CALGARY, AB -- While it hasn’t been an ideal summer for Calgary Flames, it certainly has been an interesting one.
Hobbled by a cap heavy roster and a soft free agent field, general manager Darryl Sutter went back to the well by re-acquiring two prior disappointments in Alex Tanguay and Olli Jokinen.
The former demanded a ticket out of town due to a feud with erstwhile coach Mike Keenan and has struggled with injuries and mediocrity since leaving. Tanguay is a low-risk, high-reward gamble at $1.7 million for one season, but he will have to recapture his previous form in order to meaningfully impact Calgary’s woeful offense.
A 37-point player in Tamp Bay who ended up in Rick Tocchet’s doghouse more often than not, Tanguay took a sizable step back from the difference maker he was as an Avalanche. Sutter is betting on last year being an aberration rather than an indication of true decline.
Jokinen’s re-signing may be one of the more bizarre stories of this off-season. Midway through a disastrous campaign, the big fin was unceremoniously dealt to the Rangers for a pair of similarly struggling forwards in Chris Higgins and Ales Kotalik.
Fast forward a few months and the Flames have failed to make the playoffs, Higgins has bolted for free agency and Kotalik’s contract is a headache. Despite the fact that Jokinen’s new deal is relatively cheap ($3 million per year), the rationale behind the swap in the first place remains... elusive.
Had Kotalik also been a pending free agent, the trade may have made more sense from a Flames perspective. Unfortunately, Kotalik’s boat anchor contract remains on the budget and it’s an open question whether he’ll start on the parent squad come October.
With Calgary currently more than $2 million over the salary cap, all signs point to Ales being the most expensive player on the Abbotsford Heat in 2010-11. With Jokinen leaving only to return, Sutter essentially acquired a toxic asset in Kotalik for no discernible reason.
Calgary has been relatively silent otherwise.
Potential salary dumps Steve Staios ($2.7 million), Cory Sarich ($3.6 million) and the aforementioned Kotalik ($3 million) have stuck around, no doubt partially due to the anemic trade market.
Like the Flames, there are numerous big spenders looking to shed a mistake or two and altogether too few teams willing (or able) to accept. The clubs with money to spend have no cap room, while the teams with cap room have no money to spend. It’s an unfortunate catch-22 affecting more than just Calgary this off-season.
The only other significant moves made by the Flames this summer include re-signing Ian White to a one-year deal (with a cap hit five bucks shy of $3 million) and buying out left winger Nigel Dawes.
White was coming off a career year (13 goals, 38 points), making his re-signing a bit dicey for the cap-restrained Flames. The two parties managed to hammer out a contract shortly before a potentially contentious arbitration hearing, probably to the benefit of both.
As for Dawes, he was pushed off the roster by the acquisition of Tanguay. Dawes seemed like a poor candidate for a buy-out given his meager cap hit ($850,000) and relatively solid production (14 goals, 23 points in 66 games). However, Sutter apparently felt that the diminutive sniper would land below Tanguay, Curtis Glencross and Niklas Hagman on the depth chart and is ill-suited for conventional fourth line duty due to his lack of size.
Sutter confirmed this reasoning by signing tough guys Ric Jackman and Raitis Ivanans on July 1, suggesting the Flames will ice an "energy unit" that is better at punching things than actually playing hockey.
Former Oiler and AHL ‘tweener Ryan Stone will likely join the pugilists at the bottom end of the roster.
There was some speculation that fan favorite Craig Conroy would re-sign as the fourth line center, but it doesn’t appear that the Flames have the budgetary space for the elder statesman.
Overall, it’s been a mix of good and bad for the Flames this summer. Sutter managed to retain White and sign some established offensive players at discounts. On the other hand, the organization is in cap hell, none of the bad contracts have gone away and the club seems to be banking on a whole bunch of 30+ year-old players having rebound seasons.
Only time will tell if that gamble will help get Calgary back into the playoff picture.