Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Senators Off Season Needs, Part 2

A whole month now passed, and barely a trickle of excitement has come for us loyal Sens fans, the most die-hard of us who unlike our sport don't take a vacation from our passion. A whole month, and apart from the relief we feel at the re-signing of Christoph Schubert, Ray Emery and Chris Kelly, and a few other signings, the only significant move was the trading of Peter Schaefer to the Boston Bruins for Shean Donovan.

This leaves us wanting more, and with the team needing more. This off-season, we've lost Mike Comrie to the New York Islanders, Tom Preissing to the Los Angeles Kings, and Oleg Saprykin has signed with CSKA Moscow. That leaves three holes in the roster. If one trusts the Sens web roster, it would seem that Donovan will likely replace Schaefer's spot on the bench, and perhaps Lawrence Nycholat will play more regularly with the loss of Preissing. However, as the roster still lists Oleg Saprykin, we can't be sure how trustworthy it is, keeping in mind how often the Sens website is slow to update, although they were quick to put Kelly back on after their announcement this morning.

That still leaves two holes at forward, and with only 4.97 million in cap space, finding more replacements is the daunting task facing Brian Murray. To guard against potential long-term injuries, Murray would like to keep some cap space free, so that he could make a move similar to the one that brought Comrie to us when our ranks were depleted with injuries last winter. As well, while he did not pursue any playoff rentals this past season, keeping additional cap space open to pursue that option this upcoming season might tighten Murray's pursestrings even more.

With Paddock and Murray's similarities, we might expect that Schubert will again see a majority of his games played on the wing, filling one of the two holes up front, and leaving Nycholat to take permanent hold of the last spot on the third defensive pairing. As for the front end, it will take Murray some creativity to pull out an additional forward or two. His current roster and cap troubles mean that Brian McGrattan might see a significant increase in ice time over last season. This would also fit with Murray's trade for Donovan, with both he and Grats able to toughen up the Sens, who seemed completely battered throughout their series with Anaheim.

At the moment the Sens have six right wings, four centres, and one left wing. If Schubert were to move up to left wing again, Paddock would just be able to ice the needed twelve forwards and six defensemen. With only 6 million, this would be an ideal time to look to the Binghamton Senators for a few extra players. While few blinding stars appear on their roster, previously called up players like Danny Bois and Joshua Hennessy, Bingo Sens with NHL experience such as Michal Barinka and Nicholas Dimitrakos, or other prospects on the roster might be called up and given a chance to prove themselves.

As the Ducks proved to us in the finals, it helps to have many youngsters who provide a big punch while only taking a nibble at the salary cap, like Ryan Getzlaf (25-33--58), Dustin Penner (29-16--45) and Corey Perry (17-27--44), each less than a 0.75 million dollar cap hit. Only time will tell if we can find the same kind of diamonds in our Binghamton Senators rough proving ground.

Senators Re-Sign Chris Kelly to One-Year Deal

This morning, Brian Murray announced that the Senators have avoided their final arbitration by re-signing Chris Kelly to a one-year deal worth 1.2625 million.

Kelly had a career season in 06-07, his second full season with the Sens. He collected career highs in goals (15), assists (23), and points (38), while amassing only 40 penalty minutes, playing in all 82 games. In the playoffs, he greatly improved on his pointless 05-06 run by collecting 3 goals and 4 assists for 7 points in 20 games this postseason.

With this signing, all the Sens are now locked up, and only new signings or trades will alter the roster for the 07-08 season.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Senators Re-Sign Ray Emery and Christoph Schubert

The Senators have avoided two arbitration hearings in re-signing restricted free agents Ray Emery and Christoph Schubert to three year deals.

Ray Emery's new cap number will be 3.167 million over the three years, after going 33-16-6 (12th) in the regular season, with five shutouts (tied for 6th), a .918 save percentage (tied for 7th), and a 2.47 Goals Against Average (tied for 13th). In the playoffs, Emery went 13-7 (tied for 1st) with three shutouts (tied for 1st), .907 save percentage (13th), and a 2.26 Goals Against Average (10th) to help the Senators fall three wins short of the Stanley Cup.

His price of 3.167 million is both expected and reasonable. It's not that he is as great a goaltender as Ryan Miller, or that he led his team to a Stanley Cup as rookie Cam Ward did, but their deals for 2.667 million are out of date compared to the high bidding of today. While the Sens got much further than the New York Rangers in the playoffs this year, Henrik Lundqvist is a better goalie, and so Emery should not have received the 4.25 million that he did. Emery isn't able to play 70+ games a season, and standing behind one of the best pure defensive pairings in the NHL and some fantastic defensive forwards surely helped Emery this season.

