Flames Watch: Sutter’s cap management should be applauded

Calgary’s unfortunate run-in with the NHL’s salary cap police last season won’t happen again under Darryl Sutter’s regime.

The GM is clearly being uber-careful with how much the Flames are spending on payroll this season. He’s even doing some early-season positioning so the team has the option to pick up a depth forward in the $2 million per season range before the NHL trade deadline.

It’s tough to forget Calgary’s problems with the salary cap last season. The acquisition of Olli Jokinen at the trade deadline put the Flames right up against the cap. Then a rash of injuries forced some call-ups that put the team over budget. Calgary had to play several games down the stretch one or two players short of the 18-skater roster limit and that was a key contributing factor in the Flames losing the division title – and third playoff seed – by two points.

Sutter made some astute moves over the summer to clear cap space – dumping Jim Vandermeer’s $2.3 million and Wayne Primeau’s $1.4 million – and let four contributing UFAs walk (Mike Cammalleri, Adrian Aucoin, Todd Bertuzzi, Jordan Leopold) in order to sign Jay Bouwmeester and make the Flames more manoeuvrable.

And like Sutter did a year ago in securing unheralded support player on the cheap (Rene Bourque at $1.35 million, Curtis Glencross at $1.2 million and Mark Giordano at $891,667), the Calgary GM went after players who were seeking opportunity rather than immediate fortune. Nigel Dawes ($850,000) and Fredrik Sjostrom ($750,000) both fill important roles at a fraction the cost of a proven NHLer.

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Same goes for Sutter’s acquisition of depth defenseman Aaron Johnson ($540,000) from Chicago. The Flames will eventually need all eight rostered defenseman during a season and playoffs in which they expect to play 100-plus games.

Next move is to lock up key players who are coming off contracts. Bourque is a pending UFA who will command $4 million-plus on the open market if he posts a 30-goal or 60-point season. Maybe he’d sign a long-term deal now that’s closer to $3 million. Eric Nystrom at $687,500 might like the security of a three-year deal at Glencross money rather than wait eight months for free agent season.

Whatever happens, the Flames have come a long way since the cap crisis from a year ago.

This article aslo appeared in the Calgary Metro newspaper.

Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to You can find his blog each weekend.

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