Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Back to business

The Olympic break is over, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

While I was extremely excited about the games and the prospect of best-on-best hockey, I never quite got into the tournament to the degree that I thought I would. Team Canada’s piss poor performance didn’t help matters, but the truth is, even beyond Canada, I just was not enthused about the tournament.

I found the hockey to be boring and difficult to watch without any sort of allegiance. As I said I would, I slept right through the gold medal game Sunday morning, and never bothered to catch one of the replays. Some have said it was the best game of the tourney, so maybe I should regret that I didn’t bother to roll out of the sack to see it, but the truth is, I was so discouraged after Friday’s games that there was no way I could muster any sort of interest so matter how hard I tried. I wanted it to be over and the NHL to be back.

We’re now in the stretch drive, and it will be an important week or so for all teams, the Ottawa Senators especially.

The trade deadline is looming, only a week away, and there has been a ton of talk throughout the city about what the team will do, and more commonly, what should be done.

The Sens’ need for some secondary scoring has been a topic driven into the ground, and I imagine if you’re a fan of the team, it’s a fact you’re well aware of. When Doug Weight was taken off the market by Jim Rutherford, the Sens’ options got much smaller, and the name that has emerged as the new post-Weight favorite is Olli Jokinen.

Jokinen’s younger and, from where I sit, a superior player, so one has to assume the price will be higher. The Blues wanted Antoine Vermette and Anton Volchenkov for Weight. What will Mike Keenan command?

If it is those two, it’s a move that has to be wondered about. Jokinen’s a fantastic player, and would bring a lot to the table, but each of those two Senators are guys who, in the last couple months, have stepped up their game, become consistent contributors, and are two pieces of this team’s puzzle for many years to come, ideally.

Vermette’s been hot and cold for most of this season but has found his groove as of late. It’s become clear that Vermette is most at home in a third or fourth line role, as when he’s been promoted to a top line, he’s not risen to the occasion. Antoine is very effective in that third or fourth line role, giving them a guy who can score and is defensively responsible. His limited even strength minutes also leave him better rested for when he kills penalties, which is a job he does wonderfully.

A few months ago, I would have been gladly willing to part with Vermette for help in other areas, but now, I’m not so sure. If it was straight up, Vermette for Jokinen, or even with a draft pick thrown in, ultimately, I would reluctantly approve.

Volchenkov is another story. He too has really played well lately, and become a rock on the blueline. His stats this season aren’t flattering, but one has to remember that in playing with Wade Redden, the “A-Train” has to be defensive minded first and foremost, and as a result, he won’t net as many points. But if you look beyond the numbers and watch him play, it’s clear he’s an important cog in the wheel.

Many have talked about how Volchenkov can be traded because Andrej Meszaros has become much better than any of us thought he would. Yes, he has. But one of the reasons Meszaros is so great is because he’s the 5th defencemen. Is he ready for 20 minutes a night? I realize he had to do so when Redden was down earlier in the season, and performed well, but doing it in December, and doing it in May, are two very different things.

He’s still only 20 years old, and that’s asking a lot of a guy with his limited experience.

As well, when you remove Volchenkov, you put Christoph Schubert into the 6th spot. I’m okay with that, as the big German has been strong when called upon. The problem, though, is that beyond Schubert, the Sens don’t have many NHL caliber defencemen.

Down in Bingo, you have Lance Ward, Filip Novak, and Tomas Malec. Ward has NHL experience, Novak has had a good year by all accounts, and Malec is someone who the organization is high on, but let me ask you this: are you comfortable with any of them as regulars?

Because if you trade Volchenkov, or any of the current top six, and insert Schubert, you’re basically praying that no injuries occur to that blueline, or you’re up shits creek.

The issue of goaltending has once again reared its ugly head in March, and I can’t say I’m too happy about it. A month ago it looked as if the guy between the pipes was this team’s strongest point, yet a trip overseas has changed all that.

By all accounts, Dominik Hasek will be fine, and should be back playing within a week. Does that mean I’m confident? No. I’m not. He’s a 41-year-old goalie who has now injured the one part of his body that last put him on the shelf indefinitely. It’s a worrisome situation, and one that I was probably in denial about as far as it likely happening at some point this season.

And to make matters worse, Ray Emery has been off his game for some time now. After starting the season so strongly, many thought Emery had proven himself to be the heir apparent when Hasek retires or leaves, which will probably happen after this season. However, Emery’s play then went into the shitter, and hasn’t come out since.

All of this has lead many to say the team needs to make a goaltending move. To bring in insurance in case Hasek does go down, as Emery hasn’t shown he’s capable of carrying the load.

The obvious names were Vesa Toskala, Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron. Toskala has since signed a new deal with the Sharks, so it’s doubtful he’s going anywhere. Roloson is a goaltender I’ve liked for some time, and I think he’s pretty underrated. Being that he’s a UFA at the end of the year, he might be able to be had for a modest price, like a mid-round draft pick, and that would be a wise move from where I sit.

Some have said this would be a slap in the face to Emery and his pride. The organization’s way of telling him they don’t believe in him. My response: they shouldn’t believe. This is not to suggest they should cut Emery loose, as he’s still young and has a ton of potential. Rather that this team might need a more experienced back-up, and as talented as Emery is, he can’t match Roloson in that regard.

You bring in Roloson and have him sit the bench, all the while wooing him about how great it is to play in Ottawa. In the offseason, when he’s a free agent, you do your best to try and get him to stay in the nation’s capital, and come into camp with the job up for grabs. The hungry, intense young lion and the savvy, seasoned veteran can battle it out.

Seems like the perfect scenario to me.

If they decide not to make a move, the Senators still have as good a shot at taking home the Cup as anyone. While it’s true their chances diminish severely if Hasek goes down, the same can be said about almost every Cup contender. If Dallas loses Marty Turco, are they still as dangerous? What about Calgary and Miikka Kiprusoff? Even the teams like Philly and Carolina, who aren’t as strong in nets, would suffer if their starter was out indefinitely, though I’m sure some would disagree.

Having said all that, there’s one fact that I don’t think can be disputed: this is the Ottawa Senators best chance to win the Cup in their short modern history. It’s a reality I’ve talked about before, and I believe it as strongly now as I did then. So I would hate for this season to be pissed away because John Muckler didn’t think goaltending was an issue, again.

We’ve been down that road before, and no one wants to revisit those days.

With Hasek out, Emery has this next week to either re-establish the confidence we all had in him in November or make it clear that this team needs help.


At 4:12 PM, Anonymous SensGuy said...

Trading Volchenkov would be a massive mistake.

At 4:55 PM, Blogger The Universal Cynic said...

Something tells me that if it is indeed Jokinen, that Jacques Martin would push hard for Vermette. After all, he had a huge part in grooming him into a two-way player. I don't know where Volchenkov would fit into that equation -- depends what else is on the table. I really don't want to lose Vermette -- his role on the PK is significant. It's those not-so-little things that could make or break the Sens in the playoffs.

At 6:22 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

Again, if it's just Vermette, I would suck it up and accept it. Vermette's a solid player who has a carved out role, but in the big picture, he's not more important than a second line center who can contribute significantly.

At 8:46 PM, Blogger aquietgirl said...

I don't want to lose Vermette, either. I noticed in our slump, he was always the first one to score for us. His speed and PK abilities are going to be very useful.


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