The $56 Million Question

[Hello to you Hammers coming over from Iain Dale’s blog.  Just thought I’d let you know I’m a Spurs supporter.  We don’t need Bellamy because Keane is on his way back to White Hart Lane]

I’m quite aware that this will reveal that I require medication for my schizophrenia, but I’m going to show you here how the Senators can go about their offseason without blowing up the whole shittin’ works.  This after my assertion that the team was crap.  Well, I took care of the denial portion of my grief while the team was still playing so I was able to jump right to anger.  Aren’t emotions fun?!  I still like our talent and I think the adjustments really just need to come in the attitude department and defensive stylings. 

First of all, I’m going to make a few assumptions:  Ray Emery will not be back (Murray has said as much).  And Randy Robitaille has zero chance of returning.  This is based on what I know of him from his time with the Wild and a bit of inside info on how well liked he was in Ottawa (measured in negative terms).  Luke Richardson will retire.  I don’t know this, but I’ll be shocked if he’s in the equation next year.  I will further assume that the salary cap is going to the rumoured $56 million and that the Senators will want to be $2 million under the cap for flexibility with callups and trades.  The target is $54 million in salaries (for those of you with an arithmetic challenge)

Below is a salary schedule of players both currently under contract and those scheduled to be either UFA or RFA.  The first column shows their current salary and in the second column is where I hope to generate some discussion.  This column has “salaries committed” in regular type.  The bold and italic numbers are what I, Al Willig The GM, would be willing to pay this player to bring them back.  Yes, at this point, I’m just going to take these guys’ words at face value and assume that all of these players want to come back.  And, with only 1 exception, if these unsigned players are not willing to play for the dollar figures I’ve outlined, I don’t want them back.  This is not to say that they would not be offered more money on the open market.  This is what I feel these players are worth to the Senators.


POS Name 2007-08 2008-09
D Wade Redden 6,500,000 3,500,000
RW Dany Heatley 4,500,000 7,500,000
C Jason Spezza 4,500,000 7,000,000
RW Daniel Alfredsson 4,338,996 4,338,996
G Martin Gerber 3,700,000 3,700,000
D Chris Phillips 3,500,000 3,500,000
D Anton Volchenkov 2,500,000 2,500,000
C Mike Fisher 1,500,000 4,200,000
C Chris Kelly 1,265,000 2,000,000
RW Chris Neil 1,100,000 1,100,000
C/LW Antoine Vermette 1,000,000 2,500,000
D Andrei Meszaros 984,200 1,200,000
RW Shean Donovan 925,000 1,000,000
D Christoph Shubert 883,333 883,333
C/LW Dean McAmmond 875,000 875,000
RW Brian McGrattan 525,000 550,000
LW Nick Foglino 850,000 850,000
D Mike Commodore 1,250,000 2,200,000
LW Cory Stillman 1,750,000 2,500,000
D Brian Lee 1,275,000 1,275,000
C Cody Bass 513,333 513,333
D Lawrence Nycholat 550,000 550,000
RW Martin Lapointe 2,400,000 1,500,000
C Alex Nikulin 833,333 833,333
G Backup Goalie   1,000,000
  Emery Buyout   562,500
  Total 47,968,195 58,131,495
  Committed Salary   41,181,495

Now the first thing you should be noticing is that Wade Redden is still on the list.  The second thing you should notice is that there are 25 players on this schedule, which is probably 3 more than the Senators would carry, so, there is automatically some cushion built in.  Lastly, you should note that there are only 8 defensemen on the list; the minimum number the team would want to have going into the season, so if any of them take their services elsewhere, there would have to be some dabbling the UFA market to fill the hole.  Let’s address the players not under contract. I’ll take them in the order of least controversial to most controversial.

Brian McGratton:  Some have suggested that McGratton will be looking for a big raise.  I would suggest that McGratton should be happy with a job in the NHL.  Pugilists who are healthy scratches down the stretch and in the playoffs don’t deserve big raises.  $550,000 really should be enough (barring ignorance displayed by the writer of collective bargaining requirements for veterans).  The guys love Grats, so the team should want him back.

