Thursday, February 02, 2006

So, what now?

By now you know the Ottawa Senators lost out on the Doug Weight sweepstakes.

Credit has to be given to Jim Rutherford, who might just be the Executive of the Year in the NHL in a post-lockout world where everyone said the good and bad GMs would be revealed because of the restraints.

He made many crafty moves to improve his team, signing two smallish but quick and extremely talented forwards in Ray Whitney and Cory Stillman to bargain contracts (a combined $3.25 million for the two, who between them have 81 points in 83 games). Both are players whos makeups are perfectly suited for the NHL’s new rules where speed is emphasized more than previously. As well, he inked the other Kaberle, Frantisek, to a cheap deal. The older of the Czech brothers is having a career year at age 32.

Rutherford also made a crafty trade that wasn’t seen as overly significant at the time but might end up being one of the more important moves of the offseason when he acquired Martin Gerber. Going into the season, when I stupidly picked the ‘Canes to finish out of the playoffs, I said goaltending would be their Achille’s heel. I’m an idiot. Gerber, also an older player, was a great backup to J.S. Giguere in Anaheim, but was unproven as the go-to-guy. He’s silenced his skeptics with his play, and though I’m sure Carolina fans with they had a more proven, playoff tested guy between the pipes when they make their Cup run, considering where expectations where in September, they can’t be anything but ecstatic.

They were able to pry him from Anaheim for Tomas Malec, a guy who the Ducks let go for nothing to Ottawa a year later, and a third round pick that ended up being Tim Brent, a center who was less than a point-a-game guy in junior . While I guess it is possible that Brent will turn into an impact player for the Ducks at some point down the line, it’s probably safe to assume the deal was a steal for Carolina.

So my hat is off to Rutherford. He improved his team drastically and didn’t have to gut his roster nor give away too much of its future.

From the Ottawa perspective, it sorta throws a wrench in their plans, and certainly makes all that fancy line combinations the people at the HF Forums had imagined with Weight on the Sens useless.

Really, the only big hole on this team is the lack of a scoring line center. Bryan Smolinski is a useful player, and my hate on for him has died down, but he’s not capable of filling that role consistently. Mike Fisher is having the best season of his career in every way imagineable, but I’m not sure he’s suited for that role either. He’s one of the best third line middle men in the NHL, and in some ways, too good for that spot, but not quite good enough offensively to be a top two line center on a team that’s making a run for Stanley.

Doug Weight would’ve been the perfect solution. The fact he’s not coming to Ottawa sucks.

But when you realize what, apparently, the ‘Canes were asking for, it’s hard to fault John Muckler for not pulling the trigger on the trade.

If you believe reports, Carolina wanted two players off Ottawa’s roster in addition to a first round pick. It’s believed those two players were Antoine Vermette and Anton Volchenkov. I’m a defender of Vermette, and think he’s a good role player, but I was more than prepared to see him go if it meant Weight was coming to town. Antoine’s an excellent penalty killer, skates like the wind, and is a good weapon to have on your fourth line, but he’s never lived up the expectations of fans as far as contributing offensively. Vermette put up 119 points as an 18-year-old in junior, and was nearly a point-a-game player last year in the AHL, but whenever the Senators have put him in a role where he’s supposed to score, Vermette has shit the bed.

But when you throw Volchenkov into the mix, it would’ve been a hard trade to justify. Even though the other three of Ottawa’s top four blueliners get all the press, I think the “A-Train” has quietly had a strong year. He’s developed into much more than a guy who can kill you with a hit. His stats don’t reflect this because he never gets powerplay time, and plays with a more offensive minded defenceman, thus forcing him to be the defensive one, but Volchenkov is really coming into his own. To part with him for a rent-a-player would’ve been foolish.

Plus, tinkering with the defence seems like a bad idea. The top five Ottawa has are among the best in the league, I think, and their 7th guy, Christoph Schubert, has to be one of the best in the league to have on reserve. However, beyond those seven, there’s not much there as far as NHL ready. Down in Binghamton, you have Filip Novak, Lance Ward and the aforementioned Malec. If you trade Volchenkov, or any of the blueliners, you are rolling the dice and praying that none of the six you got left get hurt. Because if they do, and you have to put one of those three in there in a playoff game, you’re asking for trouble.

All of this is a lot to give up for a guy who won’t be back next season. I’ve said all season that I believe this is Ottawa’s best chance to win a Cup. While Dominik Hasek is saying all the right things about wanting to play more years, he’s still 41 years old. And even if he does want to continue to play, who says he’s back in Ottawa. He’s definitely want more than the bargain basement salary Ottawa got him for, and with the Sens having to sign Zdeno Chara, Redden, Jason Spezza, and Martin Havlat to new contracts, there might not be a whole lot of money left over. Especially if Eugene Melnyk continues to be a cheapskate.

