CALGARY - The Calgary Flames got the last of the Big Four under a long-term contract.
After securing multi-year deals with captain Jarome Iginla, defenceman Robyn Regehr and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff over the last eight months, the final domino fell in the signing of 22-year-old defenceman Dion Phaneuf to a US$39-million, six-year contract extension.
"You try and secure top players for as long as you can," Flames general manager Darryl Sutter said Wednesday at Pengrowth Saddledome. "It keeps your team competitive for a long time.
"To be able to have Kipper and Robyn and Dion and then obviously Jarome for at least the next five years is significant for this team."
Phaneuf's average salary of $6.5 million will be a substantial raise over the $942,000 he's making in his final year of his entry-level contract this season.
The hard-hitting and offensively talented defenceman would have become a restricted free agent on July 1.
Given the bid the Edmonton Oilers made to pry restricted free agent winger Dustin Penner away from Anaheim last summer, the Flames might have had to match another team's offer if he wasn't signed before July 1.
Phaneuf says he wasn't interested in that scenario.
"I never wanted to leave Calgary," he said. "The ownership . . . have done a great job in locking up the core group.
"It was definitely a big part. They're all top players in the league and top players on our team. To have them locked up for the time that they all are, that was definitely something that was a big part of not wanting to go that other route."
Iginla and Regehr signed five-year deals last summer worth $35 million and $20 million respectively. Former Vezina Trophy winner Kiprusoff agreed to a six-year extension worth $35 million in October.
The contract negotiations between Sutter and Phaneuf's agent Don Meehan started in earnest after Kiprusoff's signing.
"It was lengthy, it was long, but it went very well and ran very professionally," Phaneuf said. "It was a big thing to find where it worked for the team and where it worked personally."
Phaneuf has 35 points (9-26) in 53 games this season and was a starter for the Western Conference in the NHL's all-star game last month.
The six-foot-three, 210-pounder from Edmonton was a finalist for the rookie of the year award after the 2005-06 season. He has 134 points (46-88) in 215 career NHL games.
The Flames were sixth in the Western Conference on Wednesday, but just a point up on Nashville and Colorado.
Calgary will have about $26.5 million tied up in next season in Iginla, Regehr, Phaneuf and Kiprusoff, whose contract is weighted in Year 1 of his extension with an $8.5-million salary.
Calgary chose Phaneuf ninth overall in the 2003 draft. He was the third defenceman taken behind Ryan Suter at No. 7 and Braydon Coburn at No. 8.
"I think if you look in the age group of those defencemen, and there's some pretty good ones in there, Dion is in the head of the class," Sutter said.
Coburn signed a $2.6-million, two-year extension in November with Philadelphia. Suter and the Nashville Predators have yet to agree on a new contract.
Phaneuf can now be included among several young NHL stars who have signed big contracts with their respective clubs recently.
Alexander Ovechkin, 22, and the Washington Capitals agreed to a US$124-million, 13-year extension for an average annual salary of $9.54 million.
Philadelphia Flyers forward Mike Richards, who was Phaneuf's teammate on Canada's junior team in 2005, got a $69-million, 12-year extension with Philadelphia.
The Ottawa Senators got 24-year-old forward Jason Spezza under contract for $49-million for seven more years.
Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins negotiated a $43.5-million, five-year deal that will pay the 20-year-old $8.7 million a year beginning next season.
"I never thought coming out of the lockout we'd escalate term to the point we are seeing now," Flames head coach Mike Keenan said.
Keenan, a former GM, recalled NHL commissioner Gary Bettman telling teams to sign players to short-term contracts.
"As short as you could get them and obviously it hasn't turned out that way," he said. "It would be interesting to hear what Gary would say about these contracts. There is a risk factor involved. These are guaranteed contracts.
"You have to make sure that you are picking the right people that will live up to the expectations that the organization has in you to fulfil the obligations and responsibilities that come with making that kind of money."
Sutter doesn't think Phaneuf took "a hometown discount," in agreeing to a shorter deal than those of Richards, Ovechkin and Spezza and for less money than Crosby.
"Thirty-nine million dollars is a lot of money," Sutter observed dryly. "It shows Dion wanted to be here long-term and it also gives us the leverage of the fifth and sixth year of what would have been unrestricted (free agency) years for him."
Phaneuf's goal in the third period of Tuesday night's game, when the Flames trailed Phoenix 3-0, sparked a comeback and Calgary won in a shootout.
"Last night, the way he played, you forget that he's 22 years old, the way he carries himself," Keenan said. "I've had the pleasure of coaching many Norris Trophy winners and young players like Chris Pronger at the same age and (Phaneuf) has the same upside."