Christoph Schubert's new three year cap number will be 0.883 million, and this is indeed a steal for the Sens, at a time when their cap space is precious. While his 25 points won't impress many, his versatility should. He played in 80 games this season, over 50 of them as a left wing, and the rest in his natural position on the blue line. He also managed a plus/minus rating of +30. Not the best, but usually when it's that high, it's because you are or are a linemate of a top-scoring forward, or part of a top defensive pairing behind a top line. When you're playing on the third and fourth line, out of position, and often in front of the second and third defensive pairings, it's a true accomplishment.

I look forward to the next three seasons, to see Emery mature and earn his keep, and to see Schubert continue to surpass all expectations as one of our best value players.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Senators Sign Defenseman Matt Kinch to 1-year Contract

In their second move of the day, the Ottawa Senators have signed defenseman Matt Kinch to a 1-year contract.

Matt Kinch leaves the German Hockey League to add further depth on the Senators blue line. He will likely play for the Binghamton Senators, unless he can show Murray and Paddock that he is ready for his NHL debut.

Along with Lawrence Nycholat of Calgary, AB, and Shean Donovan of Timmins, ON, Matt Kinch of Red Deer, AB, marks a trio of Canadians being signed by the Senators. Perhaps Murray is addressing the excuse many Canadians had for cheering for the Ducks in June, the fact that they had a couple more Canadian players on their roster (nevermind the fact that twice as many of our regular roster Canadians were drafted by the Sens, eight, compared to only four for the Ducks, or that our Canadians average four years with the team, as opposed to the Ducks' two years). Regardless, it seems as though Murray is doing everything he can to give Canadian fans more reason to be red next season, and perhaps is also trying to find the passion Canadian players have in more abundance than, say, the Havlats, Hossas, Yashins and Charas of the NHL, who are content to earn a big juicy contract, only to lose their killer instinct when the ink dries.

Senators Trade Peter Schaefer to Bruins for Shean Donovan.

The Senators have traded Peter Schaefer, with three years at a cap hit of 2.1 million left on his contract, to the Bruins for right wing Shean Donovan, with one year at a cap hit of 925 thousand left on his contract, freeing up 1.2 million in cap space this year and getting the Sens off the hook for 2.1 million in each of the following two years.

The 32 year old Donovan has 214 points in 774 NHL games with the Sharks, Avalanche, Thrashers, Penguins, Flames and Bruins, with a career high 42 points in 82 games with the Flames the year before the lockout, and played with the Flames during their run to the Stanley Cup Final. He will bring a veteran presence to the team, and while this certainly isn't Gary Roberts we're talking about, expect that this steady hand will help keep the team on track after their best season ever.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Senators Re-Sign Defenseman Lawrence Nycholat, Sign Right Wing Niko Dimitrakos

We can all wake up from the sleepy off-season we Sens fans have witnessed so far, because there's been some action. While the re-signing of green defenseman Lawrence Nycholat and signing of right wing Niko Dimitrakos is but a drop compared to the splashes of other teams, it is a good sign.

Nycholat only has 28 NHL games to his name, and at 27 he probably won't be filling the void left by Preissing. However, playing for the Rangers pre-lockout and the Capitals this season didn't give Nycholat as many defensive leaders to learn from as the Sens can offer. As Phillips and Redden have helped guide the younger set, Mezaros and Volchenkov, so too can they help to improve Nycholat. While his -3 rating over 18 games with the capitals last season was nothing to be proud of, he did manage 8 points, which if continued could help to offset the points we lost with Preissing.

As for Niko Dimitrakos, he could help to provide some more depth, perhaps in preparation for freeing up cap space by moving a forward, such as Schaefer.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Senators Off Season Needs: Defense

I can't say it's surprising that almost a full two weeks into free agency and in the buzz and big-signings of the new NHL, the Sens have accounted for precisely.... 0% of total action. To break it down, that's 0 signings, 0 trades, and 0 dollars of change. Unless of course you count losing Mike Comrie to the depleted Islanders. But Comrie's probably not worth 3.375 for a mere 45 points (unless he can play a full season and keep pacing up closer to 60). And of course there's Tom Preissing returning home to sunny Cali to play with the Kings, and the price for Preissing was likely also too high, but that's the way it goes in the new NHL.

While no new deals have come for the sens beyond signing a few of their prospects, there's plenty that the fans have been clamoring for Murray to do to liven up the shortened off-season. Maybe no big moves will happen, or maybe it's just taking time to find the right mix, taking into account the fact that we've had 2 months less time to really prepare for free agency compared to the Leafs, Flyers, Avalanche and 11 other teams in the league, and that Murray certainly had no time or thought to what he wanted to do as he coached our Sens further than anyone has in recent history, and only just recently being appointed GM. Right now we'll see how the blue line is looking, and in a while we'll move on to check out our forwards and our men in the crease.

