Creating and Plugging Holes on Ottawa’s Blue Line

 

While fans of the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils are excitedly consumed by the fact that their favorite teams are only a few wins away from hockey’s greatest prize, the rest of us are doing our best to distract ourselves through the immersed discussion of what it will take to improve our favorite teams this offseason.

Here in Ottawa, that means penning articles that discuss how prudent it would be for the Senators to avoid signing Chris Kelly or talking about what it would take to improve the team’s top four on defence. (The answer: not much.)

In fact, Ottawa’s top four is bad enough that if you believe the Ottawa Citizen’s Ken Warren, they’re actually entertaining offers on Sergei Gonchar – who has one year left on a deal that will pay him $5.5 million – without expecting much, if anything, in return.

Expect Murray to be aggressively selling Gonchar in advance of the NHL entry draft on June 22-23. It’s unlikely a team will take that gamble, but if the Senators are successful in somehow moving him, the return won’t be big: the benefit for the Senators in any such deal is moving the salary.

While moving the salary of a deteriorating veteran to accommodate whatever increase Erik Karlsson is owed makes sense, without any internal option on the roster that is capable of filling Gonchar’s 22-plus minutes of ice-time per game on the team’s second pairing, one has to wonder why Ottawa would trade Gonchar to create money for Karlsson when moving Gonchar will necessitate replacing him with some expensive alternative. Moreover, Daniel Alfredsson’s actual salary for 2012/13 will be reduced from $4.875 million to $1.0 million or nothing, depending on whether or not he retires. Between Kuba’s absence and this pay cut, there’s Karlsson’s bump in salary.

Not to mention with the likelihood that Filip Kuba will leave the organization as an unrestricted free agent on July 1st, any trade involving Gonchar would instantly create two holes in the team’s top four (and it also assumes that Gonchar would waive his no-movement clause). Unless an inexpensive option like Justin Schultz is miraculously walking through that door, filling one of these two spots, let alone two, is not going to be cheap. If Ottawa really has designs on letting Gonchar go, it only makes sense if they intend to bring in a better alternative like Jason Garrison.

Unfortunately for those of you who had hoped that this impending unrestricted free agent defenceman could wind up as a member of the Ottawa Senators on July 1st, I may or may not have some bad news for you.

In an interview on Vancouver radio in May, Garrison told the hosts that if a deal couldn’t be worked out with the Panthers, his second choice would be his hometown Canucks.

“It’s always nice to be wanted and if that’s the case and you have a quality that they like, obviously it’s my hometown team and I grew up watching them play. My friends and family are big Canuck fans and would love to see me play at home but you’ve got to be the right fit for a team. You want to be able to contribute.”

While the comment, certainly the latter part of it, lends itself to the notion that Garrison is just paying lip service to the fan base and area that the radio station is serving, it’s a scenario that’s dependent on the Canucks reciprocating his interest and meeting his salary demands.

Fortunately for Ottawa, other organizations may be wary of Garrison because observers will associate him with this season’s offensive outburst and decide that it is too risky to throw a multi-year, multi-million dollar offer at such an ‘unproven’ commodity.

Recalling one Jim Matheson article from the Edmonton Journal earlier this season:

The line’s forming to the right for Florida UFA defenceman Jason Garrison, who has 16 goals, second only to Erik Karlsson. The Panthers have offered $2.5 million a year, but he’s barely given the offer the time of day after making $600,000 this year. The feeling is he figures he can get $4 million on the open market. Should the Oilers be in the hunt? Yes, but with reservations. They could use somebody to pound the puck — he’s a shooter not a passer, playing with Brian Campbell which gives him the leeway to fire away — but there are niggling concerns.

“He’s a No. 5 defenceman,” said one NHL team executive. Plus, he’s only lit it up for one year. There’s no body of work here. That said, it’s a very shallow free-agent market for blue-liners, so he’s holding all the cards. Garrison is six-foot-two and 220lbs, but not physical. He’s only 27, from Vancouver. The Oilers are probably on the hunt.

I have already outlined the reasons why Garrison’s defensive game is probably worth more praise than his booming shot, but if Scott, SteffeG and I can detail and see the underlying value in Garrison, then you can be sure that some NHL executives will too.

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