In the aftermath of that mammoth 12-year, $69 million contract signed by Mike Richards with the Philadelphia Flyers the other day, the question now muddling the NHL salary waters is: How high will the Calgary Flames go in getting defenceman Dion Phaneuf signed to a contract extension? For all the fuss over Richards and Ryan Getzlaf and Dustin Brown and all the young players coming to the ends of their first entry-level contracts, what might someone pay to get a physical force such as Phaneuf in the line-up?
Or to use a more concrete example, on a New York Rangers' team with a steady but unspectacular defence corps, how much would they ante up to land the next Scott Stevens? Would $100 million over a 12-to-15 year term be unreasonable? If Tomas Vanek landed a $50 miillion from the Edmonton Oilers, maybe not. The Rangers will likely spend to the salary cap every season and they invested considerable dollars in a couple of expensive free agents last year (Chris Drury and Scott Gomez) with only so-so results. But Phaneuf, while still a work in progress defensively, is one of those rare finds - a physical behemoth, with a scoring touch. Phaneuf will routinely score 15-to-20 goals with his slapshot and the other night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, managed five assists in a 9-6 Calgary win.
Phaneuf's scoring outburst was only the fourth time in the last nine NHL seasons that a defenceman produced five assists in a game. The others, for the stats freaks amongst you: Sheldon Souray (Jan. 10, 2004, Montreal at Pittsburgh), Marek Zidlicky (Feb. 18, 2004, Nashville vs. San Jose) and Alexandre Picard (Feb. 1, 2007, Philadelphia vs. New Jersey). Phaneuf was the first Calgary defenceman to have a five-assist game in more than a dozen years, or since March 20, 1994, when Hall Of Famer Al MacInnis had five assists (and one goal) against Toronto.
Ideally, the Flames want to take Phaneuf off the market well before July 1, when the offer sheets could start to roll in. For some players - such as the Ducks' Dustin Penner - the temptation might be to take the draft choices as compensation if the dollar figures exceed what a team is prepared to pay, but for Phaneuf and his unique skill set, there is no way the Flames can let that happen. They need to get him signed. They know it, Phaneuf knows it, and if they can do it, you can safely predict the dollars and the term will be eye-popping again.