Headaches and Head Shakes

After reading about the three headaches that Ottawa could have this season, I now have one of my own.

In an article for today’s Ottawa Sun, Don Brennan outlines three potential headaches for the Ottawa Senators this upcoming season; assuming that there is one of course.

Headache #1:

For one, they seem to be putting a lot of faith in Jakob Silfverberg, a 21-year-old prospect who has yet to play a regular-season game in the NHL. Silfverberg sure looks like he’ll be a good player someday, but there’s no telling how he’ll deal with the demands of an 82-game schedule.

And right now, he is at least pencilled in as the first-line right winger. Should he need time in Binghamton, that’s a huge hole left vacant.

Left vacant?

I re-read this sentence five times and I still cannot figure out this is an inadvertent crack at the recently bought out Bobby Butler. I mean, there are other guys who are capable of filling in until Silfverberg is deemed ready.

Ignoring the hyperbole surrounding the words ‘huge hole’ for a second, any concerns that linger because Silfverberg may need time on the farm should be erased when you remember that Jason Spezza spent considerable time last season playing with the distinguished trio of Colin Greening, Bobby Butler and Nikita Filatov.

Speaking of the latter, it was just last summer that we were expecting him to thrive under the opportunity that a new and rebuilding organization could afford him. Unlike Silfverberg this season, you could have made the argument that had Filatov struggled last year, the Senators had a group of unknowns trying to compliment Spezza.

Using DobberHockey.com’s resources, Jason Spezza played 52.63% of his even strength shifts with Milan Michalek and one of Bobby Butler (12.43%), Nikita Filatov (1.29%) or Colin Greening (38.91%). And somehow, despite their offensive shortcomings (and our fear of the unknown), Spezza still managed to finish the season fourth in league scoring.

That ‘huge hole’ that Brennan referred to is actually a trio of players who while playing with Spezza and Michalek, were on the ice for a combined 33 goals for. (Note: Michalek/Spezza/Greening were on the ice for 15 even strength goals and 6 power play goals. Michalek/Spezza/Butler were on the ice for 10 even strength goals and one power play goal. Filatov’s inclusion on the first line produced one lonely even strength goal.)

It’s not like the bar is set high and Silfverberg is trying to replicate Dany Heatley’s production levels. These are very replaceable totals, but even in the event that he struggles, at least the fear of the unknown is removed. The organization has the depth and familiarity that it lacked last season. There is a Greening. There is a Latendresse. There is a Regin. And at the risk of marginalizing the team’s second line, Paul MacLean can even bump Alfie up to the first line.

Headache #2:

There is also concern, at least from outside the Senators’ offices, about their cap situation. Things may change with the new collective bargaining agreement — when and if that ever gets done — but right now the floor is somewhere around $54 million. According to Capgeek.com, only the NHL-owned Phoenix Coyotes and often confusing New York Islanders have spent less on salaries than the Senators, who have $50,208,333 going to 20 players.

How are they going to find a way to spend another $4 million? They can move closer to the floor, if they carry another two forwards (to give them 14) and a defenceman (putting seven on their roster).

Floor problems?

Zzzzzzzzzzzzz, more like bore problems.

Given the uncertainty of what parameters the new CBA will unfurl, I’m going to give the organization the benefit of the doubt and assume that management and ownership have a better grasp of how the floor situation is going to be handled than we do. Reflecting on the number of teams that are also below the floor, it’s not something that I would lose too much sleep over.

Headache #3:

Not enough of it was made at the time, but the Senators blew it by not re-signing defenceman Matt Carkner. Nobody knew at the time — not even Carkner — that the Islanders would go overboard by giving him a three year deal worth $4.5 million. Before becoming a free agent, all Carkner was asking from the Senators was a two-year contract worth $1.6 million. He simply wanted an extra year, from what was offered, as a little bit of a guarantee for him and his family, to keep playing in his hometown. But the Senators were too worried about the condition of his damaged knee.

The re-signing Carkner suggestion is like taking an Aleve. Sure, the organization would get some fast acting relief for something that ails it (cap floor room) but that relief is only temporary.

Signing a veteran like Carkner, at the expense of a Mike Lundin or the NHL development of a prospect like Mark Borowiecki (or even Patrick Wiercioch), ultimately isn’t worth what the Isles ponied up. With the team’s expected improvement from a talent perspective, Carkner’s limited skillset and health concerns led the organization to think better of getting diminishing returns on their investment.

Assistant GM Tim Murray put it best by saying this about Carkner’s three-year deal:

“Well, I think at the end of the day, we might have went two years. We didn’t offer that until he started talking to other teams obviously. Hey, we all like Matt and just to get it out of the way, I don’t begrudge Matt whatsoever. He has worked extremely hard (and spent) a lot of years in the minors. He goes now at $4.5M and sometimes, that’s the incentive for the player. If a guy has made money all the way up all along his career and has been in the NHL at 22 or 23 years old, you can pick and choose different situations. And I think that he probably picked the right situation. I think he picked it based on finances and I think he picked it… he’s always going to be competitive and that’s not going to change. His chances of winning there are probably are a little less than if he had chosen to go a different route. And that’s fine. He has worked hard. He finally got a pretty big paycheck here and he’s looked after his family here for the foreseeable future for sure… if he’s smart with his money – which I know Matt is. There’s never going to be a bad word said about him. Now do we wish that he stayed with us for a little less money and a little less term? Of course. We’re selfish. We like guys like that but certainly, there are different reasons that scared us off from that.”

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