FanPost

The State of Ottawa's Defense: An Overly-Detailed Rambling with Trade Suggestions

The 2013-14 NHL season has been full of ups and downs so far for the Ottawa Senators. A quarter of the way into the season, the Sens currently sit 12th in the Eastern Conference, and four points out of the 8th and final playoff spot. Personally, the main phrases I’d use to describe the team thus far are "unpredictable" and "maddeningly inconsistent." They win big games against division rivals such as Boston, yet get blown out by teams at the bottom of the league like Columbus. It’s made for quite an interesting start, although a bit gut-wrenching to endure at times.

On one hand, this is somewhat unexpected, given the offseason moves that made the team’s group of forwards appear better on paper, in addition to the team’s unexpected success last year. After all, if the Sens did that well despite losing almost every big name player on the team to an injury of some sort, they should be even better with a full, healthy lineup plus Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur, right?

However, on the other hand, it is not quite so surprising because there was a major question mark for the team this year heading into the season: the team’s defensive core. Peter Raaymakers touched on this in a previous article, and did a great job of summarizing the state of the team’s defense before the season started:

http://www.silversevensens.com/2013/9/28/4778954/big-questions-will-the-ottawa-senators-defence-struggle-in-the-2013

In particular, the second defensive pairing seemed to be where the most uncertainty lay. Given Erik Karlsson’s rapid rise to super-stardom, joining the ranks of elite defensemen while gobbling up minutes on the first defensive pairing like Rob Ford at an all-you-can-eat buffet, veteran Sergei Gonchar had moved down to anchor the second pairing for the past few seasons. In addition, he played frequently on the first powerplay unit. Before the season started, Gonchar was dealt to the Dallas Stars, due to the fact that he was asking for more money than the team was willing to pay him (given their internal salary cap), as well as the fact that Sens management felt that some young players on the team would be able to step in and fill his shoes. Therefore his departure left the defense with holes to fill on these particular pairings.

The two young players Sens management seemed to be banking on to step up given Gonchar’s move to Dallas were Jared Cowen and Patrick Wiercioch. Their higher draft status than the other remaining defenders on the team, the fact that they were signed to new, higher-paying contracts in the off season, plus some flashes of brilliance over a limited number of games in the previous two seasons, made this seem fairly plausible. Cowen appeared to be an up and coming shut-down defenseman, while Wiercioch appeared to have the offensive skills to fill in for Gonchar on the powerplay. You would think that these complementary skill sets would help offset the loss of Gonchar. However, there was one thing Gonchar had that neither Cowen nor Wiercioch had: experience.

This appears to be the core of the issue for the Sens defense outside of the first pairing of Karlsson and Marc Methot this season, and something that may remain an issue moving forward. Unfortunately, up to this point, none of the secondary defensive pairings have looked impressive, regardless of what combinations of players have been used. Cowen in particular has been terrible and is currently bearing the brunt of the fans’ wrath, given his holdout for a bigger contract in the off season. While criticism of Cowen is warranted given his poor play (personally, I was happy he was recently scratched so that Paul Maclean's "the best players play" system retained credibility with the players), it is somewhat unfair because of the fact that management hasn’t exactly done anything to help him out. In a response on a recent posting, I made the following statement:

"It’s fair to expect that our young players need some time to develop. It’s not fair to expect them to develop, or play well, when they are placed with line mates that don’t allow for it, or are put in situations they are not ready for. This is the current situation. Both Cowen and Weircioch have potential, but management has not surrounded them with what they need to reach it and we are seeing the results.

Neither are top 4 defenseman. They are just EXPECTED to become top 4 defensemen. To develop into a top 4 defenseman, you should be paired with a top 4 defenseman. Simple as that. As much as I like the rest of the kids, none of them are top 4 defensemen, and none of them have the draft pedigree to suggest that they ever will be."

This leads me to a point I made on a separate posting:

"It’s not that I’m saying our young D don’t have the potential to be good, but the fact is that if Phillips leaves/retires and Corvo continues to ride the pine or leave, the oldest defenseman on the team will be Methot at 28. Successful defensive corps usually have a balance between offense and defense, as well as youth and veterans- we’d have a decent balance on the O/D side of things, but I believe we could use another proven veteran to stabilize the core overall. Teams that have won the cup recently all had at least a few older players they could rely on playing D (Chara and Seidenberg for Boston, Scuderi and Mitchell for LA, Oduya and Rozsival for Chicago), and I think we’d be missing that. Minus Phillips and Corvo, it’s hard to believe that a team with an average D age of 23.8 would be a legitimate cup threat until a few years down the road, and I think we are currently one top four defender away from being a legit threat, so why not go for it?"

