The White Shadow


Just coming back from vacation, and catching up on some of the Flames news. The most important, of course, was last week’s signing of Ian White – though the biggest thing about that news was that it wasn’t bigger.

White, the best thing to come out of last winter’s bizarre trading spree in Flameland, signed a one-year deal last Friday. While the Flames didn’t disclose the terms – they never do, it’s franchise policy – the news always leaks out from someplace, and the news this time was $3-million.

More important than the money was the timing: It came just hours before White, as a restricted free agent, received an arbitration hearing that would have forced a new deal on both sides. The arbitration process is notoriously nasty; players’ reps argue that their guy is Jesus on skates and deserves a big raise, while team reps slag the guy nine ways from Tuesday to try to convince the arbitrator he’s lucky to even have a job. At the end of the day, you get a deal, but not always the one everyone can live with (witness Antii Neimi in Chicago) and, more importantly, not after creating some ill will between the player and the team that can be near impossible to mend.

So, best to avoid going down that road, and so both sides did – but just barely, and they did the bare minimum to do so. This guarantees that there’s another heavy shoe to drop on the Flames’ roster in the next year, as the Flames try to figure out how badly they want to keep White longer-term, if they can afford it, and what they may have to give up to do it.

For White, it’s a $2-million raise – likely less than he was asking for (there are no numbers out there, but $3.5-mil and a longer-term deal were kind of assumed), but still a healthy raise and puts him in the pay range he probably deserves in the current market. It also means he still stands to be an unrestricted free agent next summer, offering him the chance at a much bigger payday if he puts up another solid season in 2010-2011.

For the Flames, it buys the team a little time to sort out its crowded salary situation on the blueline. Calgary already has long-term commitments to Jay Bouwmeester ($6.7-million) and Robyn Regehr ($4-million, a real bargain in retrospect, but still a significant cap hit), and Cory Sarich ($3.6-million, and even though I’m a Sarich fan, that’s way more than he’s worth). In addition to White, the Flames also face the prospect of both Mark Giordano and Steve Staios becoming UFAs next summer.

In the case of Staios, no one’s gonna lose much sleep if he can’t be re-signed, but Giordano is a gem. He was the team’s best defenceman last year, and if he can continue to play at that level, he’ll be up for a huge raise from the $900,000 he’ll earn this season. He’s also a guy with a reputation for driving a hard bargain: Three years ago, he went to the Russian league for a year rather than agree to a low-ball, two-way contract the Flames offered him.

It’s hard to imagine that the Flames could justify spending, say, another $7-million to $8-million on an already expensive defence after this season – which is about what it will cost to hang onto both Giordano and White, assuming they keep playing the way they’ve been playing. If they did, they’d have roughly $20-million tied up in their top-four defencemen (and another $5-mil for the numbers five and six D-men), and would probably be forced to do a Chicago-esque cap purge to make it all work. Probably not a good idea.

So, before next summer, Calgary will either have to move someone out to make room for both contracts, or become resigned to the idea that they will lose one of these two high-quality young defencemen, either through free agency or a trade aimed at salvaging some value from them. Either way, it’s going to be an interesting 10 months.