Monday, July 10, 2006

Taking it all in

About 15 hours later, I’m still in a state of confusion about the trade that saw Martin Havlat leave town for the shiny lights that are the Chicago Blackhawks, however, ultimately, I think it was the right move for an organization that is in a state of transition.

Havlat is another one of “our guys” and anytime they leave town it’s sad, but ultimately, it’s a deal that had to be done for a variety of reasons.

The first is the obvious financial one. Havlat was in the same boat as our dearly departed friend Marian Hossa last summer, where he wanted more than the Sens could pay. Whether or not he’s worth what he got can be debated. Personally, I believe it’s a gross overpayment.

People who don’t see Sens games tend to have a higher opinion of Havlat than those of us who see every contest, if for no other reason than the fact Havlat often appears on highlight reels scoring fantastic goals. You see that and think he’s a world class player.

He has to potential to be, and maybe when given the role of the go-to-guy in Chicago he’ll become that, but as it stands, Havlat is a very talented unreliable second line forward. That’s what he would’ve been here and so there was no way to justify paying him $4 million, let alone the $6 mil he got.

In Ottawa, Havlat was never on the top line, and as much as that hurt him statistically, it also meant he was rarely on the ice against the other’s team’s best players. We’ll see how he handles being matched up against Nick Lidstrom.

The only long-term deal he would've signed is one we would have had to dismantle the team to pay. If we went to arbitration with Havlat, it all but assured that we would lose him in a year and get zero in return.

The other reason is one that hasn’t been discussed as much, and that’s that this team needed some turnover. I’ve seen a lot written about keeping the core in tact. Really? Do I need to remind most of you how you felt after this team was knocked out by the Sabres?

At the time, the calls were for a complete and total overhaul, and yet a few months later, most did a complete 180 and were adamant that the organization signs everyone.

Some changes had to be made, and Havlat is as good as any place to start. He’s a chronic underachiever and has proven himself to not be able, or willing, to respond when the going gets tough (i.e., the playoffs). When such a player puts himself out there the way he did, putting the team in a weakened position by publicly declaring he wants to test the free agent market, it’s hard to cry too many tears at his departure.

We’ll miss the exciting goals and blazing speed, but I know I won’t yearn for the pisspoor performances in clutch games nor the embarrassing antics he was often in the midst of.

Losing Bryan Smolinski probably hurts more than we are all admitting. I realize he’s become the goat in a town that always has to have one, but all things considered, he was a serviceable player and at $1.7 million as far as his cap hit was probably paid accordingly. And if we’re being honest, “Smoke” was one of the more consistent Sens skaters in the second round against Buffalo. An honest effort every night, which is more than you can say for a lot of the other forwards, including Mr. Havlat, who performed his annual disappearing act on queue every spring.

What we got in return has drawn criticism from some, but Muckler and those around him were not working from a position of power. When Havlat’s agent came out and told everyone, his bargain power was diminished every more.

Yeah, it would have been nice to get back a top six forward in the deal, but all things considered, I feel as though the Senators did alright for themselves. Not only do we instantly get a lot more breathing room with the cap, but some talented guys are now in the organization.

Tom Preissing is a dynamic offensive defenceman who’s skillset is perfect for the new NHL. He can rush the puck, log big minutes, and put up points on the powerplay. The addition of him seems to symbolize the change in direction the organization is spearheading, that Muckler himself has talked about:

We want guys who are more offensive minded. What we're going to be looking for next season is more offence from our defence to take some of the pressure off the guys up front to score goals.

Preissing logged over 20 minutes a game in San Jose last season, third on the team as far as blueliners and behind only renowned horses Scott Hannan and Kyle McLaren, and then over 23 in the playoffs, second among defencemen on the team. Clearly, Ron Wilson and the Sharks organization liked what they saw out of the guy. His TSN scouting report makes mention of the question of whether or not he can log a lot of minutes in the NHL, but I have to think he’s proven he can. However, their concern about his lack of physical toughness is one that I too am thinking about.

Adding Joe Corvo and Preissing gives us two more puck movers and, immediately, makes our defence much more mobile, but at what cost? Is Preissing as easy to move off the rubber as Corvo is said to be, and if so, what effect will that have?

There is an issue with the newly acquired Preissing that is worth making note of, and that’s his contract status. While he’s only making $600,000 this year, a bargain, he will be eligible for UFA status after this season. Do we try and get him to sign an extension, knowing it takes away our room to maneuver, or let him play the season for such a basement bargain price and hope we can get him to stay? If he has another season like the one he’s coming off of, he’ll get upwards of $2 million if the last week or so’s market stays true.

