No, Al Gore, I'm not talking about greenhouse gas emissions. I'm talking about the precarious position that Bryan Murray has created in signing Alex Kovalev to a $5M per year contract. Without question, the kid can score and play a dazzling brand of hockey, but what does his contract do to Ottawa's cap situation?
For starters, we have some core forwards that, like or not, are here to stay:
Daniel Alfredsson - $4.875M
Jason Spezza - $7.00M
Mike Fisher - $4.20M
Alex Kovalev - $5.00M
Then we've got this middle tier of players that make fair coin and allegedly play a critical role on this team that nobody could do for a fraction of the price:
Chris Neil - $2.00M
Chris Kelly - $2.125M
Jarkko Ruutu - $1.30M
And then there's Maude. Dany Heatley, if you've heard of him, makes a cool $7.50M
After that, we've got a hodge podge of affordable forwards like Nick Foligno, Shean Donovan, Cody Bass, Jesse Winchester, Ryan Shannon et. al. Not a major cap hit and not major trade return, these guys are your perfect third and fourth liners. Should we talk for a moment about how Neil, Ruutu, and Kelly are absolutely third and fourth liners and you can safely make that argument about Mike Fisher, as well.
We also have a set of kids that may or may not be ready for spot time in the bigs, like Ilja Zubov, Zach Smith, Peter Regin, and of course the foundation of the Havlat trade, Josh Hennessy. One would think that the new world order of salary cap hockey is to lock up your core for your top six forwards and then shuffle your bottom six with a combination of wiley vets like Donovan and young entry level guys like Foligno. When Nick is up for payday, the organization needs to decide if he's going to be a long-term core player or if he is maxed out for potential and we're better suited finding the next entry level player. Such was the case with Patrick Eaves - he was never going to develop into a top six forward, so why keep him around at over 2M when you can plug in a Foligno or a Bass?
The blue line is where things get murkier for the Sens. The top four are set:
Kuba - $3.70M
Phillips - $3.50M
Volchenkov - $2.50M - a UFA after this year
Campoli - $0.675M - an RFA after this year
We've got the curious case of Jason Smith (if only he were getting younger every year, right ladies?) at $2.6M this year, Brian Lee and Alex Picard at under 1M, and a hybrid in Schubert at 900K that we can't give away. Add in Erik Karlsson, who has a chance to make the big roster, and whatever else Murray gets in return for a potential Heatley trade. The Edmonton deal would have brought in Smid, for example.
I personally think Lee needs to be given more time. A lot of fans are ready to walk away from this kid but please do remember - he's 22 years old! Top defencemen take years to adjust to the speed and strength of opposing forwards. It is one thing to enter the league as a fundamentally sound d-man, it is another to develop the instincts required to stand up an incoming forward at a pace far faster than you're accustomed to seeing. Give the kid a couple more years and see how he is doing. Give him a regular defensive partner like Kuba that can work with him on positioning and allow him to learn from his mistakes and he'll be fine. Imagine if we had given up on Phillips after two years?
So what is a GM to do? Our obvious trade bait includes Gator Smith, Schubert, Kelly, Ruutu, and Picard. Murray must know that the return on these players will be close to garbage. All he should really be asking for are prospects on two way contracts so we can build up Bingo a bit more. The sad one to see here is Smith. There are rampant rumours that he's on long-term injured reserve and might retire, but I think this might be a case of preserving his dignity and instead of being a healthy scratch and end his career in the press box, we just throw him on LTIR and don't embarass him. He's far too classy of a player and the one benefit of the Oilers trade is you'd think they'd throw him a bone and let him retire an Oiler.
Here's the lowdown, gangstas - we're about $1.5M over the cap and we have to shed our off-season fur. This just adds to the Heatley saga because a return of #15 to the lineup means that other players are sent packing or sent down. That's the business of hockey, I suppose.
Question - if Heatley comes back and you have to trade one of Smith, Kelly, or Ruutu, who do you move and what is a realistic return that you'd accept? Would you trade Kelly for a 2nd round draft pick only? Would you trade Gator for a 6th? Moving Auld is fine because he was the third wheel, but what happens when we make it a regular occurence? Because the longer this Heatley saga drags on, the greater the chance that another player on the team becomes the odd man out. And the longer it drags on, the more I find myself coming around to the idea of having four elite forwards in Ottawa. There, I said it. I'm starting to come around to a return of the Heater. More on that later.
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