I've written a couple FanPosts lately about trades. The first one was about trading the Oilers for their first-round pick, likely a top-three pick. The second was about trading with Winnipeg for Evander Kane. The thing is, neither of these address the area Ottawa so desperately needs to address - defense. Many, many have pointed out that Ottawa is 29th in the league for shots against per game, at 34.7 SA/game, beating only Toronto in this regard. To put it lightly, that's awful. Why is Ottawa so bad? Probably because they have Erik Karlsson, as good a defenseman as you'll find in this league, Marc Methot, a guy who probably shapes up as a good second-pairing guy, and then a bunch of bottom rung guys. Chris Phillips is way, way past his peak, easily overpaid for what he brings to the table, and figures to be both a liability and a healthy scratch (though not at the same time) over the next two years. Jared Cowen and Patrick Wiercioch are both younger guys who haven't been excellent this season (or in Cowen's case, haven't been even close to earning their salary), but project to get better. Eric Gryba has played well in a limited role this season, but at age 25, and as a third-round pick, has probably reached his ceiling. Mark Borowiecki is on a one-way contract next year, but hasn't shown promise to displace any of the aforementioned. Plus Cody Ceci has looked OK in sheltered minutes, but at age 19, is definitely years away from his ceiling.
So Ottawa has one first-pairing guy, one second-pairing guy, and a glut of guys who could be bottom-pairing, some who might get better, and some who can only get worse. Not only is Ottawa's defense poor and inexperienced this year, there doesn't appear to be any homegrown respite from this issue.
Looking down CapGeek's UFA defenseman list for the off-season, it doesn't look awful, but probably not where you'd go about finding top-pairing guys. There is a lot of age on the list, and it appears the if someone like Andrei Markov, Dan Boyle, or Kimmo Timonen is going to come back, it will be with their same teams. One has to assume guys like Matt Greene on LA or Brooks Orpik on Pittsburgh will either stick with their teams, or go to other similar contenders. The rebuilding Senators won't attract big names like that. Ex-Senators Sami Salo, Brian Lee, and Andrej Meszaros probably won't get invited back. One interesting name on the list is Nikita Nikitin, but that discussion is for another day.
So yes, trades. Two names I have seen floated around a lot on this blog are Brian Campbell and Christian Ehrhoff, so I thought I'd look into them a little more. Ideally, in the coming month or so, I'd put together a little dossier for each team. But for now, here are two high-profile trades Ottawa could go for.
Why it will happen
CapGeek's page for the Florida Panthers shows that they have 5 defensemen reaching RFA status in the next two years, plus Tom Gilbert becoming a UFA this year. That's a lot of money Florida's gonna have to dish out to keep their defense functioning. Their forwards are even more ridiculous, with six hitting RFA status by the end of 2015, and seven hitting UFA. Florida is either going to keep taking the unwanted UFAs, or they're going to be dishing out the dough. Campbell is the highest-paid member of the team, meaning trading him could open up salary for two or three young defensemen. From Ottawa's perspective, Campbell is older (34), but plays the third-highest minutes in the league, and is one of the best possession players on a bad Florida team while facing high-quality competition. His PPG over the last three years are 0.44, 0.56, and 0.65, all very good for defensemen not named Karlsson. He could still bring it for a couple years while we allow for Cowen, Wiercioch, and Ceci to develop in sheltered minutes.
Why it won't happen
Campbell's actual salary is $7,142,875 for two more years. That's not exactly what you add to a "budget team". Florida plays him the third-most minutes in the NHL for a reason - namely, that he's their most reliable defenseman. He also has a NTC, meaning that he can submit a list of 8 teams to whom he'd accept a trade. What are the odds that Ottawa would be one of those?
What it would take to get him
Florida is also a "run-on-the-cheap" team, so they wouldn't be looking to get saddled with salary. However, they are also in need of a veteran core, especially if their older players have generated enough interest to head elsewhere. Pretty much, Florida doesn't need goaltending, and everything else could generate interest. It would likely take an established NHL player as well as a prospect or two to pry him over. Not a cheap price for not a cheap player, who can't be part of the Sens' long-term plans. If the price was cheap, I'd do it, but I can't see Murray convincing Melnyk that $7-million is worth it.
Why it will happen
Buffalo is rebuilding, and trading anybody who will get them a return for the future. Ehrhoff is about the only player left on the Sabres who will bring in a return. Similar to Florida, Buffalo has three defensemen who hit RFA and two more who hit UFA this off-season. Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, and Cory Conacher (*sob*) all hit RFA this off-season too. You have to figure Buffalo knows these guys want to get paid. Though Ehrhoff isn't a huge salary or cap-hit anymore, you might be better off investing $4-million a year in somebody part of your future plans.
From Ottawa's perspective, he's only 31, plays 24 minutes per game, puts up among the best possession numbers on an awful (read: Conacher is only positive player) possession team, and most recently put up PPG of 0.47, 0.47, and 0.48 (consistency!). His cap-hit is more than manageable, at $4-million per year, and his salary is also great, starting at $4-million and dropping every year until 2020-2021. Since Ottawa will get no benefits from his salary structure, the CBA recapture clause won't affect the Sens.
Besides, Tim Murray likes us, right? RIGHT?!?!
Why it won't happen
Trades rarely happen within the division. Buffalo would hate to have to face Ehrhoff five times per season for the next six years. Teams also generally like to have some form of veteran leadership, Henrik Tallinder's not gonna cut it. They'd be well-served to hang onto at least one guy with experience on the back end. Ehrhoff also has an NMC and a modified NTC, so he controls a good deal of where he ends up. Can't imagine he'd want to be in Ottawa, but he might see it as an improvement from Buffalo. From Ottawa's perspective, the only reasons I can think of not to do this trade are if the asking price is too high, or if they're really worried about the trade coming back to hurt us down the road.
Or, you know, if it turns out Tim Murray hates us.
What it would take to get him
Buffalo is rebuilding, but Ottawa's fresh out of first-round picks this year. The Buffaslugs might take next year's first-rounder, but I'd be loathe to trade that already for the Connor McDavid draft. That pick value could go up a lot in a hurry. Buffalo might actually take a defensive prospect or two, a forward prospect or two, and a later pick. If Gryba + Prince + a 3rd-rounder brought in Ehrhoff, I'd love to do it. The problem is, I doubt that'll be enough for Buffalo to lose their only serviceable veteran. Count me in as enthusiastic, but skeptical that it could actually happen.