Saturday, July 11, 2009
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.
Friday, July 10, 2009
What do you think?
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
Now that I have that out of the way, I wanted to try and figure out how much longer this thing is going to drag out. We're into the second week of free agency and let's be honest - all the pretty girls already found their mates. The bartender signalled for last call and the ugly lights are about to come on. There isn't much left out there. So who gains the advantage as this pushes out into the dog days of the off-season? Ottawa or Heatley? Think of it in business terms: in a short-term negotiation, time is the advantage of the buyer because the seller wants this thing sold. In our case, Murray is the seller and any trading partner is a buyer. But in the long-term, that advantage shifts and now time is a benefit to the seller. There is no rush, it is instead the buyer that has the pressure to get the deal done.
From the moment that the trade demand leaked until probably this past weekend, Heatley had the advantage of time. First, we placed enormous pressure on Murray to make a move at the draft and steal some picks and players. In the scenario, advantage Heatley because we figured Murray would take a lesser deal to get a trade done on the floor with top prospects within reach. But the man didn't bite. So then we had five days before free agency started. To make it more interesting, there was a $4M advance on Heatley's 2009-10 salary due on July 1st. Surely, this played into Heatley's hands, right? Not only would Murray have to get this degenerate and his cap hit off our books before the UFA period began, he also needed to save his boss from the humiliation of having to cut a whopper of a cheque to a player that will lace up outside Ottawa next year. If ever there was a time to sacrifice on return to free up cap space, it was on the eve of Canada Day. Murray took what he said was his only legit offer, but Heatley didn't jump to the Oilers, choosing to 'not respond'. 24 hours later and still no feedback, our heroic Eugene allegedly put down "a few glasses of rum" and signed the cheque while Murray sat on the sidelines. Game, set, match to Heatley, right? Wrong.
In waiting until the lights come on in this second week of free agency, Murray has completely regained control of this 'negotiation'. Time is now 100% on Murray's side. By forcing Heatley's hand by only offering them the Edmonton trade, Murray has made it very clear that you just don't mess with the old boys of the league. JP Barry played his hand all wrong on this, as we all have known and discussed. But this has gone beyond tarnishing the reputation of his client. He has now put him in such an absolutely abhorrent situation that I can't imagine how Dany gets any sleep at night. Think about it - you've been exposed as a bastard of infinite melancholy across the league, you've seen that teams would rather pay Gaborik than take on your contract, you've watched as all the other teams have addressed their scoring needs, and you've left yourself with two awful choices. The longer this drags on, the more the edge goes to Murray. From Ottawa's perspective, by not pursuing any other options, we know that we'll either have Penner and Cogliano joining our forward ranks (both top six players, in my opinion), or we'll have Heatley back (I still find it unlikely). Our choices are both pretty decent.
Heatley's choices, on the other hand, are disastrous. This is what happens when you play too early and miscalculate what the other side is holding in its hand. Heatley and company figured the pressure on Murray would force an early trade and the client would have all summer to regroup. Instead, he'll continue on as Public Enemy #1 (Yashin is #2 now) and have some mighty sleepless nights. Behind Door #1 is a return to Ottawa where your sweater is sold at 50% off and fans have peeled off all of the scabs of your past, right or wrong. Behind Door #2 is a lifetime (5 years) in the bitter cold of another non-playoff team in Edmonton.
Dany - because your handlers completely misread the effect of 'time' on a negotiation, you ain't gonna get a Door #3, kid. Lucky for you, we've given you the whole damn summer to think about it. Sweet dreams!
In all seriousness, this one was inevitable. Elliot showed last year that while he isn't ready to be a #1, he is deserving to be a full-time NHLer. The acquisition of Pascal Leclaire spelled the end for Auld. On the bright side, there are a ton of backups that won't find any work, so that two-year deal was a blessing for him as he'll get spot duty behind Turco.
I'm completely comfortable with Pascal and Elliot. I think we have our first legit #1 in a long time and have no doubt that Murray and his cronies did their due diligence on the kid. After the epic failure of the Gerber experiment, Murray wouldn't take on that kind of salary without knowing that the kid can play. He's young, he's got a great attitude and loves being in Canada, and he's extremely athletic. Think Ray Emery, same amount of swagger but without the posse, traffic incidents, and missed practices. I also don't think Snoop is going to chill with Pascal after concerts. Maybe Roch Voisine will, if he's still kickin' around.
"A lot of this is not driven by the individuals," Melnyk said in an interview on the Fan 590. "Hockey people know who I am talking about. ... Ninety-nine per cent of the players you speak to are good people. They work in a community. They work hard. They want to score and they want to win, but there are other influences in their lives, and you've got to grin and bear it. It's going to happen. You always wish it didn't, but you may as well click your heels three times and want to go to Kansas in the Wizard of Oz if you don't believe it's going to happen to you."