Sadly, while my belief that we are a proven top 4 defenseman away from being a legit threat has taken a hit given the entire team's play this year, my belief that we need one remains the same. Whether the Sens go on a 10 game losing streak or 10 game winning streak would not change my opinion, because of the group's overall age (although I'd obviously prefer the latter).

The closest analogy to the current situation I can think of right now relates to fighting. If you had a son, would you take him to a boxing ring, throw him in it, and assume that after he's fought enough times he'll figure things out and become a good fighter? Or would you take him to a professional trainer to show him the ropes and train him between fights? Unless the kid is a complete natural, if you try the former method, it's more than likely the kid is going get beat up pretty badly, on a regular basis. It's not only stupid- it's cruel. This is basically what I feel management is doing to our young D, whether it is Cowen, Gryba, or any of the other kids. They are being thrown out there in situations they are simply not ready for. They need a quality veteran defensman to "show them the ropes." Joe Corvo, the lone veteran defender recently brought in for a second stint with the Sens, wasn’t, and is not, the answer.

I will say that Corvo and long-time Senator Chris Phillips are both competent veteran defensemen. However, due to their age, neither of them are top 4 defensemen any longer. They are now 3rd pairing defensemen, and should not be expected to try to play to a 2nd pairing level in order to train the young guns. There is also the possibility that they may either retire or move on soon. This is why the Sens need some new veteran blood.

It is unfortunate that the unrestricted free agent pool offered slim pickings the past offseason, or Ottawa might have been able to avoid this whole scenario. Mark Parisi covered who was available in an article recently:

http://www.silversevensens.com/2013/11/21/5130012/silver-nuggets-the-money-myth-part-2

As you can see, there was not much. Sadly, the fact that the UFA pickings this coming offseason look terrible as well, except for a handful of players like Dan Girardi and Brooks Orpik, means that a trade is more likely needed to acquire veteran talent.

There have been rumours of Michael Del Zotto being of interest to Ottawa. I personally do not see the point in acquiring another young defenseman who has offensive upside. We have two of those already in Wiercioch and Ceci- what we need is someone who can provide a steadying influence on younger players. Unless the trade is straight up MDZ for Wiercioch, which I don’t think is likely to happen, I don't know that acquiring him would help things much.

This brings me to another point I had made in one of the previous posts:

I believe one of the two (Cowen/Wiercioch) needs to be traded for the sake of the others development. Its not about "giving up" on them, its about managing assets to give your players a comfort zone to allow them to succeed. With Ceci in the pipeline actually having the pedigree, I dont see why it would be a problem to move one of the two for a legit top 4 defenseman, so that we have Karlsson/Methot, one of the two with a "solid new guy," and Phillips/Gryba/Borocop/Corvo/Ceci (eventually) on the 3rd pairing. Not saying this will magically turn the team around, but it is the most logical course of action and much better than sitting around waiting to see how things turn out. We all know how well that worked out with Brian Lee!"

After saying this, I must add that I like both Cowen and Wiercioch, and see potential in both of them. I would prefer to keep both of them. However, a lot of the time, teams trading a veteran defenseman would want someone to replace them down the road, such as a younger defenseman or defensive prospect. So, in order to address the glaring need for another veteran d-man, sadly one of these guys would likely have to be involved, because to get good players, you have to trade good players. The questions then are: who is out there of interest, and who would we have to give up for them?

The answer to these questions is totally dependent on the needs of trading partners. Different teams have different holes to fill, and different sets of up and coming prospects in the minors. Also, a team's place in the standings affects whether they are more or less likely to trade players- the teams lower in the standings are more likely to trade veterans than those higher up. In addition, division rivals are less likely to trade players within their division.

