After failing to add Vincent Lecavalier in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers, the Senators moved on to their next target on their list, unrestricted free agent center, David Legwand.
It’s a good thing Legwand signed because the Senators’ list of preferred players resembles the draft order from the 1998 NHL Draft. No one would have wanted to see the Senators strike out on both Lecavalier (first overall selection) and Legwand (second overall selection) before settling on the next available forward, Rico Fata.
In signing a two-year, $6 million deal, David Legwand’s contract isn’t offensive. In addition to the $866,000 that Alex Chiasson is earning, the addition of Legwand’s salary means that the salary the Senators had earmarked for Jason Spezza is now gone and continues the dollars in and dollars out approach to roster construction that we’ve been over the past few months (ie. how the Senators acquired Ales Hemsky).
Legwand will earn $2.5 million this season and $3.5 million in the second season of his deal for a cap hit of $3.0 million.
Last season, the 33-year old center 14 goals and 51 points in 83 games split between the Nashville Predators and the Detroit Red Wings – the latter acquired him at the trade deadline for Patrick Eaves, Calle Jarnkrok and a conditional draft pick that became a second rounder.
Legwand adds some experience down the middle to a group that already included Kyle Turris, Mika Zibanejad and Zack Smith, but his presence ensures that if Derek Grant and Jean-Gabriel Pageau are to crack the roster out of training camp, they will have to do it as wingers.
He also brings the leadership and character that Bryan Murray loves to talk about.
“David is a good veteran centre,” said Senators GM Bryan Murray. “He skates pretty well, he gets up and down the ice. He’s an experienced guy who can fill either the top or bottom of the lineup.
“He’s been a captain and a leader so we know we’re getting a good person. We just think the way things shook out for us, having an experienced centre that can be a decent faceoff man, be a good defensive player and get points was very important at this time.”
Even in his younger days, Legwand was never be considered a game-breaking talent, but is his addition a good one?
With dogged rumours suggesting that Patrick Wiercioch could be made available in a deal to acquire a forward, it’s easy to praise the deal from an asset management perspective since money was the only asset the Senators had to use to acquire Legwand and one of Ottawa’s most underrated players still remains Senators property.
There will always be those who question whether or not the Senators may have been better off had the money spent on Milan Michalek or Legwand been used differently and those voices are only going to grow louder if either player struggles over the length of their respective contracts.
This money possibly could have been spent better, but that’s just speculation without knowing the full context. As outsiders, it’s impossible to know which free agents the Senators were actually in on or had any interest in signing here. It’s not as simple as saying, “We should have signed (insert player name here) because of how much he signed for with (insert team name here).”
After years of coaching against him in his days as an assistant coach in Detroit, Paul MacLean should be pretty familiar with Legwand. In his conference call with the media, that familiarity was something Legwand acknowledged was a factor in his decision to sign with Ottawa.
“We had other options. I think Ottawa is a place where I liked the coaching staff, I played against Paul MacLean a lot when he was with Detroit and obviously with Jason Spezza leaving I thought it was a good fit for myself. Obviously they have a great group of young hockey players and they’ve got a top five defenceman in the League and guys up front like Clarke MacArthur, Kyle Turris, Bobby Ryan, Milan Michalek and those guys are great hockey players. It’s an exciting time there and it should be a good season for us.”
Keeping that in mind, it will be intriguing to see how MacLean manages the minutes of his centers.
Here is a look at the ice time and faceoff success rate the centers had in 2013/14:
For contrast’s sake, Jason Spezza averaged 18:12 of ice time per game and won 54.0 percent success rate in the faceoff circle.
The Senators will unquestionably miss having Spezza for key faceoff situations, but following the Spezza trade, general manager Bryan Murray optimistically proclaimed that he envisions Mika Zibanejad developing into a number one center which would ideally allow the organization to continue slotting Kyle Turris in as the team’s second line center.
Whether Zibanejad is ready to assume that role now is uncertain, but I would expect him to be the beneficiary of Spezza’s lost minutes and should see a marked jump in his average ice time.
In Legwand’s mind however, he sees himself playing in that prominent second line role.
“I think I can take up the second line centre spot and play good minutes for the team and help out in all areas of the game. Whether it’s the power play or penalty kill or 5-on-5 I think I can help and helping out with the young guys who are just coming in. They’ve got some solid prospects in their system that are up and coming too.”
Looking at his underlying numbers, Legwand’s past seven seasons have been a bit of a mixed bag – good seasons interspersed with some bad and his last good season from a puck possession standpoint was two seasons ago. It’s worth keeping in mind however that Legwand’s usage has been that of a defensive center – playing tough minutes against the opposition’s best forwards and with a low percentage of his shifts starting in the offensive zone.
I don’t envision his role changing much now that he’s in Ottawa.
He’s a decent player on a very reasonable contract and if his presence on the roster means having to see less of the Colin Greening, Zack Smith and Chris Neil line in crunch time minutes late in the third period, all the better.
At 33 years of age, the risk of a decline in play will be there, but there’s been enough consistency in his game and numbers to suggest that he can be an effective player for the Senators. And should the Senators struggle this season and be out of the playoff picture, Legwand is precisely the kind of short-term veteran player that teams love to overpay for at the trade deadline.
I only have two concerns: one is for Mika Zibanejad’s development and how much of Ottawa’s future success is tied into whether he can develop into a legitimate first or second line center; and two, I wonder if the Senators are too good to be a bottom dweller (which carries the benefit of having better odds at drafting someone like a Jack Eichel or a Connor McDavid), but not good enough to be a playoff team.
On the first point, eventually the Senators will need to aggressively challenging Zibanejad’s development by giving him more responsibility and top six ice time.
Whether the Senators will afford him that opportunity, because they admittedly are trying to win now, remains to be seen, but there is no question that Legwand is the older and established player. He’s the safe short-term fix.
In a way, it’s kind of like the Legwand signing is a microcosm of the problem in Ottawa. They have an eye on the short-term fix without ever really embracing the idea that the team may be better served in the long run to patiently develop its young players and add more blue chip talent to the young depth that they have already assembled.
It may be in Ottawa’s best interests to take one-step back to take two steps forward.
Another Trade in the Works?
In the same Ottawa Sun Legwand article that I linked to earlier, Tim Baines noted that the Senators are still talking trade in hopes of making another deal.
“We continue to talk,” said Murray. “We’ve had discussions about a trade that have gone on for a period of time. It’s just a matter if we can get satisfaction both ways.
Maybe I shelved my fears that Patrick Wiercioch could be dealt too soon.