Thirteenth overall pick Sven Baertschi by the Calgary Flames stands onstage with Special Assistant to the General Manager Craig Conroy (R) and a member of the Calgary Flames organization during day one of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center on June 24, 2011 in St Paul, Minnesota.
Photograph by: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images
CALGARY — General manager Jay Feaster likens the Calgary Flames’ salary cap predicament to an unfortunate game of Monopoly.
On Friday, the Flames resided in the jail space on the bottom left corner of the board. A day later, Feaster shipped defenceman Robyn Regehr ($4.02 million US), disgruntled winger Ales Kotalik ($3 million) and a second-round draft pick in 2012 to the Buffalo Sabres for defenceman Chris Butler (a restricted free agent with a cap hit last season of $850,00) and speedy centre Paul Byron ($550,000).
Suddenly, the Flames can look at the cap charts without sobbing over the absurdity of it all. Suddenly, they have $7.6 million in cap space with 19 players under contract for next season.
“We’ve been in salary cap jail for some time,” Feaster said Saturday afternoon via cellphone from the draft floor in St. Paul, Minnesota. “We’ve been so tight up against the cap.
“Where we are right now in the Monopoly game is we’re ‘just visiting.’ We’re not actually in jail anymore. We’re on the ‘just visiting’ part of the Monopoly board.”
Feaster certainly moved the pieces around the board over a productive 48 hours at Xcel Energy Center. He traded away one of his core players in Regehr. He sent Kotalik to Buffalo without the faltering forward collecting his $3 million (from the Flames).
Perhaps most importantly, he locked down his top pending unrestricted free agent in Alex Tanguay for five years with an annual cap hit of $3.5 million.
Tanguay, 31, recorded 22 goals and 69 points last season on the first line with Jarome Iginla.
“All things considered, we felt it was imperative that we get him,” Feaster said. “Alex was an important part of the puzzle. Not only did we want him back, but obviously Jarome really wanted him back.
“As we looked around at the potential UFA market, we didn’t see anyone who was going to take his place. We thought it was important to get it done before July 1. With the cap going up as much as it has, a lot of teams are going to have to pay $20 (million) to $30 million just to get to the floor. We didn’t want to take any chances.”
The Tanguay camp wanted an annual salary of $4 million. The Flames asked for a term of four years. In the end, the two sides met in the middle.
“The chemistry Jarome and Alex have established is incredible,” Feaster said. “We know Jarome likes playing with Alex and vice-versa.
“He quarterbacks the point on the power play. That’s the other thing about it. If we don’t sign him, now we’re going to be in a situation where we have to find somebody who can quarterback our power play.”
In Regehr, Feaster realizes the Flames gave up a shutdown defencemen other teams simply hate to play against. He also surrendered his assistant captain and one of the heaviest hitters in the league.
“The first fan I’m going to have to explain this too is at home,” Feaster said. “My 11-year-old son — and he’s a huge Monopoly fan – well, his Calgary Flames sweater bares the name, number and signature of Robyn Regehr.”
The explanation to young Ryan will likely include a basic life lesson — to get something of value, one must give something of value up in return.
“This was not a case of not wanting Robyn on the team,” Feaster said. “It’s simply a matter of knowing you’re going to have to give up a tremendous asset if you want to make changes and get assets back.”
Butler, 24, is a stay-at home blue-liner with 155 games of NHL experience over three seasons in Buffalo. Byron, 22, is an offensive centre with speed and skill. The five-foot-nine, 170-pounder collected 99 points in 66 games in his final season with the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“Butler is a guy who we feel can come in and can play regular minutes on our hockey team,” Feaster said. “He certainly isn’t going to replace Robyn from a standpoint of hitting, but he is pretty solid defensively. Makes a good first pass.”
“He is a guy we don’t have in our organization,” Feaster said. “A very highly skilled guy. He’s a good, fast, quick skater.
“He’s going to be with us for a long time.”
As the day drew to a close, the Flames still featured prominently in trade rumours involving Ryan Smyth of the Los Angeles Kings. A deal with the Edmonton Oilers involving Gilbert Brule fell through, leaving the 35-year-old left-winger still in play on Saturday evening.
Feaster declined to comment on the Smyth rumours, but he confirmed tendering contract offers to defencemen Adam Pardy and Anton Babchuk. The GM also strongly hinted at more moves to come.
“There are still going to be trades made after this draft,” he said. “There are going to be teams looking to do things.
“And now, because we have some free cap space, we can try to address some of our needs. We have options.”
In other words, Feaster has a get out of jail card.
Only it didn’t come free.
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