Cory Stillman:  Stillman was a pretty large bargain at $1,750,000.  He’s a classy vet with real playmaking skills which is something we’ve been lacking on the second line.  And, he can man the point of the power play.  He’ll turn 35 during the next season (a year younger than Alfie), and his 65 points this year suggest he has some very good hockey left in him.  His words indicate that he wants to play in Canada and he’s said specifically that he wants to be back with the Senators. He clearly deserves a raise and $2.5 million is a good number for him.  I could see the Sens going as high as $3 million to keep him around, but perhaps there’s a little discount to be had.  (hey, you can always hope)

Mike Commodore:  Two or three weeks ago, Commodore wanted nothing to do with coming back to the Senators.  As of the end of the season, he’s seriously reconsidering that position.  This is his first shot at free agency, so it will be interesting to see if he’s intent on testing that.  The market for defensemen is such that even average players get some real cha ching.  Vitaly Vishnevsky is making $1.4 million and I see them as fairly similar players, but I’m sure he can get better money than that on the open market.    

Marty Lapointe:  I really hope the Senators bring Lapointe back; not because he’s the most effective hockey player on the planet anymore, but because he brings an element that this team so dearly needs.  He still has enough game to add value with his work in front of the net, but where I really see him being an influence is in practice.  Lapointe is the kind of guy who will lay out a teammate during a practice session if he feels they’re not working.  Alfie does a great job of leading by example.  Lapointe will lead by making you feel it.  I’m sure he didn’t feel like he had enough time with the team to do that with the 2007.2008 version of the Senators.  I guarantee you he would have no problem next year.  He’s worth a million and a half.

Shean Donovan:  Donovan really started to assert himself during the playoffs.  He showed real hustle and was looking to take the body.  He’s a well above average skater and has good size.  The biggest question I have is Why the hell wasn’t he more effective all season?  I’m from Missouri on Donovan.  I want him to show me something for a whole season.  With that in mind, I wouldn’t offer him more than $1 million, which is still a raise from what he was getting.  The Shean Donovan we had in this regular season is a dime a dozen. 

Antoine Vermette:  This is the one that Murray really needs to get done before July 1.  When I thnk of the stretch run and playoffs, Vermette is the guy I think of really stepping up for the last 10 games.  He was finally given a larger offensive role and I was proud of the way he grasped the brass ring with inspired play.  If they don’t get him signed before July 1, there is a risk that someone would come in with an offer sheet.  Here’s how I would deal with Vermette.  First, I would tell him that he needs to hit the weight room so he can be stronger on the puck.  Then, I would tell him that we’re willing to sign him for 3-6 years at $2.5 million per season.  If that doesn’t interest him, offer him $2 million for one year with a promise to take care of him with a long term extension at $4 million/season if he gets 35 goals or 70 points next season.   The danger is Vermette tells them to stuff it and he receives the offer sheet.  If he is offered $4 million, the Senators would receive a first, second and third round pick and I’d think they’d have to let him go.  If you’re going to commit $4 million to a player, you better be sure that he will be an effective 2nd liner at worst (or Mike Fisher….or Johnny Madden). 

Chris Kelly:  When I think of defensively effective 3rd line forwards, the first names that leap to mind are Sammi Pahlsson, John Madden, Jere Lehtinen, and Mike Fisher.  Chris Kelly is a notch below this group because he’s not as offensively gifted as Fisher and Lehtinen and he’s not as physical as Fisher, Madden or Pahlsson.  He’s as smart and responsible as any of them.  Fisher, Lehtinen and Madden make $4 million.  Pahlsson makes a paltry $1.4 million.  I really believe $2 million is the right number for him.  Chris, you’re not as good as Pahlsson, but we really like you.  How many years do you want at $2 million?

