Monday, May 27, 2013

The Annual Who Goes... Who Stays List

It was tough for Ottawa fans to watch the last two games of that Pittsburgh series, but the good news is there’s interesting times ahead as GM Bryan Murray tries to improve this team over the summer. Ottawa is going to have a lot of cap space but it’s unknown how much money owner Eugene Melnyk wants to sink into the payroll at this stage. Until the UFA market opens in July, most of the work will be internal and here’s where I think the current roster stands with management, broken into two sections – Players Under Contract and Free Agents (both RFA and UFA). (Source: Cap Geek)

Players Under Contract

Jason Spezza – Status: Safe. Look for a healthy Spezza to get back to the 80 point range in 2014. He’s still in his prime as a point producer but he’s only got two years left on his deal. There will be talk of an extension fairly soon but GM Bryan Murray might be a little twitchy about that back. It’s also time Murray got Spezza a true sniper to play with. Not so easy to accomplish.

Milan Michalek – Status: Safe. There’s not much Murray can do with a guy having knee problems, other than wait. He won’t get good trade value so the best he can hope for is that Michalek returns to camp in September healthy. Ottawa needs his speed and scoring desperately. If Michalek can’t find that old gear he’ll likely leave as a UFA next summer.

Chris Neil – Status: Safe. This one’s easy. Neil is the most competitive guy on the team after Alfie and does his job as good as anyone in the league. He’s probably a Sens lifer with three more years on his deal.

Mika Zibanejad – Status: Safe. He had a fine rookie year and has the potential to be a horse down the middle with a little more weight on him. The only issue is that he pushes Zack Smith down to the fourth line centre role or makes him a winger. But I guess that’s really Smith’s problem, not Zibanejad’s. I’m not entirely sure his chemistry with Jakob Silfverberg is all that natural. The duo seem chained to the ankle at times by MacLean and they tend to disappear together.

Jakob Silfverberg – Status: Safe. All he needs is more time to figure out the league and he’ll be pushing 30 goals with that ridiculous shot. Like I said above, it would interesting to see him moved away from Zibanejad from time to time, and get a shot with Spezza. The playmaker and the sniper seem a match made in heaven, no? Both right-handed shots but Spezza can pass pretty good with his backhand too.

Kyle Turris – Status: Safe. Signed long-term and seemed to put a tough season behind him with a great playoffs. At times he struggled being the go-to guy down the middle with Spezza out but has proven he can score clutch goals. As we said last summer, Turris needs to find a way to put some meat on his bones.

Cory Conacher – Status: Safe(ish). That’s a tentative safe but I’m guessing Murray will want to give Conacher a full year with the Sens coaching staff to try and get the yield he wanted from the Ben Bishop trade. The truth is Conacher didn’t look very good, barring a few big moments in the playoffs. He has speed and grit but looked confused at times or just out of the play. He has to score goals or turn into a third line pest with speed. Not sure how it will turn out but he’s going to get a chance at least.

Colin Greening – Status: Safe. Bad season but a surprisingly strong playoffs puts Greening back on track to get a new deal this year. They need him to become a power forward and it looks like he’s going to put the nice college boy attitude on the shelf and be a little greasier.

Zack Smith – Status: Safe. The only problem is where to play him. He’s too good for the fourth line but Spezza, Zibanejad and Turris are ahead of him down the middle. I can’t see him being traded because the Sens need his grit as much as they need Michalek to start scoring again. He’s also signed long-term at a very friendly cap hit.

Jim O’Brien – Status: Trade bait. He lost whatever small role he had this year and it’s clear MacLean doesn’t want to use him. It’s been said by reporters like Bruce Garrioch that O’Brien was unhappy with his playing time. That almost certainly means he’s gone, by hook or by crook. Wasn’t a Murray draftee so that also works against him.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Status: Safe. Ottawa’s new golden boy is likely here to stay. But how long until MacLean is forced to play him on one of the first two lines? He was that good in the latter part of the season and in the playoffs. This guy could be the next Daniel Briere.

