GM finds way to get Jay

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:33 PM ET

Consider it a gamble that could easily turn into a steal.

There are no guarantees Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter is going to get Jay Bouwmeester locked up before the 25-year-old defenceman can become an unrestricted free agent Wednesday, but Sutter has beaten worse odds before.

He scooped up Bouwmeester from the Florida Panthers and exclusive rights until July 1 to negotiate a new deal on Day 2 of the NHL draft yesterday in exchange for fellow pending unrestricted free agent rearguard Jordan Leopold and a third-round pick.

Sitting about $11 million below the new salary cap ceiling, the Flames can afford the expected asking price of around $6 or $7 million a season.

And interim Panthers GM Randy Sexton said Bouwmeester would have been happy to head to Calgary had he been traded at the crossroads of his career in Florida, when the Cats debated whether to deal him or risk losing him outright at the end of his contract.

"Eighteen months ago, they gave us a list of teams they were interested in and Calgary was right at the very top," said Sexton. "He's an Alberta boy."

The Panthers kept him almost to the bitter end.

Bouwmeester figured the late trade might happen. He was showering when it was announced right before the start of the second round. After he dried off, he noticed he'd missed a couple of calls.

"Four-oh-three area code -- I know where that's from," Bouwmeester said from Edmonton, where he resides in the off-season.

"It was Darryl."

Their talk was brief, but the unfolding events left Bouwmeester with a lot to think about before they meet face to face this week in Edmonton.

"It's a lot to digest," Bouwmeester said. "The fact it's Calgary is interesting.

"There's some intriguing things about it," he added, taking time to mention how important it is to have a star goaltender like Miikka Kiprusoff. "That's really all I can say right now until I actually talk to them and trade thoughts."

Enthralling to the media are rumours Bouwmeester is building a house in Calgary, and that his girlfriend is local.

Not that his Alberta roots make negotiating any easier in Sutter's eyes.

"I don't think that has any bearing on it," he told reporters in Montreal yesterday. "If it did, then everybody from Edmonton and Calgary would be playing in Edmonton and Calgary.

"If I was even an average defenceman, I'd want to play on a defence that had Robyn Regher and Dion Phaneuf."

Already familiar with Regehr from past Team Canada squads, and Phaneuf as a fellow Edmontonian who he's worked out and skated with in past off-seasons, Bouwmeester could find a certain comfort level here.

The only thing he knows for sure, though, is that it was time for a change after breaking into the league with the Panthers as an 18-year-old.

"I think so. I'd been there six years -- seven with the lockout," Bouwmeester said. "There's been a lot of change, a lot of turnover, from players to coaches and management.

"It just kind of got to the point that I thought a change would probably be the best thing."

Bouwmeester's agent, Bryon Baltimore, will be looking for a "competitive salary" but says there is more to it than just the cash.

"Money's not everything, but it is one of the factors that goes into the evaluation of what might be possible," Baltimore said from his Edmonton office. "Locale is another. Competitiveness ... all those types of things."

The Flames may be the best bet to offer all three.

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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