Andrei Meszaros and Wade Redden:  It’s no accident that Meszaros and Redden are the last two players on my list.  No two players drew more ire from the (mostly) faithful, than these two.  Neither were….uh, how should we say…..inspiring with their play this year.  The falloff of their defensive play is simply puzzling.  You’ve always been able to count on one bad giveaway/game from Redden, but this year, it was surprising when it wasn’t two or three.  In his case you can almost understand it a little.  He was three times asked to waive his no trade clause (not the twice that is widely reported).  I can see that taking a toll on the psyche of someone.  I’m sure there are players who would let it roll off their backs and just perform and maybe this says something a bit unflattering about Wade.  But, when he’s happy and comfortable, he’s still an elite talent.  Meszaros has no excuse (that I know of).  Offensively, I might even be charitable and say he’s taken a step forward in his development.  He looked for his offense much more than in the past and when the Senators really just need to get the puck to the net on the power play, he took it upon himself to do just that.  But, his positioning and brutal giveaways were 8 steps backwards and that is most disquieting.  Here’s the upside:  Andrei is only 22 years old and I think a lot of people forget that when thinking about Meszaros because he’s had 3 years of 35+ points; it seems like he’s been with us longer than he has.  How many 22 year old defenseman are fully developed?  Even Phaneuf whom people drool over, still makes a ton of mistakes.  There’s certainly enough to like about what we’ve seen from Meszaros over 3 years to continue working with the young man. 

Andrei, you’re a good person.  You show a lot of promise, but you need to show us you’re going to develop a more solid defensive game.  We’ll give you a year at $1.2 and offer you a 3 year extension at $2.5 million at mid-season if you’re defensive development is back on track. 

As with Vermette, this is a dangerous strategy.  Someone out there is willing to take a chance on a 22 year old defenseman with his history and upside potential.  I could easily see a $3 million offer sheet for Meszaros.  My guess is Murray would decide to match it (which makes my spreadsheet just another piece of paper in the bin). 

Redden and Murray are both saying the right things.  Wade wants to stay and Murray wants him back.  However, I don’t believe the Senators have the ability or will to pay him more than $3.5 million and I don’t believe Redden has much desire to accept a $3 million pay cut.   Not when he has a $6.5 million house in Kelowna (that’s British Columbia for the geographically challenged; nowhere near Ottawa).  It’s just too big of a stretch.  But Wade, if ending your career with the Senators is at all a priority for you, I think we can give you 5 years at this number.  (please keep the expletives to a minimum)

The way I see it, the Senators will be looking for one defenseman for sure and possibly two.  I also predict the end of Christoph Schubert as a 4th line forward.  I wouldn’t put it past Murray to deal for either a goalie or a defensman, but honestly, if we went into the season with the forward lines of:

Spezza, Heatley, Vermette
Alfie, Fisher, Stillman
Kelly, Foglino, Bass
McAmmond, Lapointe, Donovan, McGratton

I would be absolutely fine with that.  As far as the goalie situation goes, Murray has come right out and said that Spezza and Heatley are not going to be traded, so just forget about the Luongo for Spezza thing or a deal for any of the other top 6 goalies in the league.  (anyone else feeling a little sick that we could have had Bryzgalov for a 2nd round pick?)  And if you haven’t figured out that Murray worships the ground that Alfie walks on, you’re not really paying attention and for the money we pay him, he’s a blue light special:  He’s not going anywhere…..EVER.  Would the Senators trade a few young players and draft picks for a top notch goalie?  Probably, but I don’t see a lot of teams out there standing in line to part with their top notch goaltending.  Murray has already said that he would prefer Elliott start the year with 30 games as the number 1 in Bingo.  You may as well start preparing yourself now for a year of (hopefully) Darth Gerber (not the Swiss Miss).  I’m not sure exactly how I feel about that.  I really want to have confidence in the man, but even if he was the best player for the Senators in this playoff year, he still gave up 16 goals in 4 games.  I know that a majority of those were not his fault.  It’s just that you’d like to feel that your goalie can steal a game here or there and you just don’t see Gerbs pulling it off.  Now, having said that, here’s a (probably partial) list of potential UFA goalies:

Curtis Joseph, Jose Theodore, Johan Holmqvist, Dominik Hasek, Dan Ellis, Ty Conklin, Olie Kolzig, Christobal Huet. 