Taking into account these and other factors, I've put together the following table which indicates what players may be of interest or available to Ottawa around the league. I simply copied and pasted the roster summaries of defensemen provided on TSN's site by team, and added a few columns:

Undesirable (player salary too high, not a huge upgrade over current players or their potential, etc)

Highly unlikely to be traded (current or future franchise player, etc)

Possibly available, but at a steeper price, or recently acquired by a team and therefore less likely to be moved

Do not know enough about player to comment

Likely available or of possible interest

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Team

Player

Anaheim

Bryan Allen

x

Francois Beauchemin

x

Mark Fistric

x

Cam Fowler

x

Hampus Lindholm

x

Ben Lovejoy

x

Luca Sbisa

x

Sami Vatanen

x

Calgary

Chad Billins

x

Christopher Breen

x

TJ Brodie

x

Chris Butler

Mark Giordano

x

Shane O'Brien

Kris Russell

x

Ladislav Smid

x

Derek Smith

x

Dennis Wideman

x

Chicago

Sheldon Brookbank

x

Niklas Hjalmarsson

x

Duncan Keith

x

Michael Kostka

x

Nick Leddy

x

Johnny Oduya

x

x

Michal Rozsival

x

x

Brent Seabrook

x

Colorado

Tyson Barrie

x

Andre Benoit

x

Nate Guenin

x

Jan Hejda

x

Nick Holden

x

Matt Hunwick

x

Erik Johnson

x

Cory Sarich

x

Ryan Wilson

x

Dallas

Jordie Benn

x

Kevin Connauton

x

Trevor Daley

x

Brenden Dillon

x

Alex Goligoski

x

Sergei Gonchar

x

Stephane Robidas

x

Aaron Rome

x

Edmonton

Anton Belov

x

Taylor Fedun

x

Andrew Ference

x

Denis Grebeshkov

x

Philip Larsen

x

Jeff Petry

x

Corey Potter

x

Justin Schultz

x

Nick Schultz

x

LA

Drew Doughty

x

Matt Greene

x

Alec Martinez

x

Willie Mitchell

x

Jake Muzzin

x

Robyn Regehr

x

x

Slava Voynov

x

Minnesota

Keith Ballard

x

x

Jonas Brodin

x

Matt Dumba

x

Nate Prosser

x

Marco Scandella

x

Jared Spurgeon

x

Clayton Stoner

x

Ryan Suter

x

Nashville

Victor Bartley

x

Mattias Ekholm

x

Ryan Ellis

x

Seth Jones

x

Roman Josi

x

Kevin Klein

x

Shea Weber

x

Phoenix

Oliver Ekman-Larsson

x

Rostislav Klesla

x

Zbynek Michalek

x

Derek Morris

x

Connor Murphy

x

David Rundblad

x

David Schlemko

x

Michael Stone

x

Keith Yandle

x

SJ

Dan Boyle

x

Justin Braun

x

Jason Demers

x

Scott Hannan

x

Matt Irwin

x

Brad Stuart

x

x

Marc-Edouard Vlasic

x

STL

Jay Bouwmeester

x

Carlo Colaiacovo

x

Ian Cole

x

Barret Jackman

x

x

Jordan Leopold

x

Alex Pietrangelo

x

Roman Polak

x

Kevin Shattenkirk

x

Vancouver

Andrew Alberts

x

Kevin Bieksa

x

Alexander Edler

x

Jason Garrison

x

Dan Hamhuis

x

Ryan Stanton

x

Christopher Tanev

x

Yannick Weber

x

Winnipeg

Zach Bogosian

x

Dustin Byfuglien

x

Ben Chiarot

x

Grant Clitsome

x

Keaton Ellerby

x

Tobias Enstrom

x

Julian Melchiori

x

Adam Pardy

x

Paul Postma

x

Zach Redmond

x

Mark Stuart

x

Jacob Trouba

x

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Team

Player

Boston

Matt Bartkowski

x

Johnny Boychuk

x

Zdeno Chara

x

Dougie Hamilton

x

Torey Krug

x

Adam McQuaid

x

x

Kevan Miller

x

Dennis Seidenberg

x

Buffalo

Christian Ehrhoff

x

Jamie McBain

x

Brayden McNabb

x

Tyler Myers

x

Mark Pysyk

x

Rasmus Ristolainen

x

Alexander Sulzer

x

Henrik Tallinder

x

Mike Weber

x

Nikita Zadorov

x

Carolina

Brett Bellemore

x

Justin Faulk

x

Tim Gleason

x

Ron Hainsey

x

Jay Harrison

x

Mike Komisarek

x

Ryan Murphy

x

Andrej Sekera

x

Columbus

Tim Erixon

x

Jack Johnson

x

Ryan Murray

x

Nikita Nikitin

x

Dalton Prout

x

David Savard

x

Fedor Tyutin

x

James Wisniewski

x

x

Detroit

Adam Almquist

x

Danny DeKeyser

x

Jonathan Ericsson

x

Jakub Kindl

x

Niklas Kronwall

x

Brian Lashoff

x

Xavier Ouellet

x

Kyle Quincey

x

Brendan Smith

x

Florida

Brian Campbell

x

