There are still 20 hockey games to be played in the Calgary Flames season, but in all likelihood the club has already began looking at next season.

The Edmonton Oilers victory over a heavily injured St. Louis Blues club last night was their fifth win in a row. That streak coupled with the fact the Flames have only won one of their last four ended any chance of an exciting finish this spring.

Based on the pace of both Alberta clubs the Flames will likely finish in or around 78 points, roughly ten back of their rivals. To catch the Oilers the Flames would have to finish their season on a 13-3-4-0 clip. ('s Projected Standings).

Down the Stretch

In the end the Flames were plagued by a tough start, and a vastly improved Western Conference, both of which made the playoffs a pipe dream as early as November 1st.

Even with a better start, asking the Flames to move from the mid seventies to ninety points in one season was probably too tall an order.

The Flames best bet now is to look at finishing strong, winning as many games as possible and aiming for more moderate goals like 80 points, or a five hundred record.

Unlike past years losing won't prove beneficial to the Flames, the structure of the NHL's basement leaves little opportunity to move up in the draft. The only two teams that have a chance to pass the Flames are the now Fleury-less Rangers and the expansion Minnesota Wild, though neither is likely. The Flames would have to fall off their season's pace by more than 30% to get surpassed by the Wild or Rangers.

Rapid improvement only runs the risk of passing the Blackhawks and Predators.

Is two draft positions worth the public out cry of not improving this season?

Next Year Time

The biggest issue yet to be determined this season is what actions if any Craig Button will take as the trade deadline nears.

In previous seasons, former GM Al Coates tinkered with minor additions at the deadline, and missed opportunities to take advantage of playoff bound teams looking to shore up their rosters. In all fairness to Coates, his teams were closer to the hunt as the chime on deals tolled, but the fact remains that the writing on the wall wasn't faced.

This year the Flames are in a very enviable position.

They are one of the wealthiest potential sellers hocking their wares in a market full of greedy and over-confident buyers. As many as seven teams probably feel as though they have a chance at the Stanley Cup.

This isn't to suggest the Calgary Flames principal operating procedure should be to better other NHL franchises, nobody is talking about a fire sale here.

But Calgary has some key veterans playing less than key roles in with the Flames, which could reap some reward on the open market.

Up front "soon to be" unrestricted free agent Bill Lindsay will likely be the first to go. A player like Jeff Shantz, who seems to be a man without a role in Calgary these days, could join him. He isn't good enough to play on the top two lines, but has found Clarke Wilm and Jason Wiemer entrenched on the bottom half of the roster. I suppose you could add Marc Bureau to the list, but somebody would have to find him first.

The Calgary blueline will likely be the focus of many of phone calls directed Craig Button's way. Igor Kravchuk, Phil Housley and Tommy Albelin all represent commodities that most playoff teams love to stockpile for a long spring run - veteran defence.

In goal the Flames could move veteran Mike Vernon at the deadline, but will likely hold their cards in this area to provide stability to a position that has been erratic at best in Calgary.

Choosing the Discards

The Flames will likely feature Derek Morris, Denis Gauthier, Robyn Regehr and Toni Lydman as their rearguards starting next season. The young group will need to be reinforced with a veteran presence, but the question is; to what extent?

Do the Flames need to carry a quartet of Kravchuk, Housley, Albelin and Brad Werenka on top of the younger fab four?

A small market franchise can't afford to spend too much of their budget in one position.

The Calgary Flames had a team payroll in the vicinity of $27-million U.S. this past season (to come to that number I chose the 23 players that had the most ice time for the season, two goalies, seven defencemen, and 14 forwards).


% of Payroll

Avg. Salary



$2.088 M



$1.339 M



$0.852 M

The table above shows the breakdown of the Flames salary structure, in the order of average salary per position.

The numbers look as they should in terms of average since there are many more forwards factoring into the average, than defencemen, or goaltenders.

But should the Flames be spending almost 40% of their budget on defencemen? Most clubs feature a pair that plays close to half of a game, then two less significant pairings that fight for the ice time scraps. The Flames feature four defencemen making over a million dollars, and two making $2.5-million a season.

By ice time the Flames top four blue-liners are Morris (25:45), Kravchuk (23:45), Albelin (22:15), and Toni Lydman (20:15). Phil Housley is pulling down $2.5-million and only playing 18:45 a night.

Paring one of Housley or Kravchuk and Tommy Albelin who is an unrestricted free agent this summer anyway would add another 3.7 million of budget space this summer.

Up front the Flames are a pretty cost efficient group. Cory Stillman, Jarome Iginla, Val Bure and especially Marc Savard are all bargains for their rate of production and ice time. Where money could be saved however would be the contracts of Jeff Shantz and Bill Lindsay. Lindsay only plays an average of just over ten minutes a night, but pulls down close to a million dollars. Jeff Shantz logs more ice, but may not have a purely designed role on this club next year.

The Big Picture

Ten years ago, when money didn't rule professional sports, a general manager would ice the best possible team he could.

Now, tough decisions need to be made.

Is Igor Kravchuk's contribution significantly greater than Toni Lydman's to the point where the team can justify the added 1.9 million in salary?

Does Bill Lindsay's experience justify the fact that he makes two and a half times the salary of Dwayne Hay or Ron Petrovicky?

Small market teams have to include money into the equation with every player personnel move they make. The team can't afford to have unlimited depth at one position, but be bare boned in other areas.

Currently the Flames have the market cornered in experienced defencemen and gritty, experienced third and fourth line forwards. Moving some of these players would likely yield some prospects and draft picks which would help in building up the organization's system. It would also free up cash to give the team some room in the free agent shopping spree this summer.

The free agent list this summer will be both flashy and deep with probably the biggest haul since free agency came on the scene. There is a chance that the big teams will chase the big names like; John Leclair, Joe Sakic, Jeremy Roenick, Luc Robitaille, Alex Moginly, Brett Hull and Pierre Turgeon - letting some of the second tier players fall to the second tier clubs. Players like Martin Lapointe, Donald Audette, Mike Sillinger, Yanic Perreault or Joe Juneau might be available.

At the very least some extra cash would be handy in getting Cory Stillman and Valeri Bure inked before a contract stalemate can scuttle yet another October.


D'Arcy McGrath can be reached at:

  Back to
Read other Stories
Talk About it!