Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Volchenkov/Sutton Non-Argument...

Nobody in the mainstream press is saying it, but you get the impression from some fans, through the blogs and the call-in shows, that Andy Sutton just might be a fine replacement for Anton Volchenkov next season, the premise being that GM Bryan Murray won’t be able to sign both under the salary cap.

For one, it’s not out of the question for Murray to keep both of them (in fact, I think it's likely). Filip Kuba can be moved this summer when his no-trade clause expires, and he may not be missed with the sudden emergence of Erik Karlsson as this team’s best offensive defenseman.

But for argument’s sake, let’s pretend that Murray has to choose just one to sign.

I don’t think I have to mount much of an argument to convince you that Volchenkov is the better player. That’s a given. But people will argue that Sutton provides much of the same for a cheaper price. Volchenkov currently has a 2.5 million cap hit (with a 3.2 million salary) to Sutton’s 3 million (with a 3.5 million salary), but Volchenkov will certainly require a hefty raise as a UFA this summer.

The first argument in Volchenkov’s favour has already been stated. He’s the better player. It’s also fair to say that Volchenkov is the best in the league at what he does, mainly sacrificing his body at all times to keep shots from getting to the net and being an elite match-up defenseman against the league’s best forwards. As a GM, you always want to have the best player in any equation. As for Sutton, he is right up there with blocking shots year after year and has been delivering huge hits since he got to Ottawa. Sutton has been an underrated defenseman for a long time now due to playing with weaker teams.

But the term “long time now” is more relevant than you think. Sutton is 35 years old and may be able to play another 3 or 4 years if he remains healthy, with the inevitable downturn in speed and agility that affects all players in their late 30’s.

Volchenkov on the other hand is only 28 years old and is just entering his peak years. His downturn is almost ten years away. Today’s Sutton can easily be the Jason Smith of tomorrow. That’s the chance you take with older players.

The next question will certainly be “But won’t Volchenkov's reckless physical style of play shorten his career? Why commit to a guy who could be worn out in another couple of seasons?”.

For one, Volchenkov has had an amazing ability to stay healthy throughout his career, with his one major injury being a damaged shoulder way back in 2003. For the most part, other than bumps and bruises, Volchie is in great shape and just seems to be one of those players with good genes, able to bounce back from collisions that would decimate lesser players. Daniel Alfredsson is much the same way.

Even if he did wear down quicker along the way, he’s still going to give the Senators as many years as an aging Andy Sutton will going forward from this summer, and at a better caliber of play. In light of that, Volchenkov is much less of a risk than Sutton, despite his more ferocious play.

That’s 3 arguments in favour of Volchie. None for Sutton.

So let’s get down to what the real issue is for everybody.


Everyone’s concerned about money. Like it’s coming out of their own pockets instead of Eugene’s.

The worry seems to be that Volchenkov and his agent are asking for an astronomical salary, somewhere in the 5 million a season range.

Despite the fact that nobody has verified that figure, not Bryan Murray, not Volchenkov, not his agent, not even the press, it seems to have entered the discussion as a plausible number. Some say it has the ring of “truthiness” to it.

But, like before, let’s just pretend that it will take 4.5 to 5 million to get Volchenkov under contract (I personally think it will end up at 4.2 or 4.3 with a no-trade clause provided to smooth things over - the cap hit could be at 4.5 with Volchenkov getting a front loaded 5 million plus in the first few years).

That’s 1.5 to 2 million more than Andy Sutton counts against the cap now at 35 years of age. Presumably, Sutton will be looking to capitalize on his new found reputation to hit it big with what will probably be the last contract of his career. But he may also stay at his current level in order to remain with the Senators, a team he most likely enjoys playing for after a career spent in the NHL wilderness. But don’t for a second think he’s going to take much less than 3 million on his last chance contract. So let’s peg Sutton at 3 million and Volchenkov at 5, even though the difference will probably be considerably less than that.

So keeping Sutton over Volchenkov will save the Senators 2 million dollars in cap space. But when the salary cap is expected to stay at 56 million or dip slightly to 54 in the worst case scenario, what’s 2 million dollars when it comes to keeping one of your most valuable players?

It’s nothing. It’s peanuts. Room could and should always be made for a vital, elite player, especially if it only means you have to shuffle around 2 million dollars on a 56 million dollar payroll. And, like I said, it will probably be a figure more like 1.5 million… or less!

Kuba alone makes 3.5 million dollars. He is perfectly expendable (though a quality player) and would be easy to move in a league where so few offensive defensemen make it to free agency. There is also such an abundance of forwards in Ottawa that Coach Clouston can’t find playing time for them all. There’s lots of room to maneuver here.

