Saturday, May 1, 2010

On the defensive

Most elite teams in the League have
at least one all-star defenseman. Detroit has Lidstrom, San Jose has Boyle, Pittsburgh has Gonchar, Washington has Green, Chicago has Keith...the list really goes on. Ottawa will one day have Karlsson as our elite, go-to guy, but he's not quite there yet. For now, our anchor in the back end is Anton Volchenkov, a shot-blocking machine and probably the best goalie, let alone defenseman, Ottawa has ever had.

The sad truth is that we've probably already seen the A-Train's last game in a Senators jersey. Since rejecting a 5-year, $20M offer shortly after the Olympics, negotiations haven't looked too promising from an outsider's perspective. It's rumoured that he's looking for $5M a season, definitely a hefty price tag for a one-dimensional defensive defenseman, albeit one of the best in the League.

Comparing numbers between Volchenkov and defensemen with similar stats:

--Anton Volchenkov: 64 games, 153 hits, 172 blocked shots, UFA (made 2.5M in 2009/10)

--Stephane Robidas:82 games, 269 hits, 177 blocked shots, 3.3M

--Andy Sutton: 72 games, 197 hits, 204 blocked shots, UFA (made 3M in 2009/10)

--Dennis Seidenberg: 79 games, 166 hits, 215 blocked shots, UFA (made 2.2M in 2009/10)

--Brett Clark: 64 games, 55 hits, 162 blocked shots, UFA (made 3.5M in 2009/10)

--Zbynek Michalek: 72 games, 80 hits, 156 blocked shots, UFA (made 1.2M in 2009/10)

Considering the amount of games he's played, it's pretty impressive that Volchenkov finished 8th in the league in blocked shots this season, behind Seidenberg, Sutton, Keith Ballard, Greg Zanon, Chris Pronger, Dan Girardi and Robidas. The list above clearly shows that the market for shot-blocking defensemen is very rich this year. Volchenkov is an important part of our blue-line, obviously, but we really can't afford him if he wants anything more than 4.5M, and I'd be willing to bet that if he doesn't, one of the UFAs with similar numbers will.

As for Andy Sutton, we all saw him completely devour Leopold's soul in the playoffs. That's the exception to the rule, though. Aside from his occasional big hit, he's looked slow and out of the play quite often. I wouldn't mind keeping him on, but nothing more than $2M a season, a figure that I doubt he'll take.

So where does that leave our defense? Ideally, we could sign both Sutton and Volchenkov for $6M and be set in terms of shut-down guys. But that's just a pipe dream. Realistically, I think both Volchenkov and Andy "Are you an expert?" Sutton will walk, freeing up some cash to go after a similar defenseman. It wouldn't surprise me to see BM go after Michalek, in the hopes that having his brother, Milan, here will make Ottawa an easier sell. I wouldn't want him to go after Seidenberg, the price will be way too high. Paul Martin from New Jersey would also be worth considering, and since he's coming off an injury-reduced season, the price would probably be a bit cheaper. The question that has to be asked, though, is whether or not he's damaged goods. The last name I'll throw out is Dan Hamhuis, who Nashville has not yet re-signed and who could probably be had for a bit cheaper than the others.

The same names will be thrown out countless times before July 1st and/or Ottawa's re-signing of Volchenkov/Sutton. But count on Murray to try for one of them. Every team with high aspirations has a high-level defenseman. If we hope to stay competitive for the next few years, we'll need a guy who can inspire confidence back there. God knows the goalies aren't doing it for us.

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