When you look at some of the trades that happened during this off-season, it’s pretty hard to fault any NHL general manager for throwing out some questionable players with even more questionable contracts in trade conversations. Sure, the Brian Campbell trade was a special situation since Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon is the guy who signed Soupy to that mind-blowing deal in the first place, but it gave hope to any GM whose brain hurts when they look at the paychecks they’re handing to players who might not be earning them.
The Ottawa Senators could be looking at a considerable logjam on defense next season. The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch indicates that nine defensemen might jostle for seven available spots after the team was unable to unload either of two pricey veteran blueliners (Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba) during the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Garrioch thinks that the team still hopes to move one of those two offensive-minded defensemen before training camp, with Gonchar’s awful 2010-11 season and heftier cap hit making him far more difficult to trade. Kuba’s $3.7 million cap hit will expire after this season, so he might be a little easier to get rid of, but there’s one other problem Garrioch points out: doing so would likely move Ottawa below the salary cap floor. Here’s a little more on the team’s head-scratching situation on defense.
That leaves Kuba as the top candidate to be moved. If the Senators do find any takers for the 34-year-old, they’ll have to take back salary to avoid going below the $48.3-million floor.
The Senators could help solve their blue-line dilemma by dealing Brian Lee and his $900,000 contract. But he’s shown that he can be a capable replacement if somebody goes down, and the 24-year-old still has potential.
Anybody who thinks Carkner is going to be the odd man out is out of touch. He’s the Senators’ only element of toughness on the back end. Erik Karlsson, Chris Phillips, Kuba Gonchar, Rundblad and Lee all play the same game. Cowen and Wiercioch are both big, but need to get stronger.
Perhaps Kuba could fetch some trade value if the Senators are willing to take on a solid player who is receiving an excessive paycheck. Either way, it seems like Ottawa has plenty of options when it comes to defense but far fewer ones when it comes to narrowing them down.
Reading through all of this, the Senators might just have to struggle with their situation for a while. The fact that they’re not so far above the salary cap floor would mean that their troubles might not be over even if they found a taker for Kuba. (Cap Geek lists them at approximately $51.55 million, although Garrioch notes that Stephane De Costa’s $1.33 million might not register since he need to fight to earn a spot on the team.)
When you consider the randomness and sometimes wide swath of injuries that can hit any NHL team, maybe this abundance of options will come in handy. Ottawa may opt to go with veterans to begin the season since they’ll make the same amount of money in the NHL or AHL anyway while slowly integrating prospects into the mix.
The real bummer is that with all of these players, it’s unclear if the Senators are even going to be all that formidable on defense in 2011-12. If nothing else, they could enjoy a rare amount of flexibility, though.