Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Rumour Mill: If Meszaros holds out...

The Senators' defence looks pretty solid with two of the best shot-blockers in the league in Jason Smith and Anton Volchenkov, and adding to that the ever-reliable Chris Phillips and the physically impressive--if defensively unproven--Christoph Schubert and you might have the best top-four defensive defencemen in the league. When looking for offence from the defence, though, Sens coach Craig Hartsburg will have to look pretty hard.

As it stands right now--without Andrej Meszaros under contract--the Sens' fifth- and sixth-defencemen are Brian Lee and Lawrence Nycholat. Neither has played a full season in the NHL and, although we can be optimistic, it would be unfair to expect miracles from either of them. Lee seems to have more upside than Nycholat, who might be destined for a career in the AHL if he doesn't get his chance soon. We've had a guest column on Mattias Karlsson, so he'll get a shot in training camp, but time will tell on that front. I don't think GM Bryan Murray will sit around for too long if Meszaros does end up holding out, though; I'm sure he's got a plan B somewhere in the war room.

Meszaros has, apparently, been given one final offer from the Senators for a contract for next season (and perhaps longer). If he chooses not to take it, Murray appears to be ready to let him sit out. Which might push Meszaros into that KHL contract that he's rumoured to have on the table, or some similar measure.

Some names have been thrown around. Perhaps the most available player is Bryan McCabe, also known as Bryan McKlutz, currently of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He's got a lot of offensive potential, and he'd look pretty good on the Sens' powerplay. But he's also got three years left on a contract with a no-trade clause that would set him up to be the Sens' third-highest paid player, after Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. And, although McCabe's production fell to 23 points (in 54 games) last year, he'd averaged almost 60 points over the previous three seasons.

Another player who might be available is Mathieu Schneider of the Anaheim Ducks. They've got six other capable NHL defencemen, and need to make some room under the cap. (Speaking opf Anaheim, I just noticed something: They've only got EIGHT players signed into 2009-10, and 14 of their players will be unrestricted after this year. Brian Burke will be busy!) He's only got two years left on his contract, and a cap hit of $5.65M per year, but he's already 39 years old. But he has average 0.7 points per game over the last three seasons, but at some point his age will have to catch up to him.

Chicago is in a position similar to Anaheim: lots of defencemen, and looking to shave salary to get under the salary cap. Earlier in the year, names like Brent Seabrook and Cam Barker were thrown around in trade rumours, and in my opinion either one would be a solid acquisition despite their youth. Seabrook is by far the more experienced, having played three seasons so far and averaging almost 30 points in each one for what has been a pretty bad Chicago squad, but anyone who watched the Sens-Hawks game last year should remember how good Barker looked defensively.

I'm not sure who else is available in the category of half-decent offensive defencemen. Jay Bouwmeester is a steal on his current deal, and even though Florida will more than likely lose him after this season, they could probably get more for him at the trade deadline than right now. Calgary is over the cap and they've got seven proven NHL defencemen, and Adrian Aucoin would be nice (one year left on a $4M contract, scored 35 points last year, solid leader), but all the more reason for them to hold on to him.
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