Monday, May 12, 2008

Senators Going Forward Part Three: Err... Forwards..

I should have thought that title through back at part 1.

Anyways ...

As I see it, these are the forwards who are absolute locks to be back next year:

Daniel Alfredsson

Dany Heatley

Jason Spezza

Mike Fisher

Chris Neil

Nick Foligno

Cody Bass

That's a pretty short list. In fact, that's only about two lines worth of players. The other forwards who finished the season are in a different category but many of them can be expected back as well.

Antoine Vermette: He finished a solid 5th in team scoring and responded better to Bryan Murray's coaching than John Paddock's. Vermette seemed to follow the template of players breaking out in their fourth year but he is still wildly inconsistent on offense. It's hard to think of another player who missed so many opportunities to put the puck in the net. He is a restricted free-agent but expect Murray to get his name on a contract because the Senators would just be too slow without him. Vermette is a great penalty killer and would be even more valuable if Chris Kelly goes somewhere else.

Chris Kelly: He's unrestricted and is looking at a decent raise after making only 1.2 million last year. Kelly is one of those glue guys, much like Jay Pandolfo in New Jersey and he would be missed by the Senators if he leaves. Expect Murray to make a strong pitch and perhaps try to move a similar but lesser player in Dean McAmmond to make room for him. Toronto will be in the market for Kelly big time.

Dean McAmmond: Deano has one year left on his contract and is coming off a sub-par year where he was never the same player after getting his head taken off by Steve Downie in the pre-season. It didn't help that John Paddock basically let him sit on the bench for most of the season along with the other third and fourth line players. He could be traded for a draft pick because Cody Bass and Nick Foligno are going to need more ice time this year. I don't expect him to be back.

Shean Donovan: He might have been one of their best players in the playoffs and even though he's unrestricted, he would probably re-sign in Ottawa at the same salary ($900,000). He's a good depth player with speed who thrived when Paddock was let go. He's probably 50-50 to return.

Randy Robitaille: He's gone. A minor mistake by Murray.

Martin Lapointe: There was some unnecessary pressure on Lapointe because he was the lone trade deadline player the Sens picked up. He was pretty good in his role but he doesn't seem to have the legs anymore. I'd peg his return at 25% but Murray might really value his leadership. He could be next year's Luke Richardson.

Cory Stillman: Was very good when healthy and seems to be a perfect fit on this team. The Senators haven't really had a skilled veteran like him since Shawn McEachern left. Still only 33 years old, Stillman has a lot left to offer but he may be swayed by better money somewhere else. If Murray can't sign Stillman, there will be a huge hole to fill on the second line so he might as well get it done sooner rather than later.

Brian McGrattan: He hardly played at all last season even though the Senators were beginning to re-earn their reputation for being soft. McGrattan is a top-tier fighter and underrated as a crash and bang forward who can forecheck with surprisingly decent speed. That being said, he's a restricted free-agent and Murray didn't use him anymore than Paddock did which is not good news for Brian. He's popular with his teammates but that might not be enough anymore. If I was calling the shots, he'd be back but I wouldn't bet on Murray feeling the same way. He still has something to offer an NHL team.

Christoph Schubert: Technically a defenseman but used mostly at wing, Schubert still has two years left on his deal and won't be going anywhere. It would be interesting to see what he could do on one of the top two lines. With his speed and hitting ability, he could really carve out some room on the ice for more skilled linemates.

It's clear that the Senators desperately need another skilled forward and if they choose to go the unrestricted free-agent route, there's a few options for them that might make sense:

Marian Hossa: The former Sen would look great in the red and black but nearly every team will be offering huge sums of money, especially now that he seems to have brushed off his reputation as a playoff failure. Many are saying that Pittsburgh won't be able to afford him so Ottawa certainly has a chance (but maybe not the cap room).

Daymond Langkow: He could step right in as the Senators number two centre, letting Mike Fisher fall back a line. That seems to be where Fisher plays his best.

Kristian Huselius: He can score but is streaky.

Ryan Malone: The Penguins will make every effort to sign this "heart and soul" player but he would be perfect on a line with Dany Heatley.

Brian Rolston: He would be a major coup for the Senators if they could afford him but Rolston will be one of the most sought after players this summer. He would transform the Senators power-play.

Andrew Brunette: Is coming off some good years with the Avalanche. Could Joel Quenneville bring him along from Colorado?

Brendan Morrison: Second line centre option.

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