Yesterday, I had the temerity to suggest that not only was the Ottawa Senators' current salary expenditure not hurting the team, but that spending more wouldn't solve their problems--there's no direct correlation between spending money and success. Spending money is a tool, not a panacea, and spending wisely is the name of the game.
Which brings us to today. Where does the group that is wailing and gnashing their teeth want the team to spend money? On defense, of course. To a man, the Senators' defense has been brutal this year. Erik Karlsson gets a pass because he's such an offensive wizard, but as we saw again last night, Karlsson is far from infallible defensively--his failure to block a pass directly led to the Minnesota Wild's first goal, and he was simply outmuscled by Dany Heatley for the third Wild goal.
Except we're going to pretend those gaffes didn't happen, because Jared Cowen has been declared this year's whipping boy. Cowen has struggled to start the season, so much so that criticism of his play has snowballed way beyond anything remotely resembling fair. And this is not to say that Cowen has played well--he's undeniably been the worst defenseman this season--but that the fanbase has become so focused on looking for things that Cowen is doing wrong (He can't do anything right at this point of the season. Even when he scored a huge goal against Boston, most comments were along the lines of "I'm still nervous every time he touches the puck.") that they're not even bothering to look at the play of the other defensemen, nor the forwards' play in their own zone.
The problem is Cowen. Anyone but Cowen. Get Cowen out and get a top-4 defenseman in and the entire universe will align itself in harmony and rainbows.
Let's assume, for a minute, that the team had the money to add a top-4 defenseman. Here's a list of this summer's UFAs, what their cap hits were, and where (if anywhere) they signed.
|Player||Team||Age||2012-13 Cap Hit||Notes|
|Lubomir Visnovsky||NYI||36||$5,600,000.00||Re-signed with the Islanders. 2 years, $9.5 million|
|Sergei Gonchar||DAL||38||$5,500,000.00||Re-signed with the Stars. 2 years, $10 million.|
|Ron Hainsey||WIN||31||$4,500,000.00||Signed with the Hurricanes, 1 year, $2 million|
|Mark Streit||PHI||35||$4,100,000.00||Signed with the Flyers. 4 years, $21 million|
|Robyn Regehr||LA||32||$4,020,000.00||Re-signed with the Kings. 2 years, $6 million|
|Marek Zidlicky||NJD||36||$4,000,000.00||Re-signed with the Devils. 1 year, $4 million|
|Rob Scuderi||LAK||34||$3,400,000.00||Signed with the Penguins. 4 years, $13.5 million|
|Jordan Leopold||STL||32||$3,000,000.00||Re-signed with the Blues. 2 years, $4.5 million|
|Anton Babchuk||CGY||28||$2,500,000.00||Signed in KHL|
|Douglas Murray||PIT||33||$2,500,000.00||Signed with the Canadiens, 1 year, $1.5M|
|Ladislav Smid||EDM||27||$2,250,000.00||Re-signed with the Oilers. 4 years, $14 million.|
|Andrew Ference||BOS||33||$2,250,000.00||Signed with the Oilers. 4 years, $13 million|
|Michal Rozsival||CHI||34||$2,000,000.00||Re-signed with the Blackhawks. 2 years, $4.4 million.|
|Joe Corvo||CAR||35||$2,000,000.00||Signed with the Senators. 1 year, $900,000.|
|Adam Pardy||BUF||28||$2,000,000.00||Signed with the Jets, 1 year, $600 thousand.|
|Francis Bouillon||MTL||37||$1,500,000.00||Re-signed with the Canadiens. 1 year, $1.5 million|
|Grant Clitsome||WIN||27||$1,250,000.00||Re-signed with the Blue Jackets. 3 years , $6.2 million|
|Scott Hannan||SJS||34||$1,000,000.00||Re-signed with the Sharks. 1 year, $1 million|
|Mike Mottau||TOR||34||$850,000.00||Signed with the Panthers. 1 year, $700,000|
|Alexander Sulzer||BUF||28||$725,000.00||Re-signed with the Sabres. 1 year, $725,000.|
|Matt Bartkowski||BOS||24||$660,000.00||Re-signed with the Bruins. 1 year, $650,000|
|Jack Hillen||WAS||27||$650,000.00||Re-signed with the Capitals. 2 years, $1.4 million|
|Matt Gilroy||NYR||28||$650,000.00||Signed with the Panthers. 1 year, $700,000.|
|Matt Irwin||SJS||25||$650,000.00||Re-signed with the Sharks. 2 years, $2 million|
|Aaron Johnson||BOS||29||$650,000.00||Signed with the Rangers. 1 year, $600,000|
|Andre Benoit||OTT||29||$650,000.00||Signed with the Avalanche. 1 year, $900,000|
|Davis Drewiske||MTL||28||$616,667.00||Re-signed with the Canadiens. 2 years, $1.275 million|
|Nick Holden||CLB||25||$550,000.00||Signed with the Avalanche. 2 years, $1.2 million|
|Ben Lovejoy||ANA||29||$525,000.00||Re-signed with the Ducks . 3 years, $3.3 million.|
|Nate Guenin||ANA||30||$525,000.00||Signed with the Avalanche. 1 year, $600,000|
|Peter Harrold||NJD||29||$525,000.00||Re-signed with the Devils. 2 years, $1.6 million.|
|Jordie Benn||DAL||25||$525,000.00||Re-signed with the Stars. 3 years, $2.1 million.|
Players in red did not reach the open market. As one can easily see, even if the Senators had the money to spend on a top-four player, there wasn't anyone worth spending the money on! The criticism of Cowen has led to a "grass is always greener" mentality, where we believe that literally anyone would be better. A quick look at the stats of the UFAs on this list should give anyone with any shred of objectiveness left to them reason to re-think that claim.