Josh Hennessy is someone who, besides his awesome last name, has a lot of upside, most seem to agree. At 21 he’s still quite young but the potential to develop into a real player appears to be there. He was a presence in junior, scoring over 80 points in three straight seasons when a member of Quebec of the QMJHL, a team that he also captained. He’s said to be a real speedster, which should come in handy, and the holes in his game are apparently a lack of strength and minimal defensive prowess, issues that can be corrected.

Whether or not he’s NHL ready remains to be seen but I suspect he’ll be given every opportunity to make the big club come September. If not, another season in the A couldn’t hurt. Down there, he’d be one of the key players and be put into important situations.

His aptitude sounds like he’s tailor made for a #2 center role, but it might be years before he’s ready to take on that kind of responsibility.

Michal Barinka was one of many talented young defencemen the Hawks had in their system, thus making him expendable. However, for a franchise like Ottawa, who could use a couple more of those, he’s a nice addition. At 6’4” he’s got impressive size and most reports indicate he’s good at using it, whether it be in front of the net or in corners.

Though Barinka’s seen some time with the Hawks, Ottawa is much deeper on the blueline as far as NHL ready players, so I doubt we’ll see him in an Ottawa uniform anytime soon.

So let’s see where we’re at

While we no longer have that 30-minutes-a-night workhouse like a Chara, from 1 to 6, our defence has to be considered among the best in the NHL. Our third pairing, by my calculations, are a guy who was the #3 man on a pretty good Sharks team and Anton Volchenkov, who was in our top four for most of last season.

Does this mean a deal is in the works to unload one of them to feed one of our needs?

Surely Preissing would be wasted on the bottom pair, and if you put him in the big four, who do you take out? After the season he had, it’d be hard to rationalize setting Andrej Meszaros back, even with the disasterous playoff he had. If we’re paying Corvo over $2.6 million, surely we want him in our top four.

Up front we clearly have holes that need to be addressed. In this deal, we lost two forwards who would’ve occupied spots on the first three lines, and didn’t get anyone back to fill them. One has to think one of the spots will go to Russian prospect Alexei Kaigordov, who Muckler says the team is trying to sign. Personally, I’d much rather the kid spend a year down in the AHL for a season before trying his hand in the NHL. Having big success in the Russian league, even when filled with NHLers, is one thing, but the NHL game can be very different, and the adjustment might be a tough one.

If we’re to believe Zdeno Chara when he said Sens owner Eugene Melnyk told him the team planned to spend to the limit, then the Sens have some cap room to play with. While they’re at $35.1 million now, they still have to get some key RFAs signed. Let’s guesstimate Peter Schaefer at $2 million, Antoine Vermette at $1.3, Chris Neil at $1 million, and Chris Kelly at $650K. Now we’re at $40 million. If Kaigorodov is indeed making the squad, he’ll likely command in the neighborhood of $700. So, roughly, $41 million, with one roster spot, a forward one, to fill. You have to think they’ll want a bit of breathing room, so let’s put the cap, really, at $43 million, leaving the team with

But wait, what about Christoph Schubert? The German emerged as a very durable and useful player last season, versatile enough to play either forward or D effectively. He needs a new contract. With the addition of Preissing, the Sens are log jammed at D, so no room there unless he’ll be kept as the 7th man for depth.

I’ve put Schubert as the fourth line left winger, a spot he occupied on occasion last season, and one he can play successfully.

But we still need that second line forward. Putting Mike Fisher and Patrick Eaves, as I have, is placing a lot of responsibility on guys who aren’t used to such a role. Based on their character, I’m sure each would welcome such a responsibility, but it’s a roll of the dice and one I’d much rather not attempt from jump.

There are some forwards still available to sign if we want to fill Havlat’s second line spot, but the price might be high. Anson Carter is said to be commanding upwards of $3 million coming off a career season in Vancouver. I do not think Carter is worth this, and see his year with the Sedins as an aberration. Mike Peca is somebody I have an interest in, but again, I believe the price he’ll come for is too high.

At the end of the day, in order to properly evaluate this trade, we’ll need to be years down the road. Ideally, by then, we will have seen how Hennessy and Barinka develop, and in the short term, what the Senators are able to do with the cap space that’s come their way.

A case could be made that, on paper, we are weaker now than we were when the season ended, however, as we’ve come to learn very tragically, hockey games aren’t won on paper.

Changes of some sort had to be made after another spring of discontent. Question the changes if you want, but staying the course was not going to suffice. The organizations hands were forced by the economic realities that are part of the new CBA, and I don’t think they would’ve made these moves otherwise, but in the end, sometimes the best decisions are the ones you’re unwilling to make until your back’s against the wall.

