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.