Yes, the latest out of Flameland (and there ain’t much coming out, things are weirdly quiet for a team that a month ago was at the stage where the shit is traditionally introduced to the fan) is that Ian White’s short tenure in Calgary may be about to prematurely end.
As a restricted free agent, he’s in for a big, fat salary-arbitration award (think $3-million to $4-million per), and the cap-challenged Flames are in no position to absorb it. Logic would suggest that they’ll at least be smart enough to sign him to the awarded sum and then trade him – although “logic” and “Flames front office” haven’t been mentioned in the same sentence very often in recent months.
Unless…what if Calgary could free up a big whack of cap space? What if they could unload a big contract that would allow them to keep about the only thing they got for Dion Phaneuf that was worth the price of admission?
This was a question asked by another member of our Flaming Circle today. He even had a name to attach to this salary purge – the disappointing Jay Bouwmeester, he of the five-year, $33.5-million albatross of a contract that hangs around Darryl Sutter’s neck. (This season, his three goals cost Calgary $6.7-million. If Alex Ovechkin got paid at that per-goal rate, he’d be worth about $115-million a year.)
I would strongly favour trading Bouwmeester, but there’s a wee problem: that huge contract. Could you find any takers? It is way too much, but let’s remember, he’s only 26 years old and he’s a skilled defenceman at both ends of the ice with a great combination of size and speed. (He didn’t use either nearly enough in Calgary this year, but let’s blame Brent Sutter for that, and let’s hope at least a few other GMs see it the same way.)
Guys like that are, frankly, extremely rare in the NHL. Given the supply-and-demand situation, he’s getting paid pretty much what the league has decided guys like him are worth. If he were on the market, there would be some takers.
Now, if you could move him for a high draft pick and/or a couple of cheap prospects, it would be tempting – free up cap space for White and stock up some assets for the future, something Calgary is sorely lacking. And in my mind, White at $3.5-million is much more valuable to the Flames than Bouwmeester at nearly double that.
But the fact we’re even talking about this is further evidence that the Flames have really, really painted themselves into a corner. They can’t keep what they want to keep and they can’t move what they don’t, and they’re overpaying for almost everything. And the whole league knows it; don’t expect 29 other GMs to be lining up at Darryl Sutter’s office with generous offers; they’d rather low-ball him and watch him sweat.
But maybe, my friend suggested, the Flames should forget about trying to swing a trade for J. Bow and simply free up the cap space. Just buy him out, then sign White and be done with it.
Well, OK, let’s forget for the moment that any GM who buys out a five-year, $33.5-million signing only one year after he made it might as well tattoo “Fire me, I’m a screw-up” on his forehead. Let’s assume Darryl Sutter has more balls than brains. (Which, actually, might be true.) The fact is, even such a wild move would save Calgary little in terms of cash or cap space.
Because Bouwmeester is past his 26th birthday, the Flames would have to pay him two-thirds of his contract to buy him out. To calculate the cap hit, you take that buyout amount and spread it over double the length of what’s left on his contract; in his case, you end up with a cap hit of $2.25-million in each of the next EIGHT YEARS.
That’s a long time to be paying for a guy you cut loose – and you’ll be giving away an asset to someone else (say, the Oilers, J. Bow’s hometown?) for absolutely nothing in return. It would look beyond awful; even Darryl Sutter doesn’t have that kind of death wish.
I think they may just have to go with what they’ve got, hope to get better play out of a lot of guys in that room (including J. Bow), and wait for a few expensive contracts to fall off the board.