If Hasek is not back, their chances diminish greatly. A month ago, I would’ve said they’d still be in good shape with Ray Emery, but after the January he had, I’m not so sure.

So we’ve established the 2005-06 season is the Ottawa Senators best opportunity to win the Cup since they came back into the league, and will likely be for many years to come. You want to make sure you take advantage of this, and part of that means bringing in players.

But you don’t want to give away the farm in the process and handicap yourself greatly for the years to come. Anton Volchenkov is going to be a big part of those years, and the way the Sens have drafted the last two years, even if it’s a late round pick, that first round selection might end up being someone pretty damn good as well.

And let’s be honest, there’s no assurance Weight would’ve worked out. On paper, it sure seems like a match made in heaven, but last year, both Peter Bondra and Greg de Vries appeared like wonderful additions, and both were utter disappointments.

Muckler says he still has some irons in the fire, and a move, at some point, to improve the team is a distinct possibility. But with Doug Weight out of the equation, who else is there? Let’s look at some of the names that have been floating around.

Olli Jokinen
The most attractive option out there, Jokinen will be a UFA at the end of the season, and it doesn’t look like Florida will be able to sign him to a new deal before then. If they are out of the playoff picture at the trade deadline, the Panthers will probably want to get something for him instead of losing him on the open market for nothing. Like Weight, it would be a rent-a-player situation, but if the asking price for him was Vermette, Volchenkov, and a first round pick, then imagine what Olli Jokinen will command. For my money, Jokinen is a superior player, though less playoff tested. I would welcome the opportunity to have him come to Ottawa, but I wouldn’t bet on it happening just because the cost will be beyond what Muckler wants to spend.

Steve Rucchin
Obviously dependant on the Rangers also falling out of the playoff race, Rucchin is a guy who I’d like to see in Ottawa, but I’m not sure he really fills their second line center who can put up offense void. Is he really an upgrade over Bryan Smolinski? So much so that you want to tinker with the chemistry of the team? He’s a good leader, having captained the Ducks, and was tremendous when they went to the finals, but I’m not sconvinced it’s much of an improvement. Bryan Murray does like him, however, and the word is Muckler tried to bring him in during the offseason.

Mike Peca
Bruce Garrioch dropped this name on the pre-game show Wednesday night. I really don’t think it will happen and I hope it does not. Rumors of him being on his way out of Edmonton have been in existence all year long, but with Peca having improved his play, it’s doubtful he’ll be traded at all. And again, does Peca cure what ails the Senators? He’s hardly an offensive player. Like Rucchin, he’s a guy I’d take, but if we’re talking about filling needs, then Peca doesn’t seem suitable to come to Ottawa.

Jason Allison
Allison’s another name that has been in trade rumors for as long as I can remember. It’s unlikely this will happen under any circumstances. Ottawa and Toronto trading with each other is not going to happen now that they’re rivals. And with the way he’s played this season, I’m not so sure I’d want them to. Allison manages to put up points, but he’s similar to Smolinski in that they’re the most unspectacular points imagineable. The last thing any team needs is a floater.

Brian Rolston
Of all the options, this one makes the most sense to me. Minnesota will have a hard time getting into the playoffs, and could want to unload salary. Rolston is someone who I’ve always been a fan of. He’s solid in his own end and is capable of scoring. Unlike Weight, he would not be a rental player, as he still has two years left on his contract at $3.2 million per season. That’s a lot of money to take on for a team that will have a lot of their own guys to get signed to new deals, but Muckler did say in yesterday’s Ottawa Sun that he’d actually prefer to add someone who will be with the club for years to come. If you’re going to give up a guy like Volchenkov, you might as well get someone will be around past June.

Todd White
Funny how things come full circle. White wasn’t good enough to be with Ottawa eight months ago, but now he might be coming back? I don’t think this would happen only because it would be Muckler admitting he was wrong. In retrospect, it looks like it might’ve made more sense to keep White instead of Smolinski. He had good chemistry with Alfredsson and might’ve made it possible to have Alfie on the second line with him instead of stacking that first line. When White was traded, it was rationalized that he was too small to play a third or fourth line role on the team and thus it made no sense to keep him around. With how insignificant size has become in the faster NHL, that seems to be a silly argument now. He might not be a big improvement over what they already have, but at least we know there wouldn’t be a need for any adjustment period.

Marc Savard
The Orleans native would be a great addition to the Senators, and as a playmaker would look terrific on a line with Martin Havlat, however, I think come March, the Atlanta Thrashers will still be in the hunt, and thus, not looking to unload one of their best players, even if he’ll be a UFA a few months later.

Mike Comrie
As someone (who's name I forget, thus I can't give them credit) said, when Ottawa just got rid of Radek Bonk a year ago, why trade for a smaller, less defensively responsible, more emotion version? Like Bonk, he’s unquestionably talented, but unfortunately, also like our friend Radek, there are other factors that ultimately make that vast talent irrelevant, the most prominent being that he's horribly streaky.

