Monday, June 27, 2011

The Darryl Sutter Era Lives

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The 2011 NHL Entry Draft weekend was totally overshadowed by two mega-deals pulled off by the Philadelphia Flyers. Out are Mike Richards and Jeff Carter – two players who both thought they would stay in Philadelphia for their entire careers; in are a handful of highly touted prospects. The deals allowed the Flyers to finally acquire a legitimate goalie, one who is a Vezina Trophy finalist.

Other deals rose more than a few eyebrows: Brian Campbell, once thought definitively untradeable, found himself dumped in Florida for a former prospect turned big league bust; and Calgary jettisoned both Robyn Regehr and Ales Kotalik for a couple of spare parts in Buffalo.

The Brian Campbell deal is easy to understand: the Florida Panthers needed to reach the cap floor and still have about $20 million to go, even with Campbell’s $7 million cap hit. They could hypothetically offer Brad Richards a max contract and require further money wasting.

Alternatively, the Robyn Regehr deal represents everything wrong in Calgary.

The return for Regehr was middling because the whole league understood the cap situation the Flames put themselves in and the Flames wanted the Sabres to take Ales Kotalik’s inflated contract as well. The Flames went for a $7 million cap dump.

Regehr is making a little over $4 million per season, which some people think is too much for someone who is solely defensive, but Regehr averaged over 21 minutes for the Flames, while facing the opposition’s best forwards. In fact, according to Behind the Net, only Nicklas Lidstrom and Brent Seabrook faced stiffer competition.

Regehr played the second most short-handed minutes of anyone on the Flames, blocked the second most shots, and threw the most hits. Robyn Regehr isn’t someone you trade away for players who might develop into a bottom pairing defenceman/bottom-six forward; Robyn Regehr isn't someone you dump.

However, the Flames were antsy to unload Regehr because they couldn’t wait to sign Alex Tanguay. Almost immediately after the Regehr trade, the Flames announced the signing of Tanguay to a five-year, $17.5 million deal.

Now, on the surface, signing a player coming off a 69-point season is quite the steal for $3.5 million per season. But the problem is that Tanguay is turning 32-years-old this year and the Flames have committed to him for five seasons. That’s a lot of time for someone with an inconsistent track record. What’s the harm in offering something for three years? I suppose the length decreases the money, but this is basically the same contract they gave Matt Stajan (although I fully agree that Tanguay is far superior).

But none of this would really be that bad if the Flames were a serious contender. The cap hit is low enough that even if Tanguay regresses to a 50-point player, his salary will still be commensurate with his production.

But that’s the problem: the Flames aren’t a serious contender. Signing Tanguay for five seasons displays their ignorance about this reality.

The Flames turned it on late last season, only to fall three points short of a playoff berth. That late season charge was reminiscent of the post-lockout Maple Leafs (which isn’t the only similarity these two teams share). This push gave Calgary hope that they were only a piece or two away from competing in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. This hope is what brought players like Jason Blake and Pavel Kubina to Toronto.

Are the Flames on the cusp of the playoffs? Only because they are a bubble team. One that might be good enough to make one of the final two playoff spots, but never good enough to make an actual run for the Stanley Cup.

Signing Alex Tanguay is a bandage solution to the Flames’ problems. They are an aging team with one legitimate superstar (Jarome Iginla), a group of overpaid role players, and a goalie who has registered one above average season in the last five. This isn’t a team built for lasting success.

They might be competitive, but they will never be good enough for real immediate success; they probably have just enough pieces that they won’t be bad enough for a lottery pick. This is the dreaded territory the Leafs treaded for years before finally recognizing their folly – many years and many wasted draft picks too late.

The Flames need to realize they are in serious need of a re-build. Unfortunately, signing Alex Tanguay shows that they have yet to reach this understanding.

The fact that the Flames were desperate enough for cap space that they were willing to trade one of the league’s better defensive defenceman and a second round pick for two undistinguished players is outrageous.

The Flames should have buried Ales Kotalik in the minors, let him go to Europe, or dump him on a floor team and tried to trade Regehr for an actual return, rather than just cap space (just like they should have tried with Dion Phaneuf).

Sutter is gone from Calgary, but the same delusional thinking permeates throughout the Flames organization.

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