I’m cautiously optimistic about the team we’ll ice this fall, but at least we know it won’t be the same old faces letting us down all over again.

Still would’ve preferred Mark Bell though.


At 1:48 PM, Anonymous David Johnson said...

After much reading on the two prospects I see Hennessy as being a Kyle Wellwood type of player though Wellwood's offensive numbers have generally been a bit better in Junior and in the AHL. Hennessy's upside potnetial is a second line center.

As for Barinka, he projects as a defensive defenseman and could develop into a poor man's Chris Phillips.

I expect the defense you see now is the defense you will have for most of the season. Redden, Phillips, Meszaros, Volchenkov, Corvo, and Preissing with Schubert being the 7th defensemen when necessary and Barinka if you need to fill in for 2 injuries. Since most of those defensemen are 18-22 minute defensemen and there isn't a 28-30 minute stud like Chara having a 6 deep defense group is necessary.

The concerns I would have with that defense is the number of relatively 'soft' defensemen. Redden doesn't really play physical and Corvo and Preissing definitely don't. The other three play varying levels of physical play (Volchenkov the big hits, Phillips less of a hitter but a bit more physical and Meszaros still developing). The other concern is relative lack of experience. Corvo: 205 games Volchenkov: 151 games Preissing: 143 games Meszaros: 82 games

All that said, it still has the potential to be one of the better defenses in the league if Corvo, Preissing and Meszaros can repeat last seasons performances. But if I were building a team I would much rather have a more experienced defense with at least a couple proven winners in the group.

At 5:22 PM, Blogger jinx said...

Generally, I like & agree with your comments but today I don't. First, I think this labeling of Havlet as the bad guy is wrong headed. Ottawa has been heavily shopping Havlet for close to 2 years now & this started long before his agent started speaking up. Also, a few months ago, the Globe & Mail quoted Havlet's agent as saying Havlet liked Ottawa & he was prepared to sign a long term contract. Havlet must be feeling hurt & rejected by Ottawa management. I think the agents recent remarks must be viewed in this context.

I do agree it is a business issue though & Ottawa could not afford Havlet in the long run but with the new CBA there are dozens of players in the same position yet I do not see other teams putting out fire sale signs for their players. Most teams seem content to stay with the players until their restricted agency ends.

Also based upon what they are paying him, Chicago clearly views Havlet as franchise player yet they offered Ottawa close to nothing for him, not even a 1st round draft choice. Surely, Muckler could have got more for a franchise player. I think Muckler was snookered. I think this negative rap on Havlet is nothing more than management spin & the local media eats it up. This is a rotten trade and nobody in the Ottawa media seems to be prepared to say the king has no clothes.

What to hell is wrong with going to arbitration & keeping him for another year - that is better than the bunch of flotsam we were offered? Unless of course Muckler has already decided this year is a write-off & thus Havlet's contribution is not needed.

Also, this recent trade brings up a repeated pattern in Mucklers trades. He appears to like searching in poor people’s garbage for lost jewels.

Lastly, I think the idea that we need more offence & less defense plus & less grittiness instead of more is madness. Does Muckler or anyone else believe this? Last year, I though Ottawa was all offence & no defense & they were the least physical team in the NHL even with Chara on the team. In addition, Ottawa's defense is already too offence minded.

Muckler's recent comments worry me more & more. I think he must go before the team is irrevocably damaged. From what I read, Ottawa does not have a wealth of talent in the minors & if we do not stop the slide downwards it may be another decade before we have a half decent team. Consider the consequences if Alfie, Redden or Spezza get injured for a long period next year? Frightened? I am.

At 6:31 PM, Anonymous David Johnson said...

What to hell is wrong with going to arbitration & keeping him for another year - that is better than the bunch of flotsam we were offered?

Two things.

1. Because next summer you would get nothing for him.

2. Even if he was awarded the paltry sum of $3 million for this season, the Senators would still be forced to trade someone. They just couldn't keep Havlat and all the other RFA's they needed to sign.

Muckler's recent comments worry me more & more. I think he must go before the team is irrevocably damaged.

I don't think Muckler is damaging the team beyond what finances are forcing him to do. But my problem with Muckler is that I think he is forcing his team to rely too heavily on young players who have yet to learn to win without making the gutsy move of spending a couple million dollars on a veteren leader who plays hard nosed hockey. He is focusing far too much on the young, speedy, skilled player which are good to have but if that is all you've got you are missing a key ingredient. Chara was the one quality player who could instill any kind of fear in the opposition and now he is gone.

But the good news is that the team isn't ruined because it still has a lof of young players on the team.


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