Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Rumour Mill: Free agency preview

This might be a premature free-agency preview with July 1st more than two weeks away, but I figured I'd give my take on the current Sens' roster, the holes that need to be filled, and some players I'd like to see be signed to fill them.

I'm looking mostly at free agents in this preview, but with rumours in the Ottawa Sun suggesting the Senators might be wheeling-and-dealing on draft day, there might be some established NHLers or young prospects coming in to fill some of the spots I'm going to go over.

Here's a projected lineup for the start of the season, based on players currently under contract:

Heatley - Spezza - Alfredsson
Foligno - Fisher - _____
McAmmond - _____ - Winchester
Schubert - Bass - Neil

Phillips - Volchenkov
_____ - _____
Nycholat - Lee


And now, to get in to the needs:


  1. Second-line winger: GM Bryan Murray has been looking for a second-line winger for two years, going through Mike Comrie and Cory Stillman while looking. It would be great to sign Marian Hossa, but I don't think that will work if the Sens want to stay under the salary cap. Stillman was a pretty good success, aside from an injury that slowed him down, and he demonstrated a good rapport with second-line centre Mike Fisher, which is a great sign.
    Even with Stillman, however, there is still a weakness on that line, and I'm sure Murray would like to upgrade from Nick Foligno to find a better scoring forward for the line. I think the hope is that newly-signed college prospect Jesse Winchester, with his size and offensive abilities, can step up and produce with Fisher and whoever else is on that line. Markus Naslund would be great to see--he'd probably love to play with Alfie--but he's very expensive, so the Sens might be looking for a cheaper alternative, like David Vyborny, Mark Recchi, or Mike Johnson. And I might be alone in this, but I'd love it if the Sens to could sign Sean Avery. He can take an internship at Ottawa Living magazine.
  2. Third-line centre: Obviously, Antoine Vermette is technically still an Ottawa Senators' asset, and could very well be re-signed for a pretty good price. I don't think Murray is ready to give up on the Vermette Experiment, especially considering his special-teams ability.
    If Vermette isn't back, the Senators have a few prospects in Ilya Zubov, Alexander Nikulin, and Peter Regin who I'm sure will get long looks and good opportunities to step up and fill this roster spot. Zubov and SputNik are older and now have a year of AHL experience and at least one NHL game under their respective belts, so one of them could very well get in. If so, Ottawa would have a finesse third-line after a pretty hard-checking second line, which is an interesting swap, but it could very well work with the speed that would be involved from Dean McAmmond and Jesse Winchester. If neither of these three are able to crack the big team's lineup, I would imagine one would be traded to get some more asset(s) on the farm team, rather than three skilled centremen.
Overall, I think the forward corps looks pretty good, but there's definitely room for improvement. I think Murray would like to pick up depth, especially enough to allow him to bump Christoph Schubert back to defence, where he's desperately needed.

  1. Two defencemen: I'm not even going to try to classify the Sens' needs as for a 'number three' defenceman or a 'number five' defenceman or whatever. I think it's pretty obvious that Brian Lee will be back on the Senators blueline after an impressive showing in the playoffs, and Larry Nycholat has a one-way contract and has earned a spot on the big Sens after an all-star worthy performance in the AHL.
    Andrej Meszaros is still around, and the Sens would be in the wrong if this blue-chip prospect was allowed to walk. I do believe that Murray will bring Meszaros back, even if it's just for a one- or two-year contract. And, although he had a tough go at the start, I think Mike Commodore is worth bringing back.
    I think every GM in the league is looking to sign Brian Campbell in the off-season, and Murray is certainly no exception. Reports are that he's going to throw everything he can at Campbell, but I'm not optimistic that's going to be enough, considering the salary pressures the Senators are currently under.
    After Campbell, there isn't much in the way of puck-moving defencemen. Rob Blake would be awesome, but I don't think he's leaving Los Angeles unless it's for Colorado. Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit are two names that come up as next-best-behind-Campbell conversations, so they'll be given looks. I think the Sens should take a look at Dick Tarnstrom; although he's soft, he can quarterback a powerplay, and he led the Penguins in scoring in the year 1 B.C. (Before Crosby, that is). Karel Rachunek was good while he was here, as well, and I don't try to hide the fact that I'm a Rachunek fan. I'm not sure how much he likes the idea of coming back to Ottawa, though.
  2. Defensive depth: This isn't a hole that shows up on the depth chart above, but the Sens are seriously lacking in defense in Binghamton if Nycholat and Lee are both on the big team. Tarnstrom could be signed as depth, if he's willing to accept a two-way contract. No matter what, assistant GM Tim Murray is going to have a lot of work in signing young or middling defencemen. I won't go over names, but it'll be a task of the younger Murray to find needs and ways to address them.
The Sens are in decent shape defensively, but definitely need depth to fill out the D corps. Thank goodness Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov are such bargains, because it's great to have their steadying presence on the roster and on the ice.


According to the depth chart, the Sens have two NHL goalies. But Ray Emery will not be back next season, and I think that there are a lot of ways to upgrade Martin Gerber, even. I'm far from certain the answer lies in either Jeff Glass or Brian Elliott, but I'm willing to give it a shot. Nor do I think a goaltender that may be drafted this year could step in right away.
The free agent goaltender crop is slim pickings. Olaf Kolzig, Jose Theodore, and Cristobal Huet are all out there, and any one could be good, but they could also be abysmal failures. There's the prospect of running with an all-Swiss duo of Gerber and David Aebischer, which would be hilarious if nothing else, and would make a huge fan club amongst the hockey circles in Switzerland (especially if Streit was brought in on defence). I like both of Johan Hedberg and Alex Auld, but neither of them could be starters, and would at best be tandem-starters.


Hello, assistant coach? We need one. These rumours of bringing John Paddock back are hopefully hogwash. Nothing personal, but I think we need to move on. I have a feeling that Peter DeBoer's trip to Barbados was a last-ditch effort to talk him into accepting an assistant coaching role, but that's just a personal inkling. I'm anxious to see the other names, though, and whether the successful candidate is one of Craig Hartsburg's people or someone Murray wants to bring in.

That article really made itself grow quickly. Congratulations on making it to the end. Let me know if there are names out there you think warrant a good look from Murray, or who you'd sign were you in his place.
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