Hey everyone, I'm happy to now be a part of the Silver Seven crew- I'm a long time lurker, but this is my first Fanpost! It's refreshing to be part of a site where real dialogue can occur (with of course the odd sarcastic or playful jab), and not just another site where "The Sens suck!! Go Leafs Go!!" or "Alfie rulez!! Come back plz!!" comments abound (*cough* TSN *cough*).
The Sens' success this year, despite all the injuries that occurred over the course of the season, has provided an indication that the team is further along in its rebuild process than expected. However, with the season now over and lots of time to analyze the team to death before the draft, I've developed a couple of my own opinions about how Bryan Murray may want to proceed!
Despite the Sens' success, there was one major gap the team had this year that was obvious not just to Sens fans, but anyone who watches hockey: Scoring goals.
Now injuries obviously had an impact, as Karlsson, Spezza, and Michalek usually drive the offence. However, even before all the injuries, I felt that Ottawa has been missing a bona fide goal scorer playing with Spezza since the "pizza line" was at its peak. Thankfully, after leaving Ottawa on selfish terms, karma seems to have bit 'ol Heatley in the @$& and he is no longer in that category himself, but Michalek is not quite there.
While Michalek has been good, I feel his stats have been inflated by Spezza and it's unrealistic to rely on him given how often he’s been out with injuries over the past couple of years. Therefore the Sens need someone who will both score 30+ goals per year on the wing AND will be around most of the season.
While the young guns filled in admirably, they are still unproven in a full NHL season, and I feel it would be unreasonable to ask or expect 30 goals from them next year (referring to Turris, Conacher, Silfverberg, Zibanejad, and Pageau, in particular, who got significant ice time- Stone didn't play much so I'm leaving him out of this discussion for now, but he's also unproven). The indications to me so far are that they are likely well rounded, 20-30 goal per year players, not players that will go on incredible scoring tears, leaving unsuspecting goalies looking like Marc-Andre Fleury.
Unfortunately, proven goal scorers are difficult to acquire, because no team wants to give one up, unless there are major salary cap problems, team chemistry issues, or a team is entering a “rebuild” phase and looking for prospects/picks. So, in order to convince another team to trade one, Ottawa needs to offer a pretty sweet deal, which means letting one (or more) of these guys go, likely along with a draft pick of some sort. The question, then, is: who should it be?
Last year, Ben Bishop showed a ton of potential as a starting goaltender. However, with Robin Lehner being groomed for the past few years as the goaltender of the future, and Anderson playing Vezina-caliber hockey in the present, it just made sense to move Bishop to address the need for more scoring. I believe the organization is in the same situation with the centre position at the moment! While depth at centre is something every team wishes they had, when your team needs a proven first line winger and you have a position filled with one too many good young players, wouldn’t it make sense to trade one of them to address this problem?
Kyle Turris did an admirable job picking up some of the slack this year, getting 29 points in 48 games. With Spezza back in the fold, he returns to being the team’s second line centre, and has shown he still has some upside. This is where I feel things get interesting, but I’ll get to that shortly.
Zack Smith and Chris Neil form the core of the third line, which I don’t feel should be messed with, as these guys focus on rattling opposing forwards rather than scoring. This leaves only the fourth line to fill at centre.
In the playoffs, Jean-Gabriel Pageau came in and filled this position with flair, having both success and chemistry on the fourth line with Colin Greening. He scored a hat trick in the playoffs and has his own crowd chant now thanks to this (a hilarious one, at that). As a small player, he gets more time and space on the fourth line, not having to play top pair d-men. Seeing as he was a late round pick and does not have high expectations attached to him, this seems like a perfect fit.
Now here’s the issue- Mika Zibanejad also showed this year that he is ready for the big league and deserving of a full time roster spot. The problem is: he’s also a centre. While he has played wing at times, from what I’ve seen, he looks out of his element and seems to be more comfortable playing at his natural position. Therefore, he seems to be the odd man out at the moment, given that Spezza, Turris, Smith, and Pageau have the four lines covered at centre, as mentioned.
This brings me back to what I mentioned before as “interesting.”
To me, having an early first round pick being the odd man out of the lineup does not make sense for the organization. Conventional hockey wisdom is that early first round forwards should end up playing on one of the top two lines- otherwise, they are usually considered “busts.” While Zibanejad is currently the odd man out, he showed great chemistry with fellow young Swede Jakob Silfverberg, and as mentioned has lots of potential. Turris also has upside, but has never scored more than 15 goals in a season, or picked up more than 20 assists in a season. This is likely due to how Phoenix (mis) managed his time, but this makes me wonder: who has greater upside, Turris, or Zibanejad?
The answer to this question is what I believe Bryan Murray needs to examine carefully in order to move this team forward and address the earlier question of “who should be traded?” for a proven goal scorer. They are both early first round picks, and I feel the team needs to decide which one of them to build around for the future. In my mind, chemistry wise, for the sake of depth there are two main options that make sense:
Line#1: (?)-Spezza- (player received for Turris)
Line#2: Silfverberg- Zibanejad- Michalek
Line#1: Silfverberg –Spezza- (player received for Zibanejad)
Line#2: (?) - Turris- Michalek
(Note- the ? above was put in because it is not yet known if Alfie is coming back, or where Conacher/Stone will eventually fall on the depth chart)
I’m not sure which of these two options is best, but given that Zibanejad has less salary attached, I’m assuming that makes him a more tradeable commodity.
Now given all of this information, the next step is to look for someone to trade with. I’ve already mentioned the criteria for teams who would actually trade a proven scoring winger, so now the question is: what teams are in one of those positions at the moment with something of value, AND who could use a centre?
The first team that comes to my mind is Anaheim. With Getzlaf and Perry both signing long term, lucrative deals this year, and the salary cap going down next season, Bobby Ryan might be available for the right offer. Also, with Saku Koivu getting a little long in the tooth, and Teemu Selanne possibly retiring, you would think that injecting a promising young centre like Zibanejad into the lineup while shedding salary would be of interest. The thought of this trade has me salivating at the prospect of Spezza feeding Ryan.
The second team that comes to mind is Chicago. They have a team they likely do not want to change very much, given that they’ve been on a year-long tear and are now playing for the ultimate prize, but they are close to the cap and likely going to have to move somebody in the offseason for breathing room. Any one of their top players would be of interest if they consider moving someone.
I’m sure there are other teams to add to this list as well, but for now this sums up my thoughts on this topic, and I’d be very interested to hear others’ opinions on this! Part of the reason I think a trade is necessary is because the free agent pool is almost non-existent this year. Horton, Clowe and Clarkson are the only 3 forwards that would be worth signing in my opinion, but given the restricted market, I just assumed that their asking price would be too high and there would be little chance of Ottawa landing one of them. On a closing note, with Gonchar recently departed, I’d also like to throw in that trading Zibanejad or Turris for a top pairing defenseman could also be an option, but that’s a whole different can of worms and I’m all “written out” right now, lol.
Happy offseason everyone, and look forward to hearing your thoughts!