So where do we stand
CURRENTLY UNDER CONTRACT:
Daniel Alfredsson $4,662,894
Wade Redden $3.724 million
Zdeno Chara $3.724 million
Martin Havlat $2.6 million
Greg de Vries $2.28 million
Bryan Smolinski $2.242 million
Chris Phillips $1.976 million
Dominik Hasek $1.52 million
Mike Fisher $1.5 million
Vaclav Varada $1.216 million
Peter Schaefer $988,000
Brian Pothier $532,000
According to today's Ottawa Sun, the team is close to a deal with defenceman Anton Volchenkov on a two-year, $2.5 million deal. It's also expected back-up goalie Ray Emery will accept his $450,000 qualifying offer. And enforcer Chris Neil's new deal is expected to be in the neighborhood of $650,000. So...
They still have to sign forwards Marian Hossa, Jason Spezza, Antoine Vermette to new deals. Their qualifying offers were $2.622 million for Hossa, $946,827 for Spezza, and $597,300 for Vermette, but it's believed that the team is trying to lock all up to long-term deals, and thus, the price will be higher.
The Sens last offer to Marian Hossa was for $11.9 million over three years, with the salary breakdown being $3.6 million for 2005-06 and 2006-07 and $4.7 million for 2007-08. He refused the offer, and filed for arbitration yesterday afternoon. In case you've been asleep for the past 24 hours, Hossa thinks he's worth "Jarome Iginila money", because he thinks his numbers are comparable. As I talked about yesterday, he's not too far off statistically, but to say that he's as important to the Sens as Iginla is to the Flames would be a bit of an overstatement, don't you think?
Because of the new salary arbitration set-up, as part of the new CBA, the arbitrator will either pick the Sens salary or the Hossa camp's salary. It will be interesting to observe if the Hossa camp really does think he's worth Iginla money, taking the risk that they might be highballing themselves out of a deal. Hossa's agent continues to tell anyone who will listen that his client is worth a billion trillion dollars.
"I would think if Marian Hossa goes to unrestricted free agency, he's going to be pretty valuable and that would be a pretty good position for us to be in next summer," said (Jiri) Crha. "But Marian Hossa likes playing in Ottawa and he'd like to be with the Senators. He's got the same type of numbers as Iginla and everybody knows what he can do."Even still, when they sign Hossa, Spezza, and Vermette, the team still has two starting forward spots to fill and not much cash to spend to occupy them. Let's guesstimate that Hossa will get $4 million, Spezza $1.25 million, and Vermette $750,000.
Sens GM John Muckler has said that he wants to top out at around $37 million so the team has some room in case of injury or if they want to add someone via trade at some point throughout the season. Meaning, they have in the neighborhood of $2 million to fill two starting forward spots as well as one alternate forward and defenceman (likely the league minimum for both of those).
Fans of the team, having seen conference heavyweights the Flyers load up and add Peter Forsberg, Derian Hatcher, and Mike Rathje, having seen division rivals the Bruins add Brian Leetch, Shawn McEachern, and Dave Scatchard, as well as inferior teams like the Penguins and Panthers stack their line-ups, it's understandable that Senators fans would like to see Ottawa at least try and keep up with the arms race going on by adding a free agent of significance of their own.
The reality is, however, that with the line-up above, and the financial commitments that come with it, there isn't any money left to sign an impact player, not that there are a whole lot of them left anyway.
There's been talk from the Sens brass that they will give rookies Patrick Eaves and Aleksei Kaigorodov the open slots, as well perhaps as AHL seasoned youngster Brandon Bochenski. Kaigorodov has been touted as the next big thing for some thing by those who are supposed to know these kinda things. He finished second in Russian Super League scoring this past year, when the league was full of NHLers, so there might just be something to that. The fact he doesn't have any North American experience is somewhat alarming, but that's the same boat Alfredsson and Havlat were in, and they fared all right. How far along Eaves is remains to be seen. He's been compared to Michael Peca as far as his skillset and character, and has faired well playing for Boston College in the NCAA.
