Thursday, July 01, 2010

Hastily Made Gonchar Analysis

Settling in for what has traditionally been a boring day for Sens fans, Bryan Murray shocked the world and signed the highest paying contract of the year to open the UFA market. My first thought was of excitement - Gonchar is one of the best offensive defencemen in the NHL. Then, I kinda got upset because we're paying the guy a tonne and he's 36 years old. He was coming off of a $5M contract and this is potentially his last big payday, so did we really need to give him a raise? Especially considering we gave him the term he wanted, I thought we could have saved some money on it.

But as the dust settles, the signing of Sergei Gonchar to the Sens has me completely excited and not really worried too much. Could he get hurt? Of course, but so can Alfie and Kovalev at the same age. Will he suck? Probably not, he's been a very consistent producer and has put up a tonne of 50+ point seasons in his career. Does the contract prohibit us elsewhere? Sure, a bit, but we already have the forwards we wanted (surprised to see Cullen get $3.5M when Whitney only took $3M...) and Gonchar really changes some key dynamics of this team.

First, we have an elite defenceman that can pass the puck. Dare I say, he is probably the best defenceman we've ever had in the modern day history of this team (sorry, Z). He is one of those players that makes his defensive partner a better player. He will also make our forwards better because they can focus on transition instead of backchecking. Guys like Spezza, Michalek, and Kovalev can start actually skating up the ice instead of waiting for our poor defensive defencemen to get the puck out of the corner and move it up the ice. I truly think our 5-on-5 improves a ton here.

Second, and one that has already been identified by most everyone, we have someone to run the powerplay. Karlsson is still a bit too young to take on the entire responsibility and Kuba just isn't enough of a threat to open up opportunities for the forwards down low on the PP. Now we have a guy that can walk off the half boards and get it across to Karlsson/Spezza or draw the forward with him and feed Kovalev on the right side for one timers. Remember those passes that he used to make to Malkin? He can make those to Kovalev now. Our powerplay was 22nd in the league last year, which is unacceptable given the talent on the top unit. Gonchar instantly gives us potential to be a top ten powerplay team.

Finally, it gives guys like Cowen and Wiercioch and extra year to develop in Bingo. Instead of these guys trying to crack the roster out of camp a la Carkner, they can learn the grown-up game on the buses in Binghamton. Now it isn't out of the question that one or both of them has a great camp and beats out Lee and Campoli in the Fall, but there is significantly less pressure on these guys because we have a solid top four already set. I know that it also means that Karlsson has another mentor and we have a vet that is fresh of a Cup win to show us the ropes. My takeaway here is that we don't have to take the ice with about of kids on the blue line now.

I'm curious how Pascal handles the additional rubber he'll see, though.

All in all, I'm thrilled with the signing. I'm not worried about his age and I can live with the money. This team went from another year on the playoff bubble to contender for what will be a weak Northeast Division. While I think about it, I wonder if the Northeast will be the worst division in hockey...

Get Regin done for three years at $1.5M, give Foligno one year and tell him to stay healthy and prove that he deserves a longer deal. Campy hasn't earned the $1M mark yet, either. And finally, give yourself a bit more versatility and go get Comrie (I love that kid!) for 1 year $1M and stick him on the second powerplay unit.

Monday, June 28, 2010

When we're left with no alternative

Ahhh, not that there was any doubt to begin with, but the Ottawa Sun has finally lost its final marbles. Tim Baines has taken to the blogosphere to defend his paper, his writers, and their overall professionalism while attacking, ironically, the bloggers that call him out. It pains me because we are still left with no real alternative. The Ottawa Sun still has extensive coverage of the team and has far more access and sources than any part-time blogger, right? But it isn't like the Ottawa Citizen is this amazing alternative. The Citizen is like the mediocre looking girl in science class that hangs out with the really ugly girl to make herself look passable. The passable. The Sun is just tabloids for sports. But at the end of the day, they don't make up rumours that Spezza is 99% likely to be traded at the draft (thanks, Eklund) and they still have locker room passes. The rest of us on the blog are just left with a growing fan base and a dash of hockey intelligence.

In the meantime, what is new in Hockey Country?

1. Jason Spezza. I had almost gotten to the point where I would have been okay had he been dealt this past weekend. Brassard and Columbus' first rounder? Sure. Horton and the 3rd overall? Maybe. Savard and Boston's mid first rounder? Probably. It isn't that I don't like Spezza. I actually love his style of play and think he has the talent to win an Art Ross at some point. But my concern becomes that we have this elite centre and he has no elite winger to match his skill. Is it worth it to us to carry a $7M superstar who has no matching playmate? Heatley was an elite winger and when he left, so did the need for Spezza's cross crease one-timer passes. If we could have gained cap space AND found some a decent centre in return that could play with a Michalek, Kovalev, Alfredsson, Fisher, Cullen type player, is it that bad of a deal?

2. Anton Volchenkov. Why are we still talking about him? He's already thinking of his new team and his pay raise. I was miffed at how Murray couldn't at least get a mid round draft pick for his negotiating rights, but it must just mean that he and Grossman have made it abundantly clear that he won't sniff a contact until July 1st. But even then, Hamhuis was traded twice and still hasn't signed! I would be disappointed if we find out that Murray had no intention of renegotiating with A-Train AND turned down even a shitty draft pick considering he's walking for free on Thursday.

3. Matt Cullen and Andy Sutton. We're all saying the right things, but these dudes are headed elsewhere. I couldn't really care less about Sutton if he is seriously looking for a raise on $3M. He was a bruiser and a great shot blocker, but he's at a point where he needs to start settling into that Adam Foote lifestyle but without the gold medal. $2M is fine, but a raise over $3M is nothing we need. Cullen, on the other hand, is a great fit. A nice second line centre that kills penalties and can handle the point on the powerplay. He is good for 50 points per year and to me, that is worth a few hundred thousand over $3M. Hell, Kovalev can't kill a penalty and puts up the same offence for $5M! I would love to see Cullen back but I'm not getting my hopes up given the way Murray has worked the last two UFA seasons.

4. Marc Savard. Sure, it would mean the end of Matt Cullen, but who wouldn't take this guy on a $4.2M cap hit? Healthy, he puts up 75 points a year. Hurt, and he might really still be hurt, he is LTIR and off the books. That isn't what people want, but Cup winning teams have their strength down the middle. Goalie, defence, and centres. We sure as shit down have the goaltending and our blue line is years away from being great, but wouldn't it be nice to find a way to get Savard and Spezza on the same team? If Chiarelli is looking for a soft trade because he can't have Seguin's three years up and still have Savard, then take Kovalev for this year alone.

5. Bryan Murray. I'm kind of growing tired of him, to be honest. I'm tired of his tactics to try and light a fire under Spezza's ass (there are 101 better ways that he could have accomplished this) and I'm not happy with the fact that we look to be a weaker team this year (stars are older, losing a top dman, goaltending still a mess). I know everyone speaks volumes about how he and Tim have 'restocked the pantry', but the guy inherited a Cup finalist and now hasn't won a playoff series in three straight seasons. Could the dude not have found a way to be competitive now and still build for the future? I'm forever optimistic about this team but I'm curious as to what kind of direction Murray really is taking it. Are we lunchpail? Are we defence first? Speed? what?

Looking ahead at UFA Day, it is funny to see that the hype is so much lower than it was last week for draft-day trades. Obviously, Kovalchuk (who has two playoff game wins to his name) is the big piece, but I'm curious how soon the four Sens UFAs go.

In the meantime, let's go back to reading the Sun and Citizen and save time for all those Sens blogs that are warranting this tongue-lashing...