Burke looks to speed up rebuild of Flames with deadline deals
CALGARY — The Calgary Flames were sellers heading into Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline, but buyers had yet to open their wallets a day out.
The showiest items on Calgary’s lot were forwards Mike Cammalleri and Lee Stempniak. Both will be unrestricted free agents this summer.
Interim general manager Brian Burke’s theory for slow business was shoppers were temporarily preoccupied elsewhere.
Other forwards said to be on the market were New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler, Matt Moulson of the Buffalo Sabres, Ales Hemsky of the Edmonton Oilers and Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres.
“I think there’s a logjam that’s been presented or created by two, three, four players that’s going to paralyze the rest of the league,” Burke told reporters Tuesday at Scotiabank Saddledome.
“You’ll see other deals happening but I think the hold up for a high-end forward has kind been captivated by two, three, four players.
“I think we’re on the backburner for a lot of teams right now. Doesn’t mean nothing is going to happen, but that’s where we are today.
“We’ve been in discussions with every team in the league and what they’re trying to do. We have some unrestricted free agents we will move if the price is right. I’m not close on anything that makes sense for us.”
Trade speculation in Calgary has centred on Cammalleri, but with a record of 23-31-7 and destined for a fifth straight season out of the playoffs, the only Flames that Burke considered off limits were captain Mark Giordano and rookie sensation Sean Monahan.
“When you’re in the place we are in the standings, your list of untouchables should be either nonexistent or tiny,” Burke said.
Burke, the Flames president of hockey operations, stepped in as interim GM when he fired Jay Feaster on Dec. 12. He intends to hire a new GM.
But Burke’s mandate is to speed up Calgary’s rebuild by whatever means necessary: trades, spending to the cap or the signing of free agents.
“You can’t be waiting for the next guy,” Burke said. “We’re going to do what we can to improve. If that means there’s a few less decisions for the new guy, that’s fine.
“The dynamic of the trade deadline is, you want to show your players first and foremost, if you’re close, you want the room to feel you’ve done something to add. You want the players to believe management is trying to make the team better.”
Only the Buffalo Sabres have scored fewer goals than Calgary in the NHL this season, but upgrades are needed both up front and on the blue-line.
Cammalleri, 31, scored 39 goals and had 43 assists as a Flame and a linemate of Jarome Iginla in 2008-09. Cammalleri is in the final year of a five-year contract paying him $6 million annually.
With the right linemates, Cammalleri’s offensive skills and experience make him an attractive rental for a playoff push.
“Things change very quickly in the business,” Cammalleri said. “When it comes to that, I think you understand why certain things take place and why they might be thinking along certain lines.
“I feel my best hockey is ahead of me and I feel great about my game. Whether it’s here, or whatever happens, I’m not concerned about my ability to help my team out.”
Stempniak, also 31, is in the second year of a two-year deal that counts $2.5 million against the salary cap. He has eight goals and 15 assists in 52 games this season. His wife gave birth to twin girls following the Olympic break and he could be on the move Wednesday.
“I know that’s a very likely possibility and have sort of braced myself for that,” Stempniak said. “I’ll either get a phone call or I won’t get a phone call.
“It could be two big life changes in the span of five days, but it’s part of the business. Thankfully on the family front, everything is going well there and everyone is healthy. That’s the most important thing. Whatever else happens, you think you can deal with it.”
Defenceman Chris Butler, whose salary is $1.7 million this season, is also scheduled for unrestricted free agency in July.
Burke said he prefers adding a player who can upgrade the Flames immediately over acquiring draft picks. Calgary has a healthy dose of cap space to take on unwanted contracts as part of a deal as well.
“I hope to be up here in a year talking about buying players, not selling players. We’re selling,” Burke said. “That being said, if we can salvage a hockey deal out of this we’re going to do that.
“If we can turn our cap space into assets we’re going to do that. It could be a very important day for the franchise, the next 24 hours, but it’s not the same as when you’re adding to try to make a push.”
The Flames host the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday. Coach Bob Hartley said Joni Ortio will get the start in net.
Ortio was called up from Abbotsford, B.C., when goaltender Karri Ramo injured his knee Feb. 2. Ramo skated Tuesday for the first time since the injury prior to Calgary’s optional skate.