla's time in Calgary, his agent, Don Meehan pointed out if that was Iginla's motive, he would have set himself up for that route a year from now.

The signing came a day after the club announced Amonte and Darren McCarty had joined the team, moves Sutter admitted were somewhat predicated on Iginla signing.

"The most often asked question I got was, 'Well, are you going to sign Iginla?' " said Sutter, who also inked restricted free agent defenceman Jordan Leopold yesterday. "I'll be perfectly honest, we wouldn't have been able to sign Tony Amonte or Darren McCarty (Tuesday) without them knowing that Jarome was under contract. And we probably wouldn't have been able to sign them if they knew that Jarome was only here for one more year."

Sutter still has a bevy of restricted free agents to sign, including netminder Miikka Kiprusoff and forwards Steve Reinprecht and Daymond Langkow.

At least, though, the biggest gun is signed and it's not hard to see Iginla is raring to go.

"I've never been more excited coming into a season," he said.

DARRYL'S TO-DO LIST SHRINKS

TONY AMONTE, RW $1.85M

SHEAN DONOVAN, RW $627,000

JAROME IGINLA, RW $7M

JORDAN LEOPOLD, D* $1.05M

TONI LYDMAN, D $1.9M

DARREN McCARTY, RW $800,000

STEVE MONTADOR, D $450,000

MARCUS NILSON, LW $1.368M

DION PHANEUF, D $912,000

ROBYN REGEHR, D* $1.672M

BYRON RITCHIE, C $450,000

CHRIS SIMON, LW $1.216M

ROMAN TUREK, G $1.14M

JASON WIEMER, C $950,000

STEPHANE YELLE, C $1.368M

TOTAL: $23.056M*

CAP SPACE: $15.944M**

* Regehr (three-year) and Leopold's (two-year) deals increase each year. The average of those figures, about $1.875M for Regehr and $1.15M for Leopold will count against the cap.

** Bonuses count towards cap, so Flames have less than $15.944M left.

UNSIGNED -- RESTRICTED

Chris Clark, RW; Andrew Ference, D; Miikka Kiprusoff, G; Daymond Langkow, C; Lynn Loyns, RW; Steven Reinprecht, LW; Rhett Warrener, D; Matthew Lombardi, C; Brent Krahn, G; Chuck Kobasew, RW.

KEY UNSIGNED DRAFT PICKS

Eric Nystrom, LW (2002 first round); Adam Pardy, D; Brandon Prust, D; Brian McConnell, C; Curtis McElhinney, G.


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