Fanning the Flames

ERIC FRANCIS

, Last Updated: 8:08 AM ET

CALGARY -- Darcy Tucker, a Calgary Flame.

Love it or hate it, it might just be a perfect fit.

No, it hasn't happened yet and, no, we're not suggesting it absolutely will.

But you can bet it's a possibility -- an intriguing one -- that general manager Darryl Sutter is looking into as he prepares for the lifting of the free-agent freeze Tuesday.

After all, Sutter tried to trade for Tucker just a few years back.

Bought out of the final three years of his four-year, $12-million US contract by the Leafs last week, the 33-year-old forward will enter the open market knowing he'll be paid $2 million by the Leafs no matter where he toils. With that in mind, the question now is: What is Tucker looking for come Canada Day?

If he's hoping to hit another home run by chasing only the most lucrative offers to come his way, the cash-strapped Flames are out of the picture.

However, if his priority is to find a place that makes the most sense, allowing him to prove Toronto made yet another horrible mistake, Calgary will certainly be an attractive fit.

Given the Flames' limited cap room, Tucker would have to agree to play here for Craig Conroy-like money -- roughly $1 million a year, which would essentially top him back up to the $3 million he was originally slated to earn.

If that's palatable, he may help fill the scoring void left by Kristian Huselius' departure, amongst other things. However, there are plenty of other reasons why signing him could make sense:

- First and foremost the feisty Tucker brings heart and energy to the rink every night -- two things the Flames lacked most last season as they failed to live up to expectations. They need that edge back.

- A fierce competitor who would instantly become a fan favourite for his tenacity, physical play and Sutter-like grit, Tucker still has a scoring touch that has seen him average 23 goals the past four seasons.

- He's a versatile forward, capable of playing all three positions and filling roles ranging from power-play specialist (40 extra-man goals the past three years) to checker. He could play on any line.

- He's an Alberta boy from Endiang, Alta., an hour east of Red Deer, who told Sun Media that two of his biggest childhood thrills include getting Lanny McDonald's autograph in Hanna and attending the first game at the Saddledome in 1983.

- He's a former teammate of Jarome Iginla's in Kamloops where they won a Memorial Cup together in 1993-94.

- He fits the Sutter mold, still likes to fight and wouldn't shy away from playing for Mike Keenan, given his work ethic.

Make no mistake, one of the knocks on Sutter the past few years has been his penchant for bringing in -- or extending contracts for -- aging players. And while few disagree the NHL is a young man's game, let's not forget the club's minor-league cupboards have been bare for some time.

SALARY CONSTRAINTS

Few youngsters in the system have pushed for jobs, forcing Sutter to sign experienced players.

Yes, salary constraints will force Sutter to make good on his commitment to play more farmhands this year, but the fact is he's still hoping to sign 36-year-old Owen Nolan, who scored fewer goals than the younger Tucker.

There's obviously room for only one of the two veterans and either is a step up from Dustin Boyd or David Moss, who will vie for a top-six gig.

If Tucker, a 5-foot-9, 175-pound muck-disturber, wants to stay in Canada, return to his home province and play for an established contender, Calgary could be a nice fit.

It largely depends on how much he feels he needs to add to the $13.2 million he's made to date, not counting Toronto's $6-million buyout.

If he sacrifices some cash for other comforts, Sideshow Bob could soon call Calgary home.


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