Joe Nieuwendyk
What Joe would Ottawa be getting is the question. If it’s the Nieuwendyk who was so good for Toronto against the Senators last year, then I’d say, make this deal tomorrow. Unfortunately, at age 37, there’s no assurance that that would be the case. He’s been in and out of the lineup for the Panthers, and come crunch time, can’t exactly be counted on considering his health is such an issue. Plus, he has a contract for next season, and unlike someone like Rolston, it’d be hard to make an argument that you’d want him to be any more than a rental deal. Of course, he and his three Cup rings bring a whole lot of experience most of the other names mentioned don’t. If he could be had for a late round pick, and there was some promise that he'd retire at the end of the year so his salary wouldn't be on Ottawa's book, then perhaps it's a more attractive option.

Marc Bell, Tyler Arnason, Kyle Calder
Chicago apparently wants to reload, and thus, unload a lot of their contracts. This means everyone and anyone is up for the taking, and these three were specifically mentioned. Marc Bell is someone who Ottawa hockey fans know very well from his days with the 67’s. He’s got good size but can skate, brings some grit to the table, and is versatile as being able to play the wings as well as his natural center position. Of the three Hawks players, he’d be the only one I’d have significant interest in, as the other two would be lateral moves, and a trade for the sake of it makes little sense. I don’t know Bell’s contract status though, and that will be a big factor in whatever move Ottawa makes.

David Vyborny
Columbus has been out of the playoffs since November, and despite their attempts to resurrect their season with trades, it’s a foregone conclusion, so you have to think they’ll be looking to unload some guys. Vyborny’s one of the more underrated players in the NHL, having put up 46 and 53 points in his last two seasons on a pretty lousy team, and he’s on pace for even more than that this year. He’s also Czech, which means he’ll have some kinship with half the roster. But he’s yet to play a playoff game in the NHL so there isn’t any guarantee he’ll be a performer when it matters most.

As you can see, it’s slim pickins. There are players out there who might make Ottawa a better team, but the idea that a guy of Doug Weight’s caliber will come to the Senators and take this team over the top appears to have come and gone.

Perhaps that’s for the best. After all, this is one of the best teams in the NHL. They’ve been in the top two of the Eastern Conference all season despite losing a 30-goal scorer for the majority of the season. And as many have said, when he gets back, it’s almost like a trade deadline deal, though you have to assume there will be some rust he’ll have to play off.

Does this team really need to make a trade? Ultimately, I don’t think so. Unless they can add a game breaker like Doug Weight, then I say, maybe it’s best to leave well enough alone and roll the dice with the team you have.

POSTSCRIPT: The Palm Beach Post is reporting that the Panthers have offered Olli Jokinen a four-year, $16 million deal, which is believed to be what he was asking for. So you might be able to scratch a name off the above list already.


At 9:49 AM, Anonymous SensGuy said...

This team would be very stupid to trade Volchenkov, and I don't think Muckler will do it. He seems to love the guy.

Vyborny would be my top choice because I don't think Rolston or Jokinen can be had. He's so underrated.

At 10:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Rolston is available (which I doubt), I would easily trade Volchenkov and Vermette to get him. He may not be as flashy as a Doug Weight, but Rolston is a solid contributor even on a relatively weak team. He leads the Wild in Points, Goals, Assists, PP Goals and PP Assists. He's also a very respectable +14. Playing on a team that is last in their division and 12th in their conference, that's saying something.

I am definitely no fan of Smolinski - I think his play is elevated by those around him, rather than the other way around. Rolston would be a huge upgrade, in my opinion, and one that this team needs. As we've seen lately, when the top line isn't playing their "A" game, the Sens need the players from the other lines to step up. Smolinski never seems to do that, but I'm confident that Rolston is the kind of player who could.


At 1:58 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Vyborny is a RW, is he not? When Havlat gets back, he'll be out of a scoring-line job unless he can play in the middle.

At 3:12 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

Vyborny has played center for a lot his career so I'm sure the Sens could play him there and he'd be fine.

At 4:02 PM, Anonymous SensGuy said...

Also, I think Marc Recchi should be considered. I know he's a winger, not sure if he's ever played center, but he's still producing well and has playoff experience.

And Vyborny is also a center.

I wouldn't trade Vermette AND Volchenkov for Rolston. Then again, I wouldn't trade Volchenkov at all with Redden and Chara headed towards UFA.

At 6:46 AM, Anonymous Duff said...

We need a backup

At 11:45 AM, Anonymous Zamboner said...

Rolston makes 3.2?

So who do we let go in the offseason?

At 5:53 AM, Blogger Roshan said...

You know what? I wud try to get Todd White back, he was born for the Sens. PLus let's get Marc Savard as well. I think he is the player who has most matured in the last three years.


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