At the risk of offending Alan Walsh, I’m going to outline why it is in management’s best interests to entertain the idea of trading Milan Michalek.
In light of the Senators unexpected success this season, on the surface, it might seem crazy to consider moving the team’s leading goal scorer. Nevertheless, as I will outline, there are some legitimate reasons for looking into what the market would hold for the 35 goal scorer.
1) Ottawa Would Be Selling High
With 35 goals and 60 points, statistically Milo had the second most productive season of his career. While he established a new personal record for goals in a season, besting his previous high of 26, he did however ultimately fall short of his career regular season high of 66 points that he set during the 2006/07 campaign.
2) Inflated Numbers?
While Michalek’s totals may look impressive on the surface, the underlying numbers indicate that they’re inflated.
According to Behindthenet.ca, amongst Senators regulars, Michalek’s 61.5% offensive zone start metric was more than any Senator forward. (Note: Offensive Zone Start % = Offensive Zone Starts / (Offensive Zone Starts + Defensive Zone Starts)
Of Michalek’s 5-on-5 ice-time, most of it was spent playing with Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson. Of his 1,123 5v5 minutes, Spezza was on the ice for 80.3% of that time and Erik Karlsson was on the ice for 52.7% of that time. In other words, Michalek benefitted from spending the bulk of his even strength minutes playing with Ottawa’s two most dynamic offensive talents. To put these percentages into perspective, last season he only played with Spezza 33.6% of the time and Karlsson 38.4% of the time.
He also led the league in empty net goals with 5 and was finally able to stay relatively healthy. After two consecutive seasons of playing in 66 games with the Senators, Michalek played in 77 games for the Senators. His shooting percentage (16.5%) was almost 4.0% higher than his career average (12.7%) and 3.0% higher than his previous career high (13.5%). It would be reasonable to expect that next season’s figure will regress to the mean. This year was its own microcosm of what’s to come, Michalek was shooting upwards of 20% in the first few months and predictability cooled off towards game 82.
Assuming that there is a next season, which brings me to…
3) Contract Situation
According to Capgeek.com, Milan has two years left on his six-year contract that carries an annual average value (AAV) of $4.333 million per season. Like it has in each of the past four seasons, Michalek’s real dollar value (what the club actually pays him) has incrementally increased. Next season, he will earn $4.75 million before earning $6.0 million in the last year of his deal.
From a fiscal perspective, without knowing what the constraints of the next CBA will bring, it should be easier to move Michalek this offseason before he enters the last season of a deal that owes him a lot of ‘real dollars’. Moreover, if there actually is a work stoppage, would the Senators be comfortable retaining Michalek for what could essentially be a season and a half of hockey.
Michalek does not turn 28 until December 7th, 2012, but generally speaking, a player’s performance or production usually peaks between 26 to 28 years of age. Since Michalek’s already at the latter portion of that threshold and will be 29 years of age when he hits unrestricted free agency, the organization should question whether it would be prudent to sign Michalek to an extension. Given his age and his susceptibility to injury given his style of play, I believe it would be difficult for the organization to get good contractual value for a player who will likely looking for his last big payday. Should Ottawa re-sign him, the law of diminishing returns will begin to apply.
5) Heir Apparents?
As much as I would like to pencil in Jakob Silfverberg, Mika Zibanejad and Mark Stone as future cornerstones on the team’s first or second line, the David Rundblad trade is a humble reminder to fans of just how quickly things can change. In saying that however, despite this season’s production, Michalek has only averaged 25 goals and 42.3 points per season since joining Ottawa. While the goal totals are nice, those are very replaceable numbers that can hopefully be replaced from an internal option who could benefit from spending an entire season flanking Spezza.
6) Bigger Needs
With the uncertainty surrounding Ottawa’s blueline – Kuba (UFA), Gilroy (UFA), Carkner (UFA), Gonchar (one year left on his contract) and Phillips (age) – the Sens only have two significant building blocks on the blueline in Karlsson and Jared Cowen. Sure, there are others like Mark Borowiecki and Patrick Wiercioch within the system, but at this point in time, neither prospect carries a projectable high ceiling.
Michalek could be an enticing trade chip for some desperate GM (and look at how many first round playoff upsets there were, they’re out there) looking to sell tickets or make a short-sighted move.
Please note that I’m not throwing Michalek under the bus here. I think he’s a very useful and likeable player. In saying that however, I think he’s far more valuable as a trade chip that can be used to augment the Ottawa Senators’ current young core. Milan scored the 11th most goals in the NHL this season, his previous best ranking in that category is 66th when he scored 26 in 06-07. Among a pretty barren free agent wasteland Michalek is an attractive piece. In his presser yesterday Murray expressly said he’s looking to add a veteran defenseman, a trade might be the best way to get there.