Wednesday, July 27, 2005

White's future remains in doubt; Sens looking for grit in the middle

Bruce Garrioach has a story in today's Ottawa Sun regarding Todd White's future, or perhaps lack there of, with the Sens. White is an restricted free agent, and the Senators have until the end of the week to qualify him at $1 million.

As discussed in the piece, on the surface, it appears as though White, an Ottawa area native and one of the only players who lives in the city in the off season, is the odd man out when it comes to the team's centers. With Jason Spezza expected to take over the number one #1 spot often held by White over the last two years (due to his chemistry with captain Daniel Alfredsson), Mike Fisher taking on a bigger role, Antoine Vermette expecting to be with the club full-time, and Bryan Smolinski not being bought out, White doesn't seem to fit into any plans. Of course, any of those players could move to the wing, but the team's been playing forwards out of position for a while and it's had some not-so-wonderful results.

At $1 million, he doesn't seem like an albatross, but when you factor in where he'd likely be playing (third or forth line), a player of his size doesn't appear to be cut out for that kind of role. The questions about whether or not he could handle the grind of the NHL were raised last season when he was often on the sidelines injured. Not to mention the fact that his offensive output, despite playing with Alfredsson much of the time, was down last season, as he finished with 29 points in 56 games, giving him a PPG average of 0.55, down from 0.75 the season previous.

If White does move on, the team will be losing a consistently hard worker and someone who, within the community, has been very highly regarded.

In addition, Garrioch speculates that the Sens may be looking at a "gritty center - possibly Bobby Holik". Anyone who's seen a Rangers game the last two seasons knows that there are a lot of descriptives available for Holik's play, and grittyness, at least as I understand the word to mean within hockey, is not one of them. Dirty? Yes. Lazy? Absolutely. Uninterested? Seems that way. But gritty? Hardly. Don't let his size fool you folks. Bobby Holik is not a physical presence, and if I were to draw up a list of guys I'd want to go into corners, stand in front of nets, and pay the physical price, Bobby Holik would probably rank somewhere between Jaromir Jagr and Mike Ribiero. Meaning, not very highly.

When playing a checking-center type role for the Devils, Holik was extremely effective. However, one has to question whether or not Holik, who's view of himself as a player is apparently that of a superstar, would be willing to do the things such a role requires, not the least of which is dimished ice time.

This is, of course, assuming the Rangers buy out Holik, who's $9 million/year contract is one of the examples why a salary cap was necessary, as owners need to be saved from themselves (and before anyone says, "oh, it's just the Rangers", let's not forget what team Holik positioned them against when negotiating to drive up his price; I'll give you a hint. They start with a Toronto). But as we've seen over the last few days, the expected buyouts we were sure were coming have either not happened, as we've seen here in Ottawa, or are taking much longer than anticipated.

Taking a quick glance at the UFAs, there appear to be more reasonable options available to the Sens as far as "gritty centers" go, none of which would cost as much as Holik nor bring the baggage he would. Tim Taylor, Mike Eastwood, and Travis Green (I know, I know), on the surface, seem to fit the bill quite nicely.

But in truth, I'm not so sure a "gritty center" is needed. If one were to look down the line-up, they'd see that the supposed lack of grit that's unfortunately become this team's trademark is as much existant along the wings as it is down the middle, especially if Chris Neil is not brought back, which, at this point, remains unknown. Peter Schaefer can play that game well, as he is probably the best Sen when it comes to playing along the wall and fighting for pucks, but he's not an extremely big guy. Marian Hossa's shed the "Maid Marian" name over the past couple years with his willingness to play a physical game, but do you really want a guy who you depend on for 40+ goals to be your "gritty winger"? And undersized as he is, Alfredsson isn't afraid to mix it up either, but like Hossa, he's too important to the team in other areas to play that role completely.

Which, I assume, is where all the Gary Roberts talk comes in. It's been all quiet on that front for the past couple days, with Roberts' agent Rich Winter only saying that it's his client's preference to remain a Maple Leaf. And all reports out of the ACC say that Leafs brass would like the same. However, if they are not able to buy out Owen Nolan at 2/3 the contract, which is beginning to look like more and more the reality, then they won't have much room under the cap to operate. When you consider they probably want to beef up their defence with at least one FA signing, as well as their supposed involvement in the Peter Forsberg sweepstakes, there doesn't appear to be much $ left over. Sens fans hope that's when John Muckler makes his pitch.

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