This is the second installment (of a massive two-part series) where we identify five targets at forwards and five targets on defence that can fit in with the Sens needs and their payroll come July 1st. Check yesterday’s installment for the five forwards. Today, we’re looking at that ever-elusive puck-moving defenceman. We have the makings of one all over our roster as it stands today. Chris Campoli is an offensively-gifted player, but it doesn’t look like he’s a top pairing type of player. Filip Kuba is a great passer but isn’t necessarily that blue line leader. Brendan Bell? He’s just a seventh defenceman in this league and the icetime he received last year was because we stunk. And Picard? He is like a less-talented Campoli. So where does that leave us? Same as last year, wishing we had kept Chara and scouring the league for an elite puck mover to start the rush. Here are five guys that can tentatively fit that bill.
1. Jay Bouwmeester (last year: FLA, 15g, 27a, 42pts, -2, $4.875M cap)
Alright, he’s the obvious target for just about everyone that can find the cap space to fit a $7M player on a long-term contract. Bouwmeester is the prize of the off-season as far as defencemen go. He’d instantly become Ottawa’s best defenceman and the cornerstone of our blue line for years to come. But there are still question marks – can he play in a hockey market, can he perform in the playoffs, and can he step up his game to hit that 50-60 point plateau that we’d like to see in a $7M+ blueliner? Bouw turns 26 this fall and this is his biggest chance at making a payday, given that most contracts for stars nowadays are for 7 or more years. I think the Brian Campbell contract ($7.1M over 8 years) is close to what we’ll see here. The difference this time is that Bryan Murray has publicly stated his interest and might not shy away from the long contract. And finally, the ONLY way this signing could happen is if Heatley is dealt for prospects, picks, and the ever-important cap space. Few teams can take Heatley’s contract without dumping something back, so we’d have to take less return for Heatley in order to have cap space to sign Bouwmeester. Worth it?
2. Derek Morris (last year: PHO/NYR, 5g, 15a, 20pts, -10, $3.917M cap)
Wow, this really drops off here, eh? I chose Morris over a guy like Ohlund just because I think he’ll be taking a significant paycut and can provide similar numbers. Morris has been doing this for a decade and what you see is what you get – a 35-40 point defenceman that has played all across the league and is still only 30 years old. His days of making over $4M are gone and Morris will have to settle from something under or around $3M in his next contract. The problem here, and the issue I’ve seen in all the available defencemen after Bouwmeester, is that I wonder if they’re really better than what Filip Kuba already does for Ottawa. If nothing else, though, it gives us a replacement for a guy like Gator Smith or Brendan Bell. Morris also gives us a Western Canadian toughness, kind of like a Gator but with more of a knack for the net. He’d be a good partner with Campoli.
3. Mattias Ohlund (last year: VAN, 6g, 19a, 25pts, +14, $3.5M cap)
Here is my concern with Matty Ohlund – he turns 33 years old this year and his career high in points is 36. For a guy that is about to get a raise to something slightly north of $4M, I’d like to get more offence out of him. Ohlund’s strength is that he’s defensively responsible and can quarterback the powerplay. But just like with Morris, can he provide something that Kuba can’t? In a word, no. But he could just add to that strength and give us far more depth on the blue line. In terms of his contract, this is probably his last big chance at a payday after spending his entire career in Vancity. Does that mean we’ll have to overpay and give him more term than we’re comfortable with doing? I’d be open to giving him the same contract as Kuba has, but on the condition that Gator is moved and we have money left over to stockpile some forwards that can score. As much of a novelty as it would be to have a lot of blueliners that can move the puck out of the zone, I cringe at the thought of Chris Kelly being the one of ‘secondary scorers’ taking those feeds. In other words, don’t stockpile defencemen at the expense of our bigger need up front.
4. Jordan Leopold (last year: COL/CGY, 7g, 17a, 24pts, -15, $1.5M cap hit)
This dude got in 83 games last year! What appeared to be a very promising career for Leo was rudely interrupted with a trio of injuries (hernia, groin, wrist) and he has struggled getting his game back on track. That being said, he appears healthy now and finished last season where he started his career in Calgary. The price will be key on this guy because he can’t demand Ohlund money or Bouwmeester term. Teams are going to want to give him a short contract, one or two years, to see if he’s truly healthy and if he can regain his form. Enter the Ottawa Senators – throw this guy a $2M offer over a couple of years, which is potentially more than the Flames can afford, and see what he can do. He can handle the heat of a hockey city (played in the Cup Finals with Calgary in 04) and is still just 28 years old with a ton to prove. $2M is a lot to give a guy that hasn’t even hit 30 points in over five years, but he could potentially give you everything that Morris and Ohlund have at half the price. This is my sleeper pick.
5. Marc-Andre Bergeron (last year: MIN, 14g, 18a, 32pts, +5, $1.116M cap hit)
I was kind of shocked to see that MAB actually put up a very impressive 46 points in 2006-07 in his tenure with Edmonton and the NY Islanders. The kid is 28 years old and while he isn’t necessarily under the radar, I don’t think people realize that he has put up points on bad teams for quite a while. 32 points in Minnesota while playing down in the depth chart? Not too shabby. Then again, this might be the case of Tom Preissing where he gets a ton of powerplay time and minimal defensive responsibilities late in the game. Either way, he’ll be signing for less than $2M somewhere and he has shown he can produce in this league. I’m not sure that he’ll be much different than a Chris Campoli, but again, it is solid depth on a blue line that needs puck movers. Along with Leopold, I think MAB could be a very nice pickup at a very nice price.
Left off the list:
Francois Beauchemin – I see comments from people begging for us to sign this guy. Why? He is a younger Jason Smith and has no offensive abilities whatsoever. People need to remember that so long as Volchenkov and Phillips are in Ottawa (and they are both potentially lifers here), we have zero need to get another shutdown guy. Beauchemin is a good player that has no purpose in a Sens uniform.
Mike Komisarek – this dude is going to cash in at $5M and become a total bust. He had the luxury of playing a tough guy role while leaving the offensive duties to Markov. He’ll leave Montreal this year and become ‘the man’ somewhere else and simply can’t live up to the billing. He’ll want to play a shutdown role but coaches will demand more points and he’ll turn out to be a long-term mess. In the words of Ron Burgundy, he will become a financial and cultural disaster.
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