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Defenceman Jay Bouwmeester dons the fiery 'C' as newest Flame

CALGARY - Jay Bouwmeester was ready to be a piece of the Calgary Flames puzzle instead of carrying the load for an NHL team.

The 25-year-old from Edmonton was the biggest fish in the free agent pond of defencemen and he didn't even wait for the market to open Wednesday.

Bouwmeester agreed to a five-year, US$33-million deal with Flames on Tuesday and entertained no other offers.

"It just got to the point where I was totally comfortable with things here," Bouwmeester said Wednesday. "It probably wouldn't have really mattered what else was out there.

"I liked the situation. I can't really explain it. It's just one of those things. You just kind of know."

The Flames' personnel, particularly on the blue-line, drew Bouwmeester to Calgary because he sees himself as a cog in the wheel of a high-end defence that includes Robyn Regehr, Dion Phaneuf and Cory Sarich.

"That's what was one of the things that was real attractive here," Bouwmeester explained. "You look at the solid group of guys they already have. Robyn and Dion, and not just those two. Cory Sarich, I've played against him a long time.

"It seemed like it would be an easy place to slide in and hopefully have some success."

Flames GM Darryl Sutter dealt Jordan Leopold and a draft pick to Florida at the NHL draft last weekend to get Bouwmeester's rights and a head start on the competition to sign him. Sutter met with Bouwmeester at his Edmonton home Monday.

"We had no intention of waiting for today," Sutter said. "We prioritized the position and the player.

"We talked a lot of different ideas for him in terms of longer, shorter (contracts), but what it always kept coming back to was this was the market he wanted to play in."

Sutter later announced the signing of forward Fredrik Sjostrom.

"Freddie is a reliable two-way player", said Sutter. "We are happy to add him to our group as we identify him as a player who plays our style of game."

Sjostrom, a native of Fargelanda, Sweden, was an original first-round draft selection (11th overall) of the Phoenix Coyotes in 2001.

Sutter continued with the youth movement on the back end by signing Adam Pardy, another 25-year-old. The native of Bonavista, Nfld., had a goal and nine assists in 60 games as a rookie last season.

Defenceman Adrian Aucoin, Anders Eriksson, Rhet Warrener, forwards Todd Bertuzzi, Mike Cammalleri, Carsen Germyn and enforcer Andre Roy all became unrestricted free agents Wednesday. Sutter didn't intend to re-sign them.

"Today no. We're not walking away on anybody, but at the same time the philosophy doesn't change," Sutter said. "It's about young players."

Bouwmeester played a full 82 games for the Florida Panthers the last four seasons, although he never played a post-season game during his six-season tenure there.

He's young, durable and one of the best puck movers in the league on defence. But it's his play without the puck that made him a hot commodity for Calgary.

Darryl named his brother Brent the club's new coach earlier this month with a view to restoring the Flames defensive play that dropped to 23rd in the NHL this past season after sitting at No. 1 during the 2005-06 season.

Bouwmeester, who played for Canada at the 2006 Olympics, is a part of that vision. The six-foot-four, 214-pounder had 15 goals and 27 assists for Florida last season and his career totals there are 53 goals and 150 assists in 471 games.

"You can put him in any situation, power play, penalty kill, five on five, four on four and because he's such a smart player and such a great skater, he brings a lot of things to the table," Brent said.

"He has a great understanding of how to play when the team doesn't have the puck and how to pay attention to detail."

Bouwmeester is a big-minutes player, averaging about 26 per game in Florida. Regehr and Phaneuf also log the most minutes on Calgary's blue-line.

"Are they better players for doing that or do you get more out of them with a few less minutes?" asked Brent. "When I say a few less minutes, I'm not talking about five or six, I'm talking about a couple or three.

"Those three guys, Dion and Robyn and now Bouw, those guys have played in international competitions where you have elite-level players and they understand that. Sometimes a little less is better."

Phaneuf, Regehr, Bouwmeester, Sarich, goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff and forwards Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen and Daymond Langkow account for almost US$44 million against next season's salary cap of US$56.8 million.

Bouwmeester joins Phaneuf, Iginla and Langkow as Edmonton natives playing for the Flames.

"All my family and friends are pretty excited about it," Bouwmeester said. "Some people give you a hard time because it's Calgary."

NOTES: The Flames added Rob Cookson to the coaching staff as an assistant to Brent. . . Jared Bednar and Steve O'Rourke were named assistant coaches to Jim Playfair on their AHL team.

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