The only change thus far on our defense has been, as mentioned, the loss of Tom Preissing. There has been some concern over the loss of his numbers, but the Sens should be fine. While Preissing led our defense in points with 38, Mezaros, 35, Redden, 36, and Corvo, 37, have the ability to pick up the slack. Of our top 6 defensemen last season, only Volchenkov didn't score 7 or 8 goals. While he did have one of our top +/-, we will likely either obtain a free agent defenseman to slot into the lineup, although no names stand out to me at this time as being candidates for Murray to pursue, and he would likely invest the extra cap in replacing Comrie or saving for the trade deadline, or perhaps bring up Brian Lee or Matt Carkner, as both have matured and developped well.

Most people's concern, however, is that we are very close to the cap. Just over 9 million away seems like a lot, until you realize that we need to sign two more forwards, another defenseman, and a second goalie. That averages out to just over two million apiece. With Schubert, Kelly, and Emery headed to arbitration, and Emery unlikely to be as affordable as that 2 million average, it's a hard crunch to put our team together, let alone to give us some room to breathe and potentially make some mid-season moves, like how we brought in Comrie during our injury days last season to help.

So the common thought is that we need to shift some payrolls, and on the blue line there's only one name that comes up: Redden. As our assistant captain, Wade's put up some powerful numbers. He had seasons as one of the best tape-to-tape passers and powerplay quarterbacks, but he has slid of late. Corvo and Preissing took up the first powerplay unit, while Phillips and Volchenkov were our number 1 defensive pairing. He's grown sluggish and seems to have lost his passion for the game, despite the love most Sens fans still give him. His 6.5 million next year is the biggest of any Sen, and it might be time for him to go. But all does not bode well.

Redden's no-trade clause makes it unlikely that he would want to move from his longtime home in Ottawa, where he also has a chance next year to capture the Cup, especially not to a less hockey-passionate franchise, as befits most teams that have the cap space for him. The lone chance we really stood of finding a team in need of defensive bolstering, with the same hockey passion as us, and for whom he would waive his no-trade clause is now gone. Edmonton, much closer to Lloydminster, SK, than Ottawa, Redden's hometown, has been looking for good blue-liners ever since they traded Pronger. They also had the cap space. Now they've traded for Joni Pitkanen and signed Sheldon Souray, and Redden no longer seems to be wanted or needed, and we look to be stuck with him, for better or for worse.

There are still a few teams that might want Redden though. Tampa has only signed four defensemen, and has been looking to improve on the 3.16 GAA they posted last season, but they only have 10 million left to play with. Chicago would look to be a bit more needy with the same four on defense, but only two earning over 1 million (at 1.4 apiece), and with the team having almost 12 million to play with. While they have six D men signed and are working on Paul Martin, with 13 million left and their annual tradition of hemorrhaging their top blue liners still intact, New Jersey might have some faint interest, but most of that cap will likely be used to keep Zach Parise put. Washington and Atlanta, with roughly 10 and 20 million left to spend respectively, and not-so-impressive defensive units, represent another route which we could follow. Lastly, the rebuilding Islanders have the highest chance of being an avenue, as they have a full front lineup, 16 million to spare, and need themselves a bona fide lead defenseman. However, despite all these teams that might shop for Redden, in the end that no-trade clause will likely be the nail in the coffin on any plans to move him.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Murray Promotes John Paddock to Head Coach of the Ottawa Senators

Although it probably didn't take anyone much guessing, we can now welcome John Paddock as the new head coach of the Ottawa Senators. But what does that mean for the team?

Continuity is good. It always helps to keep things consistent unless necessary to do otherwise. After his lackluster performances over the years, it was necessary to oust Muckler. Not only for continuity but taking into account a track record that proved itself peerless this year, Murray made perfect sense to slip into the GM role for the team. I do feel a bit sad that he didn't get the chance to coach his way to a cup, but I have confidence that his efforts as GM will get his name onto the cup regardless. Keeping the same people around heightens the camaraderie, builds confidence that players won't be traded around carelessly, and allows for far more players to have a dedication and effect on the team of the calibre usually only reserved for the captain.

But with the case of John Paddock, we have to look closely and with a careful eye at the situation. Obviously with our record this season, the coaching staff did its job this time around. Considering Murray's view of Paddock, it should come as no surprise that he wanted Paddock to continue on with his work. Both men share similar philosophies, which only adds further consistency. However, there are some who are concerned more with Paddock's track record, posting an overall losing record in his past head coaching ventures. Others still, who view assistance coaches as a filter and a buffer between the head coach, might worry that Paddock may not be as commanding a head coach for the sens at first.

To all those who worry, though, I suggest only that they focus on the present, on the club's continued climb of success throughout its history, and you can remain confident that Paddock will not disappoint, will not let us down, and will bring us home the cup!