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Backchecking: Time For Capital Change?

Scott Cullen
11/14/2008 4:15:25 PM
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In the wake of the Ottawa Senators falling into last place in the Northeast Division and losing on home ice to the New York Islanders, there are questions arising once again about whether the Senators should move a step beyond just breaking up The Big Three.

As head coach Craig Hartsburg has unsuccessfully tried to mix and match his top six forwards, in an effort to provide balanced scoring, and general manager Bryan Murray has called out his top players, insisting they must play better, the next step to consider is what happens if they don't?

There are some obvious holes that need to be filled.  Depending on the confidence one has in Alex Auld, goaltending could be one concern; a puck-moving defenceman has been a stated desire for Murray ever since losing Wade Redden and Andrej Meszaros in the offseason; improved scoring depth, so that the Sens aren't constantly shuffling the likes of Jesse Winchester, Ryan Shannon and Nick Foligno onto one of the scoring lines.

If the Senators are going to turn around their slow start, is it worth considering a deal involving one of their top players?

Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Mike Fisher are all on long-term deals with Fisher's cap hit of $4.2-million being the least expensive of the bunch.

Heatley seems to be a fixture and Alfredsson just signed a contract extension, so they would seem less likely to be moved.  Fisher's getting a lot of money for minimal production at this point, to the point that his trade value is probably as low as it's ever been.

That leaves Spezza, who is under contract for seven seasons, including the current year, at an average salary cap hit of $7-million.  A steep price, but well within market range for a centre who produces better than a point-per-game.

The Ottawa Sun mentioned that there had been rumours about the Blackhawks dealing for Spezza, though the paper didn't think that a deal of that magnitude was likely.

That won't stop me from exploring some possible trade opportunities for the Senators should they consider moving their talented number one pivot.  These come with the absolute disclaimer that these are not rumours, merely possibilities that could warrant consideration, given team needs and salary cap concerns.

Starting with the Blackhawks, Chicago has been looking for an offensive centre to complement Jonathan Toews since they dealt Robert Lang to Montreal, with the expectation that the new pivot could move in and allow Patrick Sharp to return to the wing, where he's been most effective.

What kind of package could the Blackhawks offer for Spezza?  It's not as easy as it sounds when the two most similar salaries in Chicago belong to winger Martin Havlat and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, because both will be unrestricted free agents at seasons's end and it would be downright nuts to trade a long-term asset like Spezza for less than a full season of another player.

Perhaps a deal involving Khabibulin would work if other pieces are involved, say a defenceman like James Wisniewski, and a young forward like Troy Brouwer or Dave Bolland, but that may not be enough star power to make it worthwhile from Ottawa's perspective.

Who else might have the pieces to offer?

Columbus has long been searching for a pivot to join Rick Nash on the number one line and the Jackets probably have enough pieces to make a viable offer if they are willing ot surrender some of their top young prospects.  Say, for example, that the Blue Jackets are feeling confident enough in young goaltender Steve Mason, they could offer Pascal Leclaire, a top young winger like Jakub Voracek or Nikita Filatov and, to get the salaries closer, how about declining veteran winger Fredrik Modin?

Los Angeles, which already has a good crop of young talent, has more than enough to offer in exchange for Spezza.  Start with LW Patrick O'Sullivan, whose role has suddenly decreased this season following his protracted contract negotations, and formers Sens defenceman Tom Preissing who, for all his shortcomings, is useful on the power play.  Mix in another prospect from the Kings, perhaps?

Edmonton is still looking for a viable number one centre, given that none of their pivots has more than seven points in 16 games and could address multiple Senators needs with an offer along the lines of Shawn Horcoff, Tom Gilbert (or Denis Grebeshkov) and Dwayne Roloson, though who's to say Roloson is enough of an upgrade on Alex Auld to make that worthwhile?

How about Atlanta, who could provide Ilya Kovalchuk with a setup man by offering Kari Lehtonen and Mathieu Schneider as the starting point of discussions.  Something significant would still need to go to Ottawa to sweeten this deal and it would already cause cap issues.

Florida has some interesting pieces to offer, and with Jacques Martin as GM they are almost required to be mentioned in deals involving the Senators.  A pending free agent like Jay Bouwmeester would provide some improvement on the blueline for this year but the Sens would need longer-term help so, if they included Antoine Vermette, maybe they could ask for Michal Frolik and Stephen Weiss.

Anyway, consider it (junk) food for thought, along with some other rumours making the rounds:

- The Arlington Heights Daily Herald Times notes that the Blackhawks have been rumoured to be talking to the Capitals about a deal for C Michael Nylander, though Hawks GM Dale Tallon will only allow that he is talking to teams about acquiring a top-six forward.