Cue the massive speculation on what the hell this means.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
This will be the first edition of what will probably be a bi-weekly feature on the site where two Sens pundits take on the topic-du-jour (also known as the topic of the day) and see what kind of back and forth banter we can cover. Please add your comments and let us know if you agree with either of us or if we're both completely out to lunch. This week, we cover yesterday's Alex Kovalev signing.
Here’s what troubles me about the Kovalev signing – we’re in the midst of trading a disgruntled player that is said to be moody and streaky at the same time as we’re bringing in another moody and streaky player that is less productive. For all the skills that Kovalev possesses, the guy is a headcase out there, a player so haunted by a need for perfection that he loses focus on the actual game. It isn’t that he doesn’t care or isn’t trying hard (though the argument has been made enough), it is that he wants so badly to be perfect that it takes up all his energy and attention. I fear that Coach Clouston will have his hands full in trying to 1) motivate this player to find chemistry with his new linemates, 2) keeping him focused on the team aspect of the game, which I’ve been told is to win, and 3) get him to buy into the positioning and energy of this system that relies on constant movement in all three zones.
I think you're selling him short on just how good he can be offensivfely. We all know that Kovalev is an exceptional offensive talent. Many consider him to be one of the most purely skilled guys in the league, nay, the world. So why is it that he’s never cracked 100pts in a season? Why are his numbers show less production than Heatley’s? I’ll take linemates for $100, Alex. Now, I didn’t take the time to review Kovy’s linemates over his entire career, but know his most recent success two years ago came on a line with Plakanec and Andrei Kostitsyn – not a real sexy threesome there. That said, do you think Heatley’s numbers are the same without boyfriend Jason Spezza? I think having a natural offensive talent such as Spezza play with a natural offensive talent such as AK27 can produce an amazing duo. I’m interested to see who will also play on that line. I’d like to see a high energy two-way player and not Ilya Zubov.
Whoever this player is will need to help answer your 1-2-3. However, remember this – Kovy wore the ‘C’ two times last year in Montreal. Pardon? In MONTREAL! There is something to be said about being the captain of the most storied franchise in history. That’s a position that requires veteran leadership and warrants respect, things that Ottawa can use in their dressing room following the Heatley saga. It also puts another cup winner in the room, which we have not many of.
I agree that the ‘he hasn’t had a centre like Spezza’ would be a valid argument of his strange tenure in Montreal. That being said, Spezza is a pure playmaker while Kovalev is a hybrid of a playmaker that has a finishing touch when he takes the shot. If both of these guys are elite playmakers, who the hell finishes on that line? I think both players will put up 30 goals but we still need someone to drop in another 20-30 with them. I’d hesitate at putting Alfie up there as it depletes the secondary scoring that we think we just achieved.
But getting back to everything that is wrong with Kovy – do you remember the last time we had a Russian that we relied on for offence? How did that turn out? There are so many similarities between Yashin and Kovalev it makes me sick. The biggest knock on the Sens over the years has been the lack of heart and willpower to get that last goal, to win that big game. Kovalev does not address that one bit. I draw your attention to a game against Boston a few years ago when he took a slash from Travis Green, dropped his stick and clutched his wrist before bumping into a teammate. Meanwhile, Glenn Murray took the idle puck and walked in and scored. As talented as he is, it's those Russian moments that disgust me. How can you tell me we didn’t just sign Yashin 2.0?
Interesting comparison – this actually crossed my mind last night. The word “Russian” stirred up some bad feelings and concern. How he had so much talent for our promising team. How he was big and offensive. How he was kind of slow moving but calculated and good with the puck. How he put himself before the team. How he made unfair demands that weren’t part of his contract. How he became, in the words of BBQ Bob McKenzie, public enemy #1 in Ottawa. The more I thought about it, though, the more I saw similarities between Yashin and Heatley, rather than Yashin and Kovy. Looks like we’re playing hardball with Yashin 2.0.
Back to the word Russian. We now have two. The other? Anton Volchenkov. I realize that we cannot compare Kovy to Atrain, but I would also suggest we don’t compare Kovy to Yashin, either. I agree that his wrist clutching moment was awful – soccer anyone? But to say he’s not a clutch performer is a little harsh. Since 2005, he has 21 points in 22 playoff games. In the same timeframe, Heatley has 35 points in 34 playoff games. Kovy’s also won a Cup, which I think should never be overlooked. Is he a Warrior, as per his line of equipment? Probably not. But that’s where we expect Fisher, Neil, Donovan, Ruutu, Bass and company to step up. Not to mention our beloved Russian, #24.
Kovy is a replacement for Heatley. If Heatley never demands a trade, Kovy never signs with Ottawa. That considered, this is a good signing given what was available. And just think if was can move Heatley for a second liner to play with Alfie, or pick up your Mr. Hillary Duff at $2M or less – I’m excited!