Could the Senators have traded for a top-4 defenseman? Probably not. They expended most of their assets in acquiring forward Bobby Ryan. Just about every team in the league is looking for top-4 defensemen. They don't come cheaply. It's possible now that the Senators might be able to move Cowen for some other underperforming youngster--the proverbial "change of scenery" trade--but the question is whether the team would be burned by moving a young asset so soon in his career. As we've seen with Kyle Turris and Tyler Seguin, throwing in the towel too soon on a prospect can wind up haunting a team.
Let's say, though, for argument's sake, that the team was able to find this ideal player (We'll call him Player A--the A is for "Awesome"). We can make a few assumptions:
1) Player A is not on a one-year deal. Max contract length is 8 years, minimum is one. We'll split the difference and call it four.
2) Player A will want to be paid like a top-four defenseman. Players like Brooks Orpik of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Zybnek Michalek (AKA the healthy one) of the Phoenix Coyotes give us a good idea of what a high-end top-4 defenseman makes. We'll call it $4M.
3) The league's salary cap will continue to rise. We'll use the most commonly projected numbers, even though I believe they're too conservative. The expected cap for next year is ~$70M, which would mean revenue of ~$3.725B. Assuming 5% year-over-year growth, that means in 2015-16, the salary cap will be approximately $76M.
4) Player salaries will continue to inflate as the cap increases.
In 2015-16, assuming the only free agent the Senators sign this offseason is RFA Robin Lehner, they will have to re-sign the following players at 2015-16 salaries:
- Jason Spezza
- Bobby Ryan
- Clarke MacArthur
- Erik Condra
- Mika Zibanejad
- Marc Methot
- Mark Borowiecki
- Craig Anderson
- Shane Prince
- Andrew Hammond
- Fredrik Claesson
- Jean-Gabriel Pageau
- Mark Stone
Even the ability to limit RFA salaries doesn't help that much. If the average value of these 13 players' contracts is $4M, that makes the total investment in salary $52M. With $21M already invested in payroll for that year, and assuming Lehner's contract is similar to Jonathan Bernier's ($2.9M), that puts the Senators about $100,000 under the salary cap. There's no room for injury callups. Keep in mind this approach means letting 19 players, including guys like Cory Conacher and Chris Phillips, walk in the next two years. The team can't afford to sign Player A, even at 2013 value, and to keep everyone else.
And that's the inevitability of the salary cap at work: You can't keep everyone. Adding Player A means a major roster overhaul just two years down the road. Is stabilizing the defensive corps for this year worth jettisoning a good chunk of the young talent the team has worked so hard to accrue?
This is the heart of the Money Myth: We want to believe that spending more money would solve our problems. But the truth is that no team can merely buy a savior.
They never could.
- Raise your hand if you were pissed about losing while getting everything right for a change. [Senators Extra]
- Bonk's Mullet has your tweets of the week. [RBM]
- Clarke MacArthur had a sick pass to set up Kyle Turris' goal last night. But what are the sickest Sens goals of all time? [Black Aces]
- Leadership is not an issue for this team. I wonder if it's being brought up because of Saturday's opponent? [SE]
- The Senators have been unlucky for much of the season and it's frustrating. [SE]
- Speaking of leadership, Jarmo Kekallainen thinks the Columbus Blue Jackets are having theirs questioned. [Columbus Dispatch]
- Bad news for the Chicago Blackhawks, as last year's playoff stud Bryan Bickell has suffered a "serious" knee injury. [Twitter]
- Oh no, there was an own-goal last night. Just as every own-goal is when it doesn't happen to your team, it's hilarious. [PHT]
- David Perron is tearing it up for the Edmonton Oilers. That makes me angry, because I wanted to trade Milan Michalek for him before this season started. [Edmonton Journal]
- Sean Monahan: Still good. [Calgary Sun]
- So, there's this team out there that traded away depth to land a top-line winger. But their problem is on defense, and now they can't find help because they gave up so many assets to land the winger. Sound familiar? [Newsday]
- Hey, did you know that Winnipeg is not good? It's probably because they're throwing players like Mark Scheifele into the fire instead of developing them. But what can they do? They came into Winnipeg with almost no talent, thanks to the assclowns in Atlanta Spirit Group. [Winnipeg Sun]