Matt Kassian – Status: Likely To Return. Kassian was brought in to make sure guys like Patrick Wiercioch and Chris Phillips didn’t have to fight but surprised by playing a semi-regular shift on a line with Neil and Smith. He’s better than many gave him credit for but he’s going to be in and out of the lineup depending on the toughness of the opponent. He also seems hugely popular in the room which is typical of enforcers. No reason to move his contract.

Erik Karlsson – Status: Safe. No need to explain this one. Everybody just wants him healthy again.

Chris Phillips – Status: Safe. Last year of his deal and expect him to get another one, probably for a little less money. He’s as solid as ever and a true leader for the team. Can’t see him leaving next summer.

Marc Methot – Status: Safe. This guy was a revelation to most, like me, who didn’t put a priority on watching Columbus Blue Jackets hockey the past few years. He’s now an essential part of that defence core. Far exceeded expectations.

Jared Cowen – Status: Safe. He looked very good coming back early from the hip injury. Had a tough few games against Pittsburgh in the second round, but so did everybody. It will be interesting to see what kind of money he gets next summer coming out of his entry-level deal. He’s a cornerstone of the franchise going forward.

Eric Gryba – Status: Safe. Had to play big minutes in a year he probably should have been in the AHL. Yet he earned the trust of MacLean and figures to be part of the top-six next season. The only snag could be if Gonchar is re-signed and Murray wants to bring in another offensive d-man on top of that.

Craig Anderson – Status: Safe. Unbelievable year, even with the major ankle injury that broke it up in the middle. Somehow there are still skeptics but they are of the tinfoil hat variety. A couple of tough games against the Penguins juggernaut doesn’t diminish his value to the team at all.

Robin Lehner – Status: Safe. He’ll work with Anderson in what could be the best tandem in the league next year. He’ll get over 30 games in while he bides his time.

Free Agents (both RFA and UFA)

Daniel Alfredsson – Status: UFA – Wanted Back. It’s up to him. He can write his own deal and give it to Murray to sign. My feeling is he returns and plays in the Olympics. Had a hell of a year.

Guillaume Latendresse – Status: UFA – Gone. Let’s face it. He didn’t make a difference. He still has hands but little else. It’s also clear that MacLean had little use for him. His defining moment was being bullied by Montreal’s Ryan White in the playoffs and skating away, only to have MacLean basically bury him for it.

Peter Regin – Status: UFA – Gone. He got a chance at the start of the season but couldn’t produce any offense, so MacLean wrote him off completely. This season was viewed as his last chance and it didn’t work out. He’s probably pining for the Cory Clouston days.

Mike Hoffman – Status: RFA – Wanted Back. Only injuries holding him back. The guy can skate as good as anyone in the NHL and you get the feeling he would have been a regular if he could have stayed healthy.

Erik Condra – Status: RFA – Wanted Back. Key penalty killer and defensive ace. He should get a 3 or 4 year deal and be a permanent fixture on the third and fourth lines for years to come. Every team needs guys like Condra.

Sergei Gonchar – Status: UFA – ?????. This is the biggest mystery going into the summer. The consensus seems to be that Gonchar and the Sens will part ways but don’t be so sure. He had a strong year and plays a lot of minutes both regular strength and on the power-play. Seeing that the Senators biggest weakness is offense, losing Gonchar would hurt more than people realize. It would be a tricky negotiation to get the money right, but we also don’t really know what Murray thinks at this point. He could be ready to move on and so could Gonchar. If he does leave, Murray will have to bring in someone with skill to replace him because even with Wiercioch, that leaves only two offensive oriented d-men on the roster with no logical replacements within the system. It would probably be cheaper and easier just to re-sign Gonchar for a year.

Mike Lundin – Status: UFA – Gone. Like I said earlier this year, Lundin is the most anonymous player in the history of the Senators. It’s hard to even picture what he looks like, let alone get a read on his play.

Patrick Wiercioch – Status: RFA – Wanted Back. I’m sure the Senators loved the way he developed this year and he will get a chance to play regularly on the power-play next season, especially if Gonchar leaves. Not sure what kind of money he gets, but I’m guessing he’ll be a bargain by the time the new deal expires.

