CALGARY - Calgary Flames general manager Darryl Sutter says Miikka Kiprusoff is one of the top three goaltenders in the NHL - and now Sutter is paying him like one.
Kiprusoff has agreed to a US$35-million, six-year extension which keeps in Calgary through the 2013-14 season. The 2006 Vezina Trophy winner, who turned 31 last Friday, would have been an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.
While the Finn's average salary will be $5.8 million, the contract is believed to be weighted to pay him more in the earlier years.
"I think he's going into the best years of his career," Sutter said Monday outside the Flames' dressing room.
"He hasn't played much hockey, to be quite honest. If you see how it's structured and laid out, it works well for him and works well for us."
The money represents a significant raise from the $3.6 million Kiprusoff will make this winter in the final year of his contract, and puts him in a league with Vancouver's Robert Luongo ($6.5 million this season) and New Jersey's Martin Brodeur ($5.2 million).
Sutter says a goaltender's best years are between 28 and 35 and he expects Kiprusoff to continue to be the difference-maker for the Flames for years to come.
"You don't get paid for past performances," Sutter said. "He's going into his prime in the next three or four years. I don't see anyone who is going to replace him in that time."
He's the third pillar of the Flames to agree to a long-term contract after leading scorer Jarome Iginla and defenceman Robyn Regehr signed five-year extensions worth $35 million and $20 million, respectively, in the off-season.
"It's important for the fans and the players to see that we have star players on our team and not just one. We have a number of them," Sutter said. "It's their responsibility once they sign long-term contracts to continue to be top players and continue to have a top team."
Kiprusoff was not available for comment Monday as the club said he was preparing for Tuesday's game against Nashville.
"I look forward to the responsibility and challenge that comes with this contract," he said in a statement.
The Flames acquired Kiprusoff from the San Jose Sharks for a second-round draft pick in November 2003. He's been a key contributor since, compiling a record of 111-54-23 with four ties for the Flames.
Kiprusoff helped Calgary reach the Stanley Cup final in 2004, where it lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games.
The six-foot-one, 185-pound netminder single-handedly extended Calgary's first-round playoff series this year against Detroit to six games as the Flames were overmatched.
In 244 games with Calgary and San Jose, Kiprusoff is 125-78-23 with seven ties.
He has a 5-3 record, a goals-against average of 3.13 and a save percentage of .879 this season.
Sutter says he began negotiations with Kiprusoff's agent Larry Kelly nine months ago.
While he has locked up Iginla, Kiprusoff and Regehr to long-term deals, there is more work ahead for him.
Centre Daymond Langkow, currently second in Flames scoring, becomes a free agent next summer as does winger Kristian Huselius. Star defencemen Dion Phaneuf is scheduled for restricted free agency.