But the Kovalev signing isn’t going to become a depth move, it is a pure replacement move for Heatley. Obviously, we’ll have to withhold judgment until we see the return on Heatley – Cogliano and Penner are legit secondary scorers – but as it stands now, Kovalev will likely have to play on the top line. I can get over the Russian part, I suppose, but the whole thing still reeks of confusion to me. Why would Kovalev even take Ottawa? He referred to us as Stanley Cup contenders – really? Not in the duration of his two-year contract, we aren’t. I’m troubled by the whole “I heart Bob Gainey and I'm in a state of mass confusion from when he said he doesn’t want me, so I just penned my name on the first contract I saw.” I know some people might not care how we went about acquiring him, but I always get a fuzzier feeling in my heart when someone actually CHOO-CHOO-CHOOSES us as opposed to settling for us, which he clearly did.
Sure, he’ll say all the right things, but why Ottawa? We aren’t contenders and we don’t really suit his style. Did he just pick Ottawa because we offered the most money, meaning Murray left money on the table and overspent. Or was this seriously the only remaining offer he had? This must be like how the Oilers feel, knowing that Heatley will only accept a trade there when he knows that none of the other 28 teams want him. To me, that doesn’t spell success for a franchise that is desperately seeking to rediscover its team identity. We went from a skilled, puck possession team two years ago to a total hodge podge of castaways (Kovalev, Penner), superstars (Spezza, Alfie), mooks (Kelly, Shannon) and fourth liners (too many to name). What the hell is the identity of this team right now? Is it some masterful creation that Bugs Bunny is putting together in a boiling pot, or is it the Island of Misfit Toys? To me, AK27 is the Charlie-in-the-Box.
The team identity is Clouston’s job. The way I see it, we have a mixed bag within the 4 lines and 6 D. This can a good thing as long as the lines are formed properly. I’m very interested to see who will play with Spezza and Kovalev. I believe we have a good team, good enough for the playoffs, and we’ll take it from there. However, I’ll stand by my claim that Pascale Leclaire will be the biggest piece to our success.
As for the warm fuzzies? Sure they’re nice. I love that Neil signed for less because he likes Ottawa. I love that Alfie wants to retire in the Nation’s Capital. But let’s face it, that’s not a common trend in the NHL. Players go where the money is and what market’s right for them most of the time. That said, I think Ottawa is a nice fit for Alex. He doesn’t have to move far, he stays in Canada and he’s in a slightly dimmer spotlight (less pressure?). It’s not like he signed with Nashville to hide out for his remaining seasons. I’m sure he knows the importance of hockey in Ottawa and what he’s getting into. This gives me confidence that he’s not just flaking out.
In any case, this topic will last all season. Either Murray’s a genius or a goat. He’ll probably be both month-to-month, day-to-day. One thing’s for sure, it makes for great debate in a wild off season, and a whole lot of question marks to look forward to…
Duff: I bet you a quarter chicken dinner at Swiss Chalet that you've used his name and a scathing F-bomb in the same sentence before Halloween.
Pynch: Tough bet, but I'll take it.
"The way I look at it, they have one really good line that's been successful year after year," said Kovalev. "I think I can be part of creating two or three good lines which is something every team needs to be successful in the playoffs. I'm not a big believer that one line can do the damage all the way to winning the Stanley Cup.
"Maybe I could be in the mix on the first line and maybe sometime in the second line. That way everybody will have enough energy to have a strong season and compete for the Stanley Cup."
Kovalev has said he's heard too often about his inconsistencies as a player.
"I don't know why people think that way all the time. I'll always compete the way I can," he said. "Sometimes you have to be aggressive, sometimes you have to be more relaxed. It depends on the situation. There's a feeling about me I only play when I want to play. I always compete the way I can."
"Sometimes I try to do too much because I feel like I can change the game ... sometimes it works in a good way, sometimes it works in a bad way."
Monday, July 06, 2009
- insane sniper on the powerplay
- in fact, he can run the entire powerplay from the low slot, the same spot that Heatley stands with his stick in the air. Instead of just having the one timer, we can get the puck to Kovalev right away and let him set up from there for a one-timer, holding on for a wrist shot, looking across the crease back to Spezza, or draw in a forward to open up a point shot. He's dynamic on the pp.
- he's experienced in media markets. In fact, Ottawa will be a walk in the park for media compared to what he took on in Montreal. What does he have to worry about here, Don Brennan? He might be able to chase Happy Feet Corvo out of town, but Kovalev has tougher skin than that.
- it takes some pressure off Murray to get the absolute best trade for Heatley. Instead of having to get two top six forwards, he can take back more prospects and cap space and we'll still have a legitimate top six forward.
- it is a short contract so we're not locked into this enigma for life.