Tom Gilbert

x

Matt Gilroy

x

Erik Gudbranson

x

Dmitry Kulikov

x

Mike Mottau

x

Mike Weaver

x

Ryan Whitney

x

Montreal

Nathan Beaulieu

x

Francis Bouillon

x

Raphael Diaz

x

Alexei Emelin

x

Josh Gorges

x

Andrei Markov

x

Douglas Murray

x

P.K. Subban

x

Jarred Tinordi

x

NJ

Mark Fayne

x

Eric Gelinas

x

Andy Greene

x

Peter Harrold

x

Adam Larsson

x

Jon Merrill

x

Bryce Salvador

x

Anton Volchenkov

x

x

Marek Zidlicky

x

NYI

Matt Carkner

x

Matt Donovan

x

Travis Hamonic

x

Thomas Hickey

x

Andrew MacDonald

x

Radek Martinek

x

Aaron Ness

x

Brian Strait

x

Lubomir Visnovsky

x

NYR

Michael Del Zotto

x

Justin Falk

x

Dan Girardi

x

Ryan McDonagh

x

John Moore

x

Marc Staal

x

Anton Stralman

x

PHI

Braydon Coburn

x

x

Hal Gill

x

Nicklas Grossmann

x

Erik Gustafsson

x

Andrej Meszaros

x

Luke Schenn

x

Mark Streit

x

Kimmo Timonen

x

PIT

Robert Bortuzzo

x

Deryk Engelland

x

Kris Letang

x

Olli Maatta

x

Paul Martin

x

Matt Niskanen

x

Brooks Orpik

x

x

Rob Scuderi

x

Tampa

Keith Aulie

x

Mark Barberio

x

Eric Brewer

x

Matthew Carle

x

Radko Gudas

x

Victor Hedman

x

Dmitry Korobov

x

Sami Salo

x

Andrej Sustr

x

Toronto

Cody Franson

x

Mark Fraser

x

Jake Gardiner

x

Carl Gunnarsson

x

Dion Phaneuf

x

Paul Ranger

x

Morgan Rielly

x

Washington

Karl Alzner

x

John Carlson

x

Connor Carrick

x

John Erskine

x

Mike Green

x

Jack Hillen

x

Steve Oleksy

x

Dmitry Orlov

x

Nate Schmidt

x

Tyson Strachan

x

Alexander Urbom

x

While I have pretty good knowledge of a lot of players around the league, as you can see there a lot of players I am unfamiliar with. So for the purposes of this article, I've left them out of discussion. I’ve also left off players who are 99.9% not going anywhere, such as Duncan Keith for example (because Chicago is about as likely to trade him as Ottawa is to trade Karlsson). The 0.1% chance comes from the "if Gretzky can be traded…" factor, just so you all know.

It was difficult to wrap my head around how best to approach and present such a comprehensive table, so if there are some discrepancies or inconsistencies, please bear with me as it’s my first shot!

From the table above, the following players were the ones that stuck out to me the most as trade targets (listed in alphabetical order by first name). However, realistically, I know that some may not actually be made available to us, or we may not have the money to sign them. Also note that I’m not implying that either Cowen or Wiercioch should be involved in every deal for these players; just that these are players worth targeting and that we may have to include one of the two in some cases. Other trade bait could be draft picks from this year and/or next year, any player on the current roster not named Karlsson, Methot, Turris, Lehner, Spezza or Ryan, and any player currently in Binghamton.

Adam McQuaid, Boston

With Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton providing youth and Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg providing experience, maybe Boston would be willing to part with Adam McQuaid, who has experience in two cup finals and a ring to show for it. Being in the same division reduces this chance however.

Anton Volchenkov, New Jersey

Hey, what can I say. I miss the A-Train. Just throwing him on here because I never wanted him to leave.

Barrett Jackman, St. Louis

With Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk recently re-signing for big bucks, the D-core of the Blues is now these players. Like Chicago, it might be unlikely that St Louis wants to move anyone, but it’s worth seeing if Barrett Jackman is available. Him with either Cowen or Wiercioch could be a deadly shutdown or balanced pairing, depending on who is shopped. St Louis currently is up against the cap which could be a factor however.