The question is, do the Sens want two rookies in the starting forward line-up? There's already a perceived risk with them giving Jason Spezza, who's untested on the NHL level as a top player, their #1 center spot. As well, Antoine Vermette hasn't played a full NHL season.
Unfortunately, financially, the Sens may not have many other choice. Unless they make some moves.
In today's Sun, Bruce Garrioch says that the team has talked with various clubs about moving Bryan Smolinski and his $2.242 million salary, with big spender Doug MacLean and the Columbus Blue Jackets being seen as the leading contenders to acquire "Smoke". Like the trades of Jocelyn Thibault and Jeremy Roenick, I imagine it would be a salary dump and little would come back in return. That seems to be the NHL world we now live in.
Losing Smolinski's salary would give the Senators a lot more room to maneuver. He's a solid player, but at $2.242 million, he's (I think) overpaid. He did not have a good season in '03-04, racking up the most uneventful 49 points in NHL history. He benefited from playing with Hossa or Havlat for most of the season. I like the depth he brings to the team, as well as his experience, but if I had to cut bait somewhere, he'd be where I'd look.
Assuming Kaigorodov does come over, you could pencil him into the #3 center spot Smolinski occupied. You could then use some of "Smoke"'s salary to beef up one of the wing positions. Though most of the attractive options (Gary Roberts, Darren McCarty, Martin Gelinas, Andrew Brunette, and Martin Lapointe) are off the market, there are still some choices out there. Some alternative players still available include Anson Carter, Dave Andreychuk, and Bates Battaglia. In the case of the first two, assuming they would be willing to take paycuts to play for a contender - which, I know, is a crazy concept, but let's play in a pretend world for a minute - all would be solid fits for what the Sens need.
The Sens line-up pre-Smolinski trade would look like:
Aleksei Kaigorodov - Mike Fisher - Marian Hossa
Vaclav Varada - Bryan Smolinski - Patrick Eaves
Peter Schaefer - Antoine Vermette - Chris Neil
Zdeno Chara - Chris Phillips
Wade Redden - Greg de Vries
Anton Volchenkov - Brian Pothier
Dominik Hasek - Ray Emery
Assuming there is a trade involving Smolinski, they could move Kaigorodov down into his slot, and put whatever winger they're able to acquire into the Fisher-Hossa spot.
Though I would prefer to see Gary Roberts along the wing, I also think the most important task is to keep the core of this team together for as long as possible.
Despite reports that Muckler has approached the representatives of Chara and Redden about signing new, long-term deals, I've braced myself for the reality that we're going to lose one of the two. It's almost a case of picking your poison as far as which one you're going to let go. At this point, based on the drafting of Brian Lee, a blueliner who's skillset is eerily similar to Redden, it looks like they're hedging their bets on Chara. I can't say it's the right or wrong decision.
Losing Redden, you can move Chris Phillips and Volchenkov up a notch on the depth chart. The Sens have a few seemingly NHL-ready defencemen in the system, the most significant being ace Andrej Meszaros, their first round pick from 2004. Whatever money left over from losing Redden could be spent on a veteran defenceman as well.
So sleep easy Sens fans. The world is not ending, yet. Yes, Marian Hossa's future with the club is very much in doubt, and local favorite Redden may not be in a Sens uniform until he retires, leaving all the puck bunnies in the area severely upset I'm sure. But in spite of this, we're still in good shape, and there's no reason to think the Sens Prospect Factory can't churn out some new products off the assembly line to step in.
POSTSCRIPT: As Tom Benjamin has so generously pointed out, the arbitration structure has not changed as significantly under the new CBA. I had thought, as had been rumored, that they went to the MLB system of two offers - the team's and the player's - and the arbitrator could only select one of the two. Hence, the bind Hossa and his agent would be in regarding their insistance that he deserves Iginla cake. That's not the case. Perhaps I slept through the arbitration portion of CBA 101. My mistake.