- USA Today suggests that Thrashers G Kari Lehtonen could be expendable due to the development of young puckstopper Ondrej Pavelec.

- The Edmonton Journal reports that the Oilers haven't yet been involved in trade talks involving their goaltenders.  If Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers continues to play well, though, there is greater likelihood of Dwayne Roloson or Mathieu Garon getting shopped.

- According to the New York Post, the Maple Leafs have already been shopping D Jeff Finger.  According to Maple Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher, the Leafs have never discussed Finger with anyone.  The Leafs are looking to move a defenceman, but they'll probably have an easier time moving the guys that aren't on long-term contracts.

- Looking ahead to the trade deadline for the Islanders, and expecting the Isles to be sellers, Newsday notes that veteran centres Mike Sillinger and Mike Comrie are going to be free agents at season's end and, if they are playing well, would figure to have value to contending teams.

- The St. Petersburg Times suggests that the Lightning could be showcasing RW Radim Vrbata for trade, by moving the goalless winger onto the first power play unit.

- The St. Paul Pioneer Press notes the impossible hand dealt to the Wild as it pertains to injured winger Marian Gaborik, in that the Wild can't sign him to a long-term deal or make a decent trade, as long as Gaborik is sidelined.

- According to the Ottawa Sun, Lightning veteran LW Gary Roberts is being offered around the league.

- The Sun also has the Columbus Blue Jackets scouting the Senators, allegedly interested in veteran D Chris Phillips who happens to have a no-movement clause.

- After being benched, Leafs winger Jason Blake was the subject of some trade rumours, but merely the one-sided obvious variety (ie. the Leafs would consider dealing him with no mention of a team that would possibly have interest in the approximately four-years and $16-million remaining on his contract).

Notable Healthy Scratches This Week
Drew Stafford, RW, Buffalo; Daniel Paille, LW, Buffalo; Tyler Arnason, C, Colorado; Kevin Porter, RW, Phoenix; Jason Blake, LW, Toronto; Fabian Brunnstrom, LW, Dallas.

HOT
Christopher Higgins, LW, Montreal (4-2-6, plus-1 in last 5 GP)
Tim Connolly, C, Buffalo (2-4-6, plus-2 in last 5 GP)
Matt Stajan, C, Toronto (1-8-9, plus-3 in last five GP)
Keith Yandle, D, Phoenix (0-4-4, plus-4 in last 4 GP)
Kris Letang, D, Pittsburgh (0-5-5, plus-4 in luast 5 GP)
Roberto Luongo, G, Vancouver (3-0-1, 0.25 GAA, .991 SVPCT in last 4 GP)

NOT
Daymond Langkow, C, Calgary (0-1-1, minus-4 in last 4 GP)
Brian Gionta, RW, New Jersey (0-1-1, minus-2 in last 4 GP)
Patrick O'Sullivan, LW, Los Angeles (0-1-1, minus-3 in last 8 GP)
Andrei Markov, D, Montreal (0-1-1, minus-4 in last 4 GP)
Braydon Coburn, D, Philadelphia (0-0-0, minus-2 in last 4 GP)
Carey Price, G, Montreal (2-2, 4.00 GAA, .878 SVPCT in last 4 GP)

CHIRPING
"We've become almost like a little bit of a turtle in shell. We poke our heads out sometime to see if there is a game going on instead of going to get the game." - Senators coach Craig Hartsburg

"That was a barrage.  I made the (goalie) change just for the sake of trying to change the momentum in some way. You get a good sense of reality when you end up not even close to the same level, especially in the first period." - Flames coach Mike Keenan, after the Flames were down 4-0, and outshot 20-5 in the first period against San Jose

"I hope he's going to play the same way - he's going to be the best player in the league." - Capitals LW Alexander Ovechkin, on new linemate Alexander Semin

"Danny Ellis stole it, bottom line. He's the reason we won. They were letting us hang around. They kept us on life-support, then we got off the table and scored a goal. I am absolutely thrilled we won a game we shouldn't have." - Predators coach Barry Trotz, after Ellis stopped 54 of 57 shots to beat the San Jose Sharks

"We know what Koivu and Tanguay can do. If Higgins tries to play the same game, they'll never get a shot on the net." - Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau

"It didn't look like he wanted to play, so we went in another direction." - Flyers coach John Stevens, after benching Scott Hartnell in the third period against the Islanders

"Those guys should all be hiding their eyes when they walk by Olie Kolzig tonight." - Lightning coach Barry Melrose, after the Lighting fell behind 3-0 in the Olaf Kolzig's return to Washington

Scott Cullen can be reached at scullen@tsn.ca



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