Sens sign Gonchar; Still work to do
UPDATED SATURDAY JULY 3RD DISCUSSING THE DEFENCE
With the addition of Sergei Gonchar to the lineup, the Ottawa Senators have added a significant piece to their backend. Gonchar is arguably the best offensive defenseman the Senators have ever had.
Ottawa GM Bryan Murray took an aggressive run at Gonchar, calling him at 12:01 ET on July 1st to inquire about his services. Gonchar was seeking a four year deal from his previous team, the Pittsburgh Penquins, but they were reluctant to give that kind of term to the 36 year old. While Murray and the Sens might have liked to get Gonchar on a shorter term, consider it the cost of doing business to acquire one of the top offensive D-man of the era (second only to Nik Lidstrom really).
Ottawa will be unable to do much else in the free agent market after committing that much cap space to Gonchar. Murray will now turn his attention to signing some key restricted free agents.
Peter Regin and Nick Foligno are now the top priority. Regin seems poised for a breakout year after a strong showing in the playoffs, and will be counted on to provide more offense than his 29 points during the regular season last year. He’s penciled in to the top six for Ottawa and will quite possibly will be riding shotgun on the Jason Spezza’s wing.
Foligno has shown the ability to produce in the league, but must begin to so on a regular basis. Many felt Foligno had the potential to be a top 6 player in the league, but he is being passed in the Ottawa organization by players like the aforementioned Regin and, possibly even Zack Smith in the near future.
Both are wanted back as they are young and still have the promise to help the secondary scoring for Ottawa, but getting them under contract could mean other moves in the lineup.
If Ottawa were to sign these two and another defenseman for the 6/7 role, the team would look like this (Foligno, Regin and Campoli are estimates and lines are solely based on salary):
AUTO-GENERATED CAPGEEK.COM LINES
Jason Spezza ($7.000m) / Alexei Kovalev ($5.000m) / Daniel Alfredsson ($4.875m)
Milan Michalek ($4.333m) / Mike Fisher ($4.200m) / Chris Kelly ($2.125m)
Chris Neil ($2.000m) / * Peter Regin ($1.600m) / * Nick Foligno ($1.500m)
Jarkko Ruutu ($1.300m) / Jesse Winchester ($0.750m) / Ryan Shannon ($0.625m)
Zack Smith ($0.583m)
Sergei Gonchar ($5.500m) / Filip Kuba ($3.700m)
Chris Phillips ($3.500m) / Erik Karlsson ($1.300m)
* Chris Campoli ($1.000m) / Brian Lee ($0.875m)
Matt Carkner ($0.700m)
Pascal Leclaire ($3.800m) / Brian Elliott ($0.850m)
(these totals are compiled using the bonus cushion)
ROSTER: 22; CAP: $59.4m; PAYROLL: $59.046m; CAP ROOM: $0.779m BONUSES: $0.425m
This allows Ottawa to carry an 13th forward and a 7th defenceman in case of injury. Of course, a youngster may challenge for a spot on the team, most likely defenceman Jared Cowen, but I think it best not to assume too much at this point. If Cowen did earn a spot, his cap hit would be $0.3M higher than what I have estimated for Campoli, and would cut the Sens cap room to $0.479M.
Where could more space be found?
A lot of fans are calling for a trade involving Filip Kuba and his $3.7M cap hit as a way of clear space. While such a move would clear space in would require an additional move to sure up the defence after moving one Ottawa’s top four.
Some are down on Kuba’s play, but I believe part of that is due to being slightly miss cast in Ottawa, Kuba is a decent defender that has the ability to move the puck, but is in no way an elite puck-moving defenceman (PMD) in the league. With the addition of Gonchar and the emergence of Karlsson, less pressure is place on Kuba and I believe he will have a very solid year. Plus at $3.7M for a veteran, top four defenceman, he is hardly the most onerous contract out there.
I could only see Kuba moved if another defenceman, most likely one with a physical edge to his game was also being brought back. A couple Canucks are available in Kevin Bieska ($3.75M) and UFA Willie Mitchell. Mitchell could be an option at a cheaper price due to his concussion problem this past year, but would fill the role of physical, veteran presence perfectly, if healthy.
Others think that bringing back a defenceman is unnecessary as Ottawa has good young defensive prospect in Jared Cowen and Patrick Wiercoch. My question, what if they aren’t ready, and you trade away the veteran insurance like Kuba. Both are looking like the could be good players in the future for Ottawa, but have not proven anything at the professional level, and making such assumptions can be dangerous.
Just as an aside to this Kuba trade talk, if he were to be moved, I think there would be teams interested, and I’d put the Los Angeles Kings near the top of the list, after they were unable to land any of the free agent defencemen on July 1st.
The most likely move would see someone from the third line with a larger salary traded to make a spot for either Foligno or Smith. Kelly and Ruutu are the top candidates for this, as Ruutu could easily be replaced by the two, and while Kelly may be missed more, he would clear more cap space and might bring back a slightly better return.
Neither are huge cap hit, but could give the Sens enough breathing space to feel comfortable.