Paying your best defenseman 5 million dollars is not a liability. It’s a reality in today’s NHL. While some may argue that he doesn’t score points, therefore he doesn’t deserve big money, that’s an argument that retired alongside Paul Coffey. The game is much more sophisticated now and a defensive specialist as singular as Volchenkov is just as valuable as a Sergei Gonchar or a Dan Boyle. If you don't believe me, just watch what happens if Volchenkov hits the open market.

Keeping both Volchenkov and Sutton would give the Senators a top four of:

Phillips – Volchenkov
Sutton – Karlsson

This would leave the final two spots to inexpensive players like Matt Carkner, Chris Campoli, Jared Cowan and Patrick Wiercioch. I'm not forgetting Brian Lee either (though I try very hard).

Sounds like a perfect balance to me from both a financial and a hockey standpoint.

Lastly, wouldn’t it be a great thing for Volchenkov, a guy who loves playing here and doesn’t want to leave, to spend his entire career in a Senators uniform, much like Daniel Alfredsson will, and Chris Phillips probably will?

There is something to be said for team stability and familiar personalities to fans in the city. Great teams like Detroit commit to quality individuals and the identity of the team remains solid while the Stanley Cups keep piling up.

The Senators are a class organization and keeping great players in the fold like Alfie, Volchie, Phillips, Mike Fisher and Chris Neil is what sells this team to the public and garners it respect around the league.

If you’re still keeping score, that’s 5 arguments for keeping Volchenkov and 1 solid argument to keep both him and Sutton.

I have yet to hear a convincing point that would justify letting Volchenkov walk for nothing and signing Sutton instead.

Maybe you have one. I’d love to hear it.


Young said...

I agree with many things you say. I think that as a sens (and obviously a Volchenkov) fan, you might be slightly overvaluing Volchy and slightly undervaluing Sutton.

This is understandable. But two million dollars isn't peanuts in the cap era. That might be the difference between keeping Foligno AND Regin or only one of them.

I think an all round defenceman or somebody you has skills in all areas is better than a specialist.

Look I LOVE Volchy and I never want him to go, but the thing about the Detroit organization is that its a two way street. They show loyalty to their players, and their players take far below market value to play in Detroit.

If you want the Sens to show him loyalty, maybe he should do the same.

Senators Lost Cojones said...

Incredibly well argued Jeremy. If it means dumping Kuba to keep Sutton, I'd trade him for a 3 and a box of tape.

But I would ask one teensy favour. It's A-Train or Bear. Can we please stop calling him "Volchie" or "Volchy" or any derivative thereof? I've been seeing it everywhere and it makes me eight kinds of absolutely batshit, kick-puppies crazy.

Then again, it might just be me.

tim said...

That's a good argument. But I wonder what it would look like if Kuba came back after healing and played in the playoffs as well as he did at the beginning of the season. (It's hard to picture now, but he was excellent - so much so that I found myself applauding the deal Murray gave him even though a month earlier I hated it). It really comes down to the fact that either Sutton or Kuba have to go to keep Volch. Which one? Since Kuba hasn't been playing it's easy to call him expendable, but he could very well shine in the playoffs. I still think that should mean trading Kuba, since they can get something for him. Another question: I wonder what they could get?

Jeremy Milks said...

I hear ya, Cojones. "Volchie" is a little unbearable. But it's easier than typing A-Train all night...

GelatinousMutantCoconut said...

I can't disagree at all..

I like your scenario!

According to Capgeek, assuming the cap stays the same (I think there's still enough revenue for it to just flat-line, rather than decline):

Murray could re-sign:

Volchenkov at 4.250 over 5 years
Sutton at 3.000 for 1 or 2 years
Foligno and Regin at 1.500 for 3 years

and only be 0.470 over the cap with this roster:

Ruutu- -Shannon


So moving Kuba gives us roughly 3.3 million in cap space for two forwards. Zach Smith and Butler are the most likely candidates, but we could potentially re-sign Cullen at his current salary for 2 years. It would be tight, but possible.

Also, if LeClaire were to rebound, and play well next season, we could potentially find a taker for him mid-season, freeing up half of his 3.8 million salary for a deadline deal. Lehner, should he play well in the AHL, could move up as back-up.

Anonymous said...

Very well written article. I'm absolutely baffled that this argument is still taking place though. This is reminding me far too much of the post '06 situation in which we were all saying, "oh shoot, I guess Chara was better than we thought." I do not want to feel that again. Lock this guy up!!

Anonymous said...

Nice post.

Kuba and Leclaire are expendable. That's huge cap savings.

I don't even think it's close. You gotta keep Volch. He's 28. Just entering his prime as a d-man.

Sutton's overrated, in my books. He hasn't been part of a winning program, and he's 35. Volch is used to winning. That's important.

Also, when you give a multi-year deal to a player who is 35+, you're on the hook for the full amount. No buyouts.

