Once the Ottawa Senators were eliminated from the playoffs, the biggest question on the minds of Ottawa Senators fans was "will the Senators keep Anton Volchenkov?" Lately, though, it seems the question has shifted to "What can the Ottawa Senators do when Volchenkov leaves?" Though it's not set in stone, it certainly seems as if Anton Volchenkov's time with the Ottawa Senators is finished, leaving behind a defense corps that looks younger and sketchier than fans would prefer.
Yes, this blueline is looking a little green.
As it stands, the Senators have four defensemen signed to one-way contracts, which means they are very likely going to be in the NHL next season, and probably with Ottawa: Chris Phillips, Filip Kuba, Matt Carkner, and Brian Lee. Add in Erik Karlsson -- a lock on the roster if there ever was one -- and that's five defensemen set for next year.
Heading towards July 1st, both Anton Volchenkov and Andy Sutton are Unrestricted Free Agents, while Chris Campoli is a Restricted Free Agent. As mentioned, it looks less likely each day that Anton Volchenkov will re-sign in Ottawa, and Andy Sutton's plans are even more mysterious -- hardly a word has leaked about if The Expert wants to stay in Ottawa.
Signing Campoli seems like a no-brainer, given his strong conclusion to the season and excellent play during the playoffs: Campoli was the only Senators defenseman (and one of only four players on the team) to finish on the positive side of +/- during the series against the Penguins. Furthermore, it should easy to sign him to a cheap contract because his stats are, for the most part, fairly underwhelming for a defenseman that does not make up for those numbers with a physical defensive game.
Operating on the assumption that Chris Campoli is signed, it leaves the Ottawa Senators working with the following defense corps (pairings made at random):
Phillips - Karlsson
Kuba - Lee
Campoli - Carkner
I don't know about you, but this is not a group that instills confidence in me -- especially given that the goaltending tandem will still be Elliott/Leclaire. The primary weakness here is what you'd expect from a team that just lost Anton Volchenkov and Andy Sutton: a lack of toughness. Outside of Carkner and Phillips, this is not the type of group that causes opposing teams to fear entering your zone, nor is it one that looks like it can put forward two solid penalty-killing units. This leaves the following five options:
- Ottawa sticks with this group to start the season.
- Volchenkov or Sutton re-sign with the club.
- Highly touted defense prospects Patrick Wiercioch and Jared Cowen impress at training camp, and one stays up with the club.
- GM Bryan Murray makes a trade or picks up a free-agent defenseman on July 1st.
- Murray trades Jason Spezza for the similarly-priced Wade Redden.
The importance of a solid defense cannot be understated, and it will be interesting to see how Murray works with his current hand. In terms of what Murray is paying for his current defense corps, Ottawa is actually situated pretty well: Carkner provides a fine value at $700K, Phillips and Kuba are priced fairly at 3.5M and 3.7M respectively, while Karlsson's 1.3M will likely be a steal if he continues to put up the kind of numbers he did at the end of the season. To be entirely honest, the biggest concern fans should have is not necessarily the Senators' current defensive lineup: it's that the team's cap-friendly blueline will be harmed with an overpriced free agent signing on July 1st, adding another bad contract to further handcuff the club.
That being said, what is your take on the team's blueline? If you're Bryan Murray, what would you do?