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(TODD KOROL)
(TODD KOROL)

Sutter defends free agent moves Add to ...

Somewhere in the middle of a long defence of his controversial back-to-the-future Canada Day moves, Calgary Flames' general manager Darryl Sutter tossed one little scrap of news into the mix: That centre Daymond Langkow's recovery from a scary neck injury suffered in the final month of the season is going much more slowly than anticipated.

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Langkow's unavailability for the start of next year influenced Sutter's decision to re-sign Olli Jokinen to a two-year contract Thursday on the opening day of the NHL free agency season, he said.

"We're a 100 days post-injury and we thought he would be further along than he was," said Sutter at a press conference Friday morning. "He's probably in the 60 per cent area. I know we're 100 days away (from the start of the 2010-11 season), but it's a concern.

"Lanks is a friend of mine. From a professional standpoint, we've got to do everything we can so that he is able to perform and can perform - then also separate that out and also make sure that it's not something that's very long term.

"Quite honestly, it (Langkow's slow convalescence) tied big into (signing) Olli too."

In outlining his plan for next season, Sutter reasserted that his free-agent moves - signing Jokinen and Alex Tanguay on Thursday, adding two tough guys (Raitis Ivanans and Tim Jackman) on Friday - have the Flames back on track for playoff contention.

"It's hard for everyone to understand how difficult it is to make the playoffs," said Sutter. "When you don't, everybody throws you under the bus. It's such a fine line.

"I think we're good. We're ready to go again. We've got a good hockey team. Players are excited about what we did; the coaches are excited; and we still have some adjustments to make, or roles to fill - realigning some roles within our organization - but I like our team."

With next year's salary cap set at $59.4-million, Sutter acknowledged that he still had to work to do in order to get the Flames in line, but said it wasn't a priority at the moment, since the collective bargaining agreement permits teams to exceed the cap by 10 per cent in the off-season.

Sutter didn't address the issue of specific players - such as Ales Kotalik, who has two years remaining on his contract at $3 million per - but it looks as if the Flames will try to place him with a team in Russia's Continental Hockey League rather than buy him out. That way, they can save money against the cap.

Though Sutter's brother Brent coaches the team, Sutter implied that Jokinen might actually get a chance to play with right winger Jarome Iginla again, provided Tanguay rounds out the line and brings the necessary playmaking aspect to the equation.

Both Jokinen and Iginla are primarily shooters.

In their previous turns with the Flames, both Tanguay and Jokinen earned around $5 million each per season. Essentially, Sutter got them both for about half that - a two-for-one Canada Day special that will see Jokinen pull down $3-million and Tanguay just $1.75-million. Both players absorbed the pay cuts because they are coming off mediocre seasons in 2009-10.

Sutter said he pursued Tanguay at last year's trade deadline, but couldn't go forward with the deal because of the way his contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning was structured. "He had a big payout in June," said Sutter, "and we weren't able to handle that.

"So we felt we would give (Matt) Stajan and Mikael (Backlund) a really good look and then we'd be able to really gauge it going forward - so that's what we did."

The next step will be to get defenceman Ian White signed to a contract. White was one of four players who joined the team last year from the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Dion Phaneuf trade. Sutter called the possibility of going to arbitration with White "a great option, not a concern, a great option" - presumably because the Flames could ask for a two-year award.

"We are not prepared to go past two years on anybody right now," said Sutter.

Sutter was his usual combative self, taking pains to point out that criticism of the Jokinen signing didn't bother him because the people who "matter" were aboard with the decision.

"We move forward in a hurry," said Sutter. "We don't stay where you are, right?"

Sutter said a quintet of the team's prospects - Mikael Backlund, Brett Sutter, John Armstrong, Matt Pelech and John Negrin would get "every opportunity to play on our team - and that's at the expense of older guys.

"We are a good team that just missed the playoffs," continued Sutter, "and you miss them just because of a little bit of offence from your top guys (was missing). Those stats are there.

"Quite honestly, we worked really hard at all our UFAs. If there was a way we could get Alex and Olli back, and sign some of our UFAs, we looked at that."

Eric Nystrom left to join the Minnesota Wild, after the Flames offered him Curtis Glencross money, said Sutter. When Jamal Mayers turned down the contract, the Flames turned to Ivanans.

Follow on Twitter: @eduhatschek

 

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