Monday, January 12, 2009

The Rumour Mill: Goodbye, Gerber

Reports in the Ottawa Sun (although the link is to the Calgary Sun) are that the Senators are trying to trade Martin Gerber (good luck), and will be waiving the veteran goaltender if (read: when) they can't unload him through trade. I think it would be amazing if Bryan Murray could actually get an asset in return for Darth Gerber, but I think the waiver wire is the most likely situation, if these rumours have any merit.

And, if these rumours do hold water, then you've got to wonder about the timing. The Senators have lived with Gerber's inconsistency and fragility for the last two and a half seasons, and I don't think anyone actually believes that Brian Elliott will right the Senators' ship for a miracle comeback into contention. So why not ride out Gerber's contract, and save owner Eugene Melnyk a bit of money? It seems to me that something is amiss, and I would venture a guess that GM Bryan Murray has a big trade in the works, or knows that a team will claim Gerber on waivers or re-entry waivers.

Should the latter happen, it would be similar to the Ilya Bryzgalov situation last season. (With the one difference that Bryzgalov was a goaltender with a relatively high value, and Gerber has a ridiculously low value.) After guaranteeing Bryzgalov ice time and seeing J.S. Giguere take the reigns as the number one, Ducks GM Brian Burke was unable to trade Breezer so he sent him through waivers, where he knew that the Phoenix Coyotes--most likely among others--were waiting to claim him. Perhaps the same unspoken deal is in the works with Ottawa, which would serve to take at least some of Gerber's $3.7M salary off the books.

The former, however, seems a mite more likely. It's no secret that Murray is thirsting for a trade to shake things up, and there is similarly no secret that in the new NHL, you have to trade salary for salary. Rumours have circulated that the Sens are courting the Columbus Blue Jackets in a trade, and that the Edmonton Oilers may be interested in both Jason Spezza and Mike Fisher; that seems to be the most scuttlebut in terms of potential suitors.

If I were a betting man, I would think that Ottawa is getting a goaltender in return from whichever team they trade with. If Gerber is dumped, I don't see the Senators running with a one-two punch of Elliott and Alex Auld in nets, especially considering the season Elliott is havign in the AHL, and the long-term development plan that would have Ells join the big team next year if everything goes well. Ottawa has been mentioned as interested in Chicago's Nikolai Khabibulin in the past (including a hilarious two-for-two goalie-swap rumour around this time last season), and the 'Hawks seem to be running a 1A/1B scenario with Khabibulin and Cristobal Huet right now. The positive thing about Khabibulin's $6.75M salary is that he's on the last year of his contract, meaning Ottawa could sign, recruit, or otherwise acquire a starter in the off-season, but picking up that kind of salary would mean Ottawa would likely have to dump one of their larger salaries (the likes of Jason Spezza at $7M per year, Dany Heatley at $7.5 per year, or Mike Fisher at $4.2M per year). Daniel Alfredsson ($5.4M per year) isn't likely going anywhere, and most other contracts aren't big enough to make room for Khabby. So it's a matter of whether or not it would be constructive to trade Spezza, and whether you can convince Fisher or Heatley to waive their no-movement and no-trade clauses.

(Can I make one quick trade proposal? Yes, I realize that it's an excercise in futility and won't likely pan out at all, but hear me out: After Gerber is waived, Heatley and Christoph Schubert to Chicago for Khabibulin, Brent Seabrook, Kris Versteeg, Ben Eager, and Chicago's first-round pick in 2009. Hello, rebuild.)

In light of increasingly uncertain economic conditions, I do have a feeling that most GMs--Melnyk included--would like to pare down their payroll, especially when it comes to long-term contracts. It might be difficult to find someone willing to take on one of the Sens' bigger ones, but it seems obvious that even without economic uncertainty, the so-called 'Tampa Bay Model' of building around your big three forwards doesn't work without solid defence and reliable goaltending. So in the event of a trade involving one of the Senators' bigger stars, the return may not be market value, but it will come along with the intangible benefits of lower long-term expenditures--in light of the real-world dollars Melnyk would be spending and of with an eye towards a possibly lowering salary cap--and the freedom to devote a larger percentage of the salary cap to defence or goaltending.

If Gerber is on his way out of town, he will be far from the most popular player in Senators history. Although I did defend him at the beginning of the season, he has gained (and, in all honesty, has largely earned) a rap for allowing untimely goals and having a fragile psyche. Still, his statistics will bear out a much more reliable goaltender than he was in reality:
  1. 49-36-8 record, fifth all-time Senator goaltender in wins
  2. 2.76 GAA, ninth all-time among Senators goalies with 25 or more GP
  3. .908 SP, fourth all-time among Senators goalies with 25 or more GP
  4. 4 shutouts, seventh all-time in Senators' history
  5. 52.7% winning percentage, sixth all-time among Senators goalies with 25 or more GP
So goodbye, Gerber, and good luck next season wherever you're playing (my money's on Switzerland).
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