Andre Benoit – Status: UFA – Borderline. He had a good year as a support player and has a lot of skill and a knack of getting shots through from the point. I’m sure Ottawa would like to have him in the same role next year but he has little time in his career to make money and he’ll probably jump at the best offer available anywhere. I’d say it’s 50/50 he returns.


Michael said...

Signing Gonchar is one thing. For what money and term is another. I suspect there are several teams out there that are willing to outspend Ottawa.

Ottawa needs to make room for Codi Ceci at some point, he's at most a year away from cracking the lineup. A one-year contract for Gonchar is good insurance, but no longer than that.

There are a lot of cap-impacted teams that are going to either trade or buy out of their problems. Before signing anyone (apart from Alfie, hallowed be his name) that must be taken into account.

Anonymous said...

Your blog is good (as usual) but superficial (unusual) in that in order to properly assess who stays/departs we need to evaluate and assess the pipeline of youth in the system. I am not qualified to lead this discussion and will bounce it back to you or other readers.

That being said, I think we can all agree that there is no one in the system who is going to come close to replacing Gonchar. Should we sign him? Likely, but not at a silly price/term. Gonchar proved during the season he can still play with heart and at a high skill level - at times. He is always capable of doing this when getting close to the end of his contract. BUT, in the playoffs you can see that Gonchar is not going to play with any heart or physicality, meaning his minutes are going to have to be reduced.

In terms of Cowan, I strongly disagree that he is a cornerstone of the franchise. He is really slow, doesn't have very much skill, and seems reluctant at times to play physically. All he has is that long reach. This guy IMO could be used as trade leverage for that elusive forward. He would make a good fit in Edmonton where they have a ton of snipers who collectively can't seem to punch a ticket to the post season.

Anonymous said...

"Somehow there are still skeptics but they are of the tinfoil hat variety."

Need more than a month or so of excellence in the regular season and a playoff win vs. an offence-challenged Montreal team to reach elite status. Anderson didn't get a Vezina finalist nod so perhaps the tinfoil hat brigade (skeptics) are in fact willing to take a deep breath and wait for either a deep playoff run or a 40-60 start season with similar excellence.

Anderson was exposed and...the doubters were proven right. :)

The rest of the article was fine. It lacked depth though. You could have just written "Keep everyone but JOB, maybe Gonchar, Alfie please come back" and it would have sufficed.

Keep waving those pom-poms!

BobbyBKelly said...

I agree with your takes, Jeremy. On another note, I'm not of the opinion that you should always 'make room' for youth or prospects on the team. It's different at the outset of a rebuild, but as this team improves, competition has to be at a higher level. A player like Cody Ceci will earn his spot on the team in coming years-- management on Ottawa is not about to bury talent. Give the coach and manager a problem they want to have.

Anonymous said...

My two cents on Gonchar. Sign him for less money for 2 years. ( hold on, don't kill me yet). Murray got Gonchar by singing him for 3 years, Pens were offering him 2 for the same money. Most analyst and armchair managers were saying that the last year was too much. This year was probably the best of Gonchar's Senator. Sign him for 2 as insurance. Gives Murray more time to find a replacement. Looking at the best probable UFAs: 2013: Streit, 2014: Bouwmeester, 2015: Marc Staal. Even in the worst case, 2 years is not much time and a buyout would be worth the gamble. Keep him as a 4-6 defenseman on the first PP unit. Easy.

PBH said...

We've been waiting 3 years to get rid of Gonchar, so I say bye-bye. We're deep in defencemen, and Weircoch can more than take his place.

Although I love Anderson, Lehner is ready and will be wasted if he plays fewer than 35 games.Anderson would make incredible trade bait for that elusive power forward to play with Spezza.

I don't know if Alfie will stay, but if he does I don't see him killing penalties or playing on the first line. I would like to see him play on the point on the powerplay though, something we rarely try.

And I can't disagree more with anony. Cowan is key to the defensive corps, hits hard, can skate with the puck, and is mean. Another Pronger.