Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Senators Going Forward Part Two: Defense
Despite being a focal point for criticism all season long, the Senators defense core is still very respectable and can even be considered top 5 in the league if they manage to replace Wade Redden with another highly skilled puck moving rearguard.
But that won’t be easy.
The players who fit this category and happen to be unrestricted free agents are as follows:
Brian Campbell – San Jose
Ron Hainsey – Columbus
John-Michael Liles – Colorado
Michael Rozsival – NY Rangers
Mark Streit – Montreal
That’s about it. The obvious target for the Senators and other teams around the league will be Brian Campbell with Hainsey an unheralded second choice.
The dilemma for the Senators is that they already have a player who is almost as good as those two in Wade Redden and he actually wants to stay in town. Granted, he doesn’t seem to be the same player he was before the lockout and this might be attributed to the new rules that forbids obstruction, leaving Redden vulnerable to hard fore-checking forwards taking away the time and space he once used so well in years past. Even with that said, Redden might be a better choice going forward if he is willing to take a significant pay cut to stay though that scenario can’t be taken for granted.
Some team is bound to offer Redden 6 million per season and that will probably top the Senators offer by about 3 million. Hard to say no to money like that.
If the Senators decide to look in-house for a solution, there is some optimism when it comes to Brian Lee. The young rearguard looked surprisingly good when he stepped in to take over for a worn out Luke Richardson and he is expected to play a similar role to Redden when he matures.
But is he ready for that step right away? Chances are he’s not but stranger things have happened.
Andre Meszaros is another player who can move the puck and score goals on the powerplay. Only 22, he has taken a lot of heat from the fans for his mistakes but there is no way that management is ready to move him. Meszaros is a very valuable commodity and he will only improve with age. He’s a restricted free-agent and he might put the Senators in a precarious position if he demands the type of money that similar players are getting. Meszaros made just under a million dollars last year but Keith Ballard is making 2.5 million in Phoenix, Dan Hamhuis is making 2.25 million in Nashville and Matt Carle is making almost 3 million in San Jose. Any extra money given to Meszaros obviously makes it harder to pay the Brian Campbells, the Ron Hainsey’s and the Wade Redden’s.
Fortunately, the Senators have two dependable horses in Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov who are already signed for at least the next two seasons.
If the Senators can convince Mike Commodore to stay in town, they will be flush with toughness on the blueline. Commodore is big, mean and nasty and was one of Ottawa’s best players in the playoffs after struggling down the stretch with his new team. If Commodore won’t stay, look for the Senators to go after one of the following unrestricted free agents:
Brad Stuart - Detroit
Brooks Orpik – Pittsburgh
Jason Smith – Philadelphia
Aaron Ward – Boston
Of these four defensive defenseman, Aaron Ward might be the most obvious fit, not only money-wise but because he once played for the Nepean Raiders of the CJHL and Bryan Murray will tell anyone who listens that he likes to bring in local players. Ward had a pretty good year in Boston and he is big and dependable. It also doesn’t hurt that he has been on three Stanley Cup winning teams, the last being Carolina in 2006 with Commodore.
The Senators also have Lawrence Nycholat who has been toiling in the minors despite being good enough to play on at least half of the NHL’s rosters. If Christoph Schubert remains at forward instead of his natural position on the blueline, then Nycholat has a chance to step in and play some minutes. He could also be used in a trade if the Senators decide to go that route. Either way, Nycholat is an asset that should be used before his value diminishes.
Other prospects include Eric Gryba, a mammoth defenseman playing college hockey, a couple of Russians in Kirill Lyamin and Vitali Anikeyenko and last years pick, Ben Blood, who was still playing high school hockey in his draft year.
These are still long term players and look for the Senators to grab a top defenseman in this years draft because it doesn’t look like the Russian kids are going to come over the ocean anytime soon.
The core group that the Senators have on the blueline is far from perfect, but in reality, it is the least of the Senators problems going forward into next season . With one big piece or two small additions, the Senators can feel confident in this group. They just have to concentrate on building depth in their prospect pool or the team will be paying big bucks for older free agents in two or three years time.