  • Joseph is no one’s answer for a number 1 goaltender anymore. 
  • Theodore is intriguing but he was completely awful for two years before seemingly finding his game this year again.  Do we really want to take a chance on a guy who seems to only play well when his contract is coming to an end??  I’m nowhere near there.  How about you?
  • Holmqvist is a guy I wouldn’t cringe over if he was a backup for Gerbs, but not as a number 1.
  • Hasek…been there, burned the tape in effigy
  • Ellis is certainly intriguing with his play of late, and Mason is set to make $3 million next year.  The Preds may be looking at a Senators type situation with two goalies making $3 million and no clear cut starter.  My money is still on the Preds signing Ellis.
  • Conklin (see Holmqvist)
  • Kolzig (see Conklin)
  • Huet is another intriguing guy, but his play in the series with the Flyers has underwhelmed me.  I wouldn’t call it bad, but much like Gerber, he hasn’t been a difference maker.  As with Theodore, I don’t think we want to offer him the term or dollars he is going to be asking for. 

Alright…I’ve wasted enough of your time.  Discuss.


6 Responses to “The $56 Million Question”

  1. canesfan Says:

    Commodore would have been a bargain at $500,000 if he had actually made that but he really made $1.3 million. See Doubtful that he’s going to sign for the $1.2 you think Ottawa should offer in his first year of UFA.

  2. freewillig Says:

    I realize that there would appear to be some equity issues when comparing the salary of Kelly to those of Vermette and Stillman, but I’m comfortable with the strategies employed.

  3. freewillig Says:

    “Commodore would have been a bargain at $500,000 if he had actually made that but he really made $1.3 million”

    Uhhh…yeah, about that. Looks like my attention to detail is lacking a bit. I’ll have to fix that and re-think.

  4. Senators Lost Cojones Says:

    Sorry to disagree Al (well, okay, maybe not so much), but the only way Reds plays $3M less than last year is if someone hits him of the head with The Reality Stick. Somebody will make a run at him in the 7-7.5M range (Kevin Lowe, I’m looking at you).

    And the only way he plays for Ottawa at all, is if I am physically prevented by a number of very large men from entering The Bryan’s office and bitch slapping some sense into him.

  5. freewillig Says:

    I don’t even think you ARE disagreeing with me, really. I don’t think there’s really much chance at all that Redden would sign with Ottawa for $3.5 million. It’s just what I think I would be willing to sign him for to stay in Ottawa. I still think he can be an effective player (so maybe that’s where we disagree). I’ve been thinking all along that Redden won’t have to take a pay cut if he doesn’t want to. But honestly, it never occured to me that he might get MORE than he’s currently making. I just don’t see it happening, especially not in Edmonton since they already have Souray and Pitkanen, who I honestly believe is not far away from being a better player than Redden already. I respect your desire to simply have him gone. There are definitely times when players just need to move along (Hiya Patty Lalime), but I’m not there with Redden (yet). I think we’re nuts if he really wants to stay and we can get him for that amount to not put ink to paper.

    There is no way all of this will happen, but some combination of it is certainly a possibility. I really just wanted to start a conversation about what these guys are worth to the Senators (or in general, if that’s where people want to go).

    This post really just addresses what’s possible. I may change my tune completely on one guy if one of the other guys is cut loose. For instance, if we trade Vermette and don’t get a solid 2nd liner back, I sure as hell don’t want to lose Stillman. Quality (or even average) Dmen are a pretty scarce commodity.

  6. Kelly O Says:

    Just curious about your comment, “Randy Robitaille has zero chance of returning. This is based on what I know of him from his time with the Wild and a bit of inside info on how well liked he was in Ottawa (measured in negative terms).”

    Obviously, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out Robitaille will not likely be back with the Sens due to his lack of production, but will you please share your source of “inside info” (i.e., not asking for a name, just whether your inside source is a Sens player, staffer, or management type) and why they think so negatively of him? Is he a source of problems in the locker room — if so, can you please elaborate? Just curious as I’ve followed his career for a while. Feel free to e-mail me if you don’t want to take this public.

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