In a cap world, it's stupid to give a multi-year deal to a 35 year old unless he's an elite player like Alfie or Lidstrom. Most 35+ guys get one year deals.

And, the 35+ guys who are effective are generally the Hall of Famers like Lidstrom, Selanne, Blake, Recchi, etc ... I'm sorry, Sutton is not in that company.

Also, I don't like a lineup with Sutton and Volch long-term. We need to generate offence. Our goals for are less than our goals against. All elite teams score way more than they let in.

I think our team will go as far as Elliott takes them. He's the key this year. But, I would not want to rely on him next year as well. I would want to shore up the goal scoring department. That means a puck mover like Campoli over Sutton.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that Murray will likely re-sign Volchenkov.

This would make me very happy as I think Volchenkov is without a doubt our best defensive defenseman. I absolutely love the guy.

However, I think you undervalue Sutton. He's a better passer than Volchenkov and almost as good a hitter and shot-blocker. He also adds an after the whistle physical presence that Volchenkov lacks. As physical as he is, Volchenkov doesn't drop the gloves. There's a reason opposition players aren't charging at Karlsson every chance they get anymore.

Ultimately, if they were both 28 I think it would be a toss-up as to which one was superior.

For Volchenkov, I envision something similar to the Neil situation happening. Anton will test the open market and Murray will match the best offer - with Anton throwing a small (<$500K/year) hometown discount to show his loyalty to the team. Both sides win in this scenario - Anton gets fair market value and also gets to stay with a team he loves.

For Sutton, I see Murray offering a 2 year contract somewhere in the $2-3 million range. If Sutton is able to get better than that on the open market (highly doubtful given his age) Murray will thank him for his contributions and let him walk. Sutton is ideal for the Senators, in that he can fill a roster spot while Cowen pays his dues in Bingo.

Master Of Puppets said...

Moving Kuba creates a void though (PP assist machine) - his injuries could be the reason for his decline this year. So that means Weircoch (if NHL ready) or Campoli would be in the lineup to provide that element. I don't even know if it is a part of Wiercoch's game (PP capable/puck mover).

Sutton as a replacement or addition to A-Train is probably being looked at. I'd also be surprised if the term is longer than 2 years. I'd be more for chasing Seidenberg as an FA as well if A-train (read Grossman) is priced out of our market. But that isn't to say he'd be any cheaper.

Sutton is a cheaper short term replacement, which may be what happens. If A-train stands pat at 5M, and Seidenberg would sign for 4+, coupled with a Kuba trade (prospects/picks?) and signing Sutton for a year at 2 ...

Phillips Seidenberg
Karlsson Sutton
Carkner Campoli/Wiercoch

doesn't look half bad.

You have to look at cap hit and overall savings for getting Seidenberg. To me that means it has to be about a mil per over the term. A 4 mil hit is a lot sweeter than 5 mil over 4 or 5 years.

Regardless a lot will hinge on the playoff performances of all involved.

Interesting summer heating up for sure ...

GelatinousMutantCoconut said...

I have to agree with master of puppets.

Should Volchenkov not budge, Murray could go heavily after Dennis Seidenberg and Zbynek Michalek. Both are able shot blockers, but can also move the puck and contribute offensively. Put together, Seidenberg and Michalek would probably make around what Grossman wants for Anton. So there's still room for Sutton if Kuba is moved.


Jeremy Milks said...

I don't see the point of acquiring two lesser players in Seidenberg and Z.Michalek who together will probably be more expensive against the cap than just re-signing Volchenkov, the player the Senators want in the first place.

If Volchenkov is worth 5 million to another team, why is he not worth that to Ottawa? What is this obsession with being so cheap?

A 5 million dollar contract in the NHL for an elite player is actually a good deal. It's obvious the last two commenters don't feel Volchenkov is an elite player. That's fine, but you haven't convinced me to change my mind.

Applesuckers said...


Anonymous said...

There is no question we need to sign him, i just dont believe it will be for 4.2 mil. If Komisarek is making 4.5 mil, that is A-Trains floor and that means the ceiling is endless. The real question you should ask is do you wanna keep A-Train or Big Rig? Because whatever you give A-Train, Big Rig will be asking for next off-season. The next question would be can we afford to pay 9-10 million for two defencemen? Maybe? But this is how teams get into cap just saying?

Ryan(from your favorite resturant)

Ps-does anyone really actually care about the money and cap situation? It all useless banter between puckdrops...

Anonymous said...

Volch is unique. No one else like him.

A few weeks ago, the Ottawa Citizen had a "Getting to Know" feature on Volch. When asked about his favourite TV show, he said "The Price is Right".


That answer alone is worth an extra 500K.

I still say $4M is a fair offer. Maybe throw in a few box sets of "The Price is Right", seasons 1 to 30, to seal the deal. Or better yet, get him a spot on the show.