ST. PAUL — They've been foreign concepts for the Calgary Flames over the last few seasons: Cap space; breathing room; the ability to move players locked into contracts with no-movement clauses.
But GM Jay Feaster feels the Flames have accomplished all of these things with Saturday's trade of defenseman Robyn Regehr to the Buffalo Sabres, along with Ales Kotalik and a second-round pick in 2012. The Sabres sent back defenseman Chris Butler — whom the Flames demanded in the deal — and minor league center Paul Byron.
"That's really what made the deal so attractive in my mind," said Feaster. "We create a significant amount of salary cap space for ourselves. For the first time in a long time, we have options now as we go into July 1. We have free cap space so we can address some other needs."
Regehr has two years left on a 5-year, $20-million deal. The Flames immediately put some of that space to use, inking winger Alex Tanguay to a 5-year, $17.5 million contract that will no doubt please Jarome Iginla and Flames fans praying for a reasonable cap hit for the winger at $3.4 million annually.
As for Buffalo, the Regehr trade took some effort to pull off. Like every other positive move for the team in 2011, it traces back to new owner Terry Pegula.
"Terry was influential in convincing him," said Sabres GM Darcy Regier. "As Robyn stated, it wasn't situation where he didn't want to come to Buffalo. It was a situation, in lieu of Calgary having the no-move no-trade, having some say in the process."
Regehr joins a Buffalo blue line that could use some veteran savvy, with at least four players 25 years old or under.
"It's not just veteran leadership. It's added size and experience," said Regier.
As for Kotalik, who played in Buffalo from 2002-2009, Regier doesn't intend to buy him out — despite heavy speculation to the contrary.
"Al can play in the National Hockey League. He's played an important role for us. We expect him to come to camp and play an important position."
Really nice move from the Sabres. The blue line should be a priority, given how good the goaltending is. Build from the back out. Plus, it's an indication that Pegula's willing to put up dollars to back up his talk. Should be an interesting summer.