Brad Stuart, San Jose

San Jose is playing well and unlikely to be trading veterans. However, with Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic still on board, who knows if the right offer might work. As an aside, I’m praying that Boyle signs with Ottawa in the offseason as a UFA, since he’s a local boy, but that’s probably just a pipe dream…

Braydon Coburn, Philadelphia

The Flyers have spent recklessly recently and have pushed themselves against the cap, yet are not currently in a playoff spot. Perhaps a swap of young talent could help both teams, who haven’t had the greatest start to the season.

Brian Campbell, Florida

If his salary wasn't so damn high, he would be the person I would want Ottawa to go after most. A solid team player and puck moving defenseman, he would probably fit in with the team’s system really well. However, $7M a year for a 34 year old is a risky proposition, and it's doubtful Melnyk would want to pay him that. A possibility, but I would want the Sens to get a pick along with him to compensate for the high salary they take on (if they took the full contract). I’d also be more willing to move picks/prospects for him than either Wiercioch or Cowen.

Brooks Orpik, Pittsburgh

See comments on Dan Girardi coming up below. Same situation. I don’t like the guy on a personal level, but as a tough, cup winning player, he could be what the Sens need. Also highly doubtful to be traded thanks to Paul Martin’s recent injury.

Christian Erhoff, Buffalo

Erhoff is someone who could prove useful if put in the right situation. His play on the Canucks before moving to the dismal Sabres indicated he is capable of 40-50 point seasons. Some sort of deal involving Wiercioch for Erhoff sounds interesting to me.

Dan Girardi, New York Rangers

I think this guy would be a great fit for the Sens. However, as a pending UFA in a thin market, he is likely very tempted to see what kind of money people offer him. Trading either Cowen or Wiercioch with possibly some other parts for him would be worth it if they could re-sign him before free agency hits. This would be dependent on Melnyk opening the cheque book. If not, the Sens might give away players for nothing. Much more risky.

Derek Morris, Phoenix

With Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson providing the core of the Phoenix D, and Morris soon becoming an UFA, he might be available. At 34 he is a little older than I’d like, but I feel would be a great addition to the team. He currently has 10 pts in 14 games and is a +2. His pending UFA status could be of concern however.

Ian White, UFA

He’s the only worthwhile UFA I can think of that the Sens might be able to sign for nothing. Might be worth low-balling him a 1 year deal to see how he fits, and then re-signing him if he does. Little risk.

James Wisniewski, Columbus

This is a total long shot given that he’s currently 7th in scoring among defensemen and is making decent money, but if the season progresses and Columbus remains out of a playoff spot, perhaps he could become available if Columbus’ GM wants to dump salary and stack the team with youth to go with Ryan Murray. The most surprising player in the NHL this year so far to me (Alex Steen is a close second). Just throwing it out there.

Johnny Oduya/Michael Rozsival, Chicago

Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson are the core of Chicago’s D. While they are highly unlikely to trade anyone given that they are yet again cup contenders, it might be worth kicking the tires on 31 year old Johnny Oduya, who has only one year remaining on his contract after this season. Alternatively, 34 Michal Rozsival could be of lesser interest, although he recently re-signed.

Keith Ballard, Minnesota

After moving on from the Canucks, Keith Ballard is only being paid $3M total over this season and next season by the Wild- much more reasonable than what he was making with Vancouver. He might be worth it at the right pric

Robyn Regehr, Los Angeles

He recently re-signed with the Kings and is probably going to stay put, but since LA would still have Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov and Willie Mitchell, perhaps the right deal could pry Regehr away.

As you can see, there are some intriguing possibilities. Before the season started, Calgary’s Mark Giordano was actually the #1 target on my list, but sadly his season was derailed by injury. I was thinking about proposing some more outlandish trades including Spezza, but held off given that he just got the captaincy, and I don’t think he is going to be moved despite his recent struggles

I’d be interested in hearing people’s opinions, considering that there were a number of players who I didn’t know. I’d also like to apologize for any duplication of commentary compared to other recent Fan Posts, as this post has been in the making for over a week and a half and I simply never had the time to finish it.

Who do you think would be the best fit for Ottawa?

This FanPost was written by a member of the Silver Seven community, and does not necessarily reflect the beliefs or opinions of the site managers, editors, or Sports Blogs Nation, Inc.

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