- it sticks the finger to Montreal.
- it is a lot of money. $5M for a guy that could get 80pts? Great. $5M for a guy that might get 55-60pts is not so cool. It isn't like he has Mike Fisher banging ability.
- will this guy forecheck and go in the corners?
- how will he fit into Clouston's pressure system? There is no flashes of speed out of him anymore, he is more about positioning. Clouston wants guys in the right position for a two-man forecheck and pressure, but Kovey isn't exactly going to race to his spot. Have you ever watched Shaq saunter back to defence after scoring?
- he was BENCHED last year and comes back to a $10M contract.
- his consistency on a nightly basis is as questionable as anyone in hockey. For a team that desperately needs to see their players working their asses off, he won't give us that very often.
So it can go both ways. On one hand, he's a guy that potted 35 goals for 84 pts just two years ago. On the other hand, he dropped just 18 goals for 47 points the year before that, and was minus-19. So what the hell did we just sign? An 84 point winger, or a 47 point winger. Fans seem very mixed on this one. That's a big contract on which to have mixed feelings, isn't it? As it stands today, I'm disappointed with this. It depends on what other options were out there. Would it be better to sign Bert and Comrie for $2.5M each? Gives us depth, but neither of those guys are top liners. Kovalev can be a top line player, the last one out there. Arrgghhh, this one will keep me up at night.
As for Heatley - the writing is on the wall. I know Murray said one had nothing to do with the other, but that's gotta be a stone-faced lie. We're over the cap and Kovalev is Heatley's replacement, plain as day. It has to be a matter of days right now. My money is still on Edmonton and hopefully we can toss in the Gator and let him retire as an Oiler, as he should. Cogs, Penner, Smid, and Kovalev is an easier pill to swallow. If Heatley is getting any kind of sane advice at this point, he'd have realized that Murray will leave him with a decision of Ottawa or Edmonton.
Also, this must mean the end of Mike Comrie again. I'm disappointed as I thought he'd be a solid second liner at $2M. It isn't a certainty that we can't fit him into the cap, but this one seems pretty clear at this point that Pinball is on the move again.
(Updated 6:50pm) So I've now had a couple of hours to digest this signing and what it means for the Sens and my opinion...is unchanged. I don't necessarily have a problem with dropping $5M on a top six forward. I also don't have a problem pooling Kovalev in a list of top six forwards - he is definitely a top player. What I do have a problem with is trying to figure out how in the hell this castoff is going to fit into a system like that of Coach Clouston. Before signing him, Murray and team must have discussed the contradiction in Clouston's style and Kovalev's style, no? So did Kovalev's agent say that he's ready to get his shat together? Otherwise, what can we expect of this guy over 82 games? This guy was freaking BENCHED a few months ago.
So if he plays with Spezza, we still don't have much of a forecheck. We'll have the same lazy winger, just one that puts up 25-30 goals instead of 40-45 goals. If he plays on a second line with Fisher - really? Oil and water.
Kovalev is dynamic on the powerplay. The guy seriously torched us over the past few years in the low slot and gives us an entirely new dynamic. Instead of just setting up with a one-timer, he can actually handle the puck incredibly well and shoot AND setup. That is something I love about him being a Senator. I just don't know if that guy will show up or if the indifferent Kovy will show up.
Other Monday Musings:
- This has to mean that the Heatley deal is in the final stages. My gut tells me that there has to be an offer on the table and maybe they're notifying the players. That obviously is a made up thought, but seriously, this deal must be about done and we must be ditching salary, otherwise we're over the cap.
- Chris Neil had some choice words for Heatley today at the Spezza tourney. I love it! In a nutshell, he said 'I want to be a Senator. If he doesn't want to be a Senator, then go ahead and leave'. Nice stuff. We paid him $2M to say that, by the way.
- Should we make a pitch for Versteeg or Barker? Based on reports that the NHLPA will file a grievance on the Hawks botching their RFA QO's, these two guys might be out on the UFA market. Luckily for us, we just put ourselves over the salary cap. Whoops.
We've signed one of the most indifferent players in hockey and he's going to make a lot of money. I guess this means that we're expecting the Heatley trade to go through and we need this guy's help on the PP.
I'm going to gather up my thoughts and post later tonight. My initial reaction is one of disgust and discomfort, but maybe I'll come around to this. On his game, he's one of the best out there. But how often is he on his game? We left him off our UFA list because I flat out don't like him.
We have to assume the Heatley deal is done, right?
Also, I missed it on the Team 1200, but apparently Chris Neil had some very choice words at the Spezza Golf Tournament about his disappointment with Heatley. He was serene about it before he re-signed but now with a contract in hand, I guess he's down with kicking him out of town. I'll try and find some formal quotes of what he actually said, but I'm hearing it was the most aggressive comments yet from the players.