Okay, two straight days without a game is never good when you're on a 6-game winning streak. Even with bumps and bruises, I'd bet a poll of the players would say that they would want to play Sunday and Monday leading into the Tuesday nighter against the Devils. When you're winning, you just want to stay on the ice.
The two days here have given a chance for fans and media to discuss the future of uber-shutdown defenceman, Anton Volchenkov. After riding out this last year of a three-year, $7.5M deal that included a slight hometown discount, Bryan Murray is faced with a question of what to do with the rugged blueliner. Make no mistake, Volchenkov is a great talent and is a huge asset to this team. He's easily the toughest guy on this team and has taken more shots to the body than any goalie in our history (someone look that up in Elias...).
The problem is our good friend, the salary cap. As it stands, we have 15 players signed for next season at a total cap hit of $48M. That still includes the Emery buyout and for some reason that I didn't know about, we're paying extra on Alfie's old contract for a declined option (perhaps someone can check that out and see if it is real). Those 15 players cover off four defencemen (Phillips, Kuba, Karlsson, Carkner), both goalies, and nine forwards. Regin and Foligno are the top forwards up for contract and both are RFAs, so you have to think that they'll get short-term re-ups for around a million.
But back to the A-Train - is there a hidden message in the fact that Murray hasn't even opened up talks with the kid yet? With Phillips here for another year on this contract, you know that he's a lifer. Hometown discount doesn't cover what Phillips will do. I think he'll just re-sign in Summer 2011 for $3M and be here until retirement or taking over Luke Richardson's assistant coaching job. Matt Carkner was also given a two year deal, so he'll be here next year. Add in Jared Cowen and we're starting to get a bit clogged up with 'rugged, lunchpail defencemen'. For a team that stinks on the powerplay and really doesn't have a quarterback on the blue line, do we really want to set ourselves up with four shutdown defencemen that don't have an offensive instinct?
The one variable here is that Cowen probably won't be ready for next season. I know he stepped into the preseason and held his own, but I can't get over the fact that he didn't make a name for himself in the junior tournament. I can't accept the 'he came off knee surgery' argument because that was a year ago and he's played all fall. I wasn't expecting him to follow in Karlsson's footsteps and get Top DMan honours, but he could barely crack the lineup. For the hype that we've given him, it just doesn't seem like he's as far along as we all thought. Does that mean that he needs to bang out two years in Bingo? I don't know, but he sure might be there next year.
Back to A-Train. Everyone and their dog is talking about fair contract for the guy. Some say that he is worth $5M but for 2-3 years because of his injury history, while others are saying that he should get a small dollar amount over five more years. For what it's worth, I think Komisarek's disastrous season has made it clear to GMs that you can't give over $4M to a one-dimensional defenceman. Many can make an argument that prior to this season, Komisarek was a better defenceman than A-Train. So our guy can't make more than $4M. Then you have to figure out the number of years for a guy that sticks his face in front of pucks, literally, and misses a handful of games every season. Will he still be a force in five years? Three years?
My argument here, though, is if we can really fit him into our payroll at all. There is a legitimate case to say that Murray has been planning for this and is prepared to move the Russian rock. Perhaps I'm reading too much into this, but the two-year deal for Carkner in the first week of the season was telling. It gives time for Cowen to develop. Carkner could have waited until the summer to sign, or he could have just played out this two-way deal. But Murray signed him for another two years, guaranteeing that with Phillips, we have at least two shutdown guys signed.
You can also bring in the Kovalev deal to the discussion. If AK27 had no other significant offers, couldn't Murray have signed him for one year at $5M and still landed l'egnima? That would have given him the flexibility to fit A-Train into next year's payroll.
I'm saying here that Murray is going to dangle A-Train at some point. It is a shame because the guy is very valuable to us. I just don't see how we can keep going with all shutdown defencemen, then Karlsson and Kuba. While my guarantees are on a vicious losing streak, I'm openly wondering whether the guy will even get a contract offer. Murray will be a 'buyer' in the next five weeks leading up to the March 3rd deadline, and maybe A-Train is dangled along with a pick to go and get either an offensive defenceman, or another scoring winger. I know A-Train isn't signed, but something similar to the Bouwmeester trade where an unsigned Leopold went the other way and was quickly inked is the M.O.
Don't get me wrong, I don't want Volchenkov gone. I love the guy, I love his shot blocks and open ice hits. I think his toughness and team first attitude is an inspiration to the team and to prospects. I wish there was a way for him to stay with us for his career because he makes you so proud to be a Sens fan. He's so respected around the league and it is kinda cool that even if other fans hate the Sens, they still love A-Train and respect his toughness.
I just don't think he'll be here much longer. I'm saying it, folks. If Murray has a chance to get a decent scorer like a Ray Wizard, a Kariya, a Penner, a Brunette, then perhaps A-Train is part of a deal going the other way. As a trade alone, A-Train is worth a high second rounder or maybe, and I mean maybe, a late first rounder. Anybody that thinks he's a hot commodity is just a bit biased, methinks. He's great to us, but he's a 3-4 defenceman on most other teams and really just a piece to a contender that would want him. A team like the Caps could use him to keep Green out of trouble, for example, but they wouldn't give up a ton to get him.
Anyway, perhaps I'm crazy, but I think this team is going to start to get crowded on the blue line and I don't know that A-Train will last. He is a warrior, but he's also a trading chip as we continue to fine tune this roster for a postseason run. While he is the hard working defenceman that this team loves, the salary cap just might now allow him to stay, even at a hometown discount. That's why we draft Cowens.
What do you guys think? Don't just tell me how much his contact should be for dollars and term, tell me why he should stay or why he should go. Get deep, kids! Can we fit that salary in with Kuba, Phillips, Carkner, and Karlsson (Picard and Campoli...)...