Trade targets: Ryan Malone

Eliot J. Schechter

The biggest need for the Ottawa Senators this season is a top-six winger. Ryan Malone of the Tampa Bay Lightning may not be the ideal acquisition to fill that void, but he'd bring a very valuable physical dimension to Ottawa's second line and some desperately needed depth to the left wing.

In yesterday's edition of 30 Thoughts, CBC's Elliotte Friedman offered a number of interesting nuggets (not the least of which suggesting the Ottawa Senators should acquire Marian Hossa), but what jumped out most to me was this one:

I'm hearing Yzerman is trying to trade Ryan Malone. Tampa Bay would prefer to avoid a buyout payout and the Lightning are offering a draft pick as an enticement. Malone has a no-move clause in his contract until July 1, which gives him some control of the situation. It is a limited no-trade after then.

Since the NHL instituted a salary cap, many people have suggested teams could offer draft picks or other assets to trading partners in order to dump bad contracts--but it hasn't happened often. The only team who's really tried it out has been the Toronto Maple Leafs, who traded AHL defenceman Richard Petiot to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Olaf Kolzig (and his $2.5M contract), a fourth-round pick, and two other AHL players. The Leafs also picked up Cody Franson and Matthew Lombardi's $3.5M contract for two years in exchange for Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney, another sweetened-salary-dump. But Malone's contract would be the largest to be 'dumped' to date, with $4.5M remaining for this year and next and a shrinking salary cap for next season.

It's also a strictly financial decision, rather than an on-ice one; Lombardi and Kolzig were both damaged goods when they were dumped, but Malone is a 33-year-old winger who's just one year removed from a 48-point season. Although his stat line last season was ug-fugly (6G, 2A in 28GP), last year was an aberration due to the lockout and a couple injuries (flu, shoulder, and lower-body). Those injuries may seem like a red flag, but only the shoulder injury seems potentially chronic and he's never had problems in that area before. Any team considering a trade for Malone would insist on medical clearance, but given that he played in Tampa's final game of the season (and scored a goal in it), he'd likely be fully recovered by the start of the 2013-14 season.

Although $4.5M is a pretty steep price for a 40-point power-forward, the fact that the Lightning may entice potential buyers with a draft pick should push the Senators to explore the possibility. Ottawa has ample cap room and is currently poised to be the lowest-spending team in the NHL next season while the Lightning have just $2.8M in cap room with only 18 players signed; the ingredients are there for a deal to work out.

The deal makes sense from a hockey perspective, as well. The Senators are in desperate need of top-six wingers, especially on the left side. Milan Michalek is the only experienced top-six LW there, and Ottawa would be wise to seek an upgrade on Cory Conacher and Colin Greening for the second line. Malone is a big player who can drive the net and make room for Kyle Turris and (hopefully) Daniel Alfredsson on the second line. He'd offer some jam to that equation, too, and take some of the puck-retrieval and grinding workload off of Alfredsson's shoulders. He's got 355P (174G, 181A) in 584 career NHL games played, and his most productive season on a points-per-game basis was 2011-12, when he scored 48P (20G, 28A) in 68GP.

Ottawa has room to make this deal. If the Lightning are seriously considering offering a draft pick to whoever takes on the rest of Malone's contract, they wouldn't likely be looking to take much back. Sergei Gonchar's exit from the organization opened up some cash under the internal budget, if Eugene Melnyk is willing to spend it again. If he is, this is a no-lose situation for the organization: They gain a potentially valuable top-six forward, but even if he doesn't work out, they gain a draft choice that was sent to compensate for the risk and expense of taking him on.

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