As everyone has now likely seen, Alex Kovalev made his first public appearance in Ottawa as a Senator last Tuesday, and he said all the right things: I don't take days off, I'm here to give everything I can to this organization, this is going to be fun, this is a good team, yadday-yadda-yadda. It's all great to hear, and I have high hopes for Kovalev's potential to contribute this team and bring the Senators back into playoff contention.
One interesting aspect of the discussion was that Kovalev, as should be expected, said he'd be more than happy to have Dany Heatley return to the Senators for the upcoming season. In fact, CBC quoted Kovalev saying 'hopefully' Heatley would return. I hadn't realized, but the two wingers had played together during the 2004-05 NHL Lockout in Ak Bars Kazan, and so have an existing relationship. A top line of Kovalev and Heatley on either side of centreman Jason Spezza might be a precariously soft line, but they could also be a hugely dynamic offensive presence at all times.
The Senators have long had a dominant top line, though, even if underperformances have seen that dominance tail off in the last season and a half. In order to make this a step forward, though, rather than a step to the side, the Senators need to improve their second and third lines in order to make the team, overall, better. Considering the cap hits already committed to those three players as well as to Daniel Alfredsson, plus the fact that the Senators are already over the cap (or at least very close to it), it won't be easy, but using Alfie to anchor a second line and using some young (read: cheap) talent to fill out the roster, it's possible.
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The final incarnation of last year's second line had Mike Fisher centring Ryan Shannon and Nick Foligno, and the balance of grit, speed, playmaking, and forechecking was an effective tool for coach Cory Clouston. But with Alfredsson as the Senators' fourth-best forward, it seems unlikely that line will continue as the second line. Shannon and Foligno are both on cheap contracts, and Fisher's contract is basically untradeable even if GM Bryan Murray wanted to trade him (which I don't think he does), so no cap relief will come from these three. Ideally, the Senators would probably like a second-line centre, or would like Chris Kelly to step up and become one, but neither of those seem likely, so pencil Fisher and Alfredsson in on the Senators' second line, with someone on their left wing--possibly Foligno, but who knows.
Similar to Shannon and Foligno, there are a few other players whose low salaries make them prime candidates to fill out the Senators' forward lines: Jesse Winchester, Shean Donovan, and even Christoph Schubert are good depth forwards whose low salaries accomodate the high salaries of the Senators' top four. Prospects on entry-level deals like Peter Regin, Ilya Zubov, Cody Bass, Zack Smith, and James O'Brien are also candidates, although not all of them will be ready for full-time minutes on the big team. Players like Kelly, Chris Neil, and Jarkko Ruutu are left in the middle, and, since Neil's contract was just renewed, that means that Kelly and Ruutu seem the most likely candidates among forwards to be moved.
With the current forwards, this would be a lienup as I construct:
With Kelly having to be traded in a salary-dump move. I think Kelly is a valuable player for the Senators to have on their roster, but it's beginning to look like the numbers just don't add up to have room for him in the lineup.
Of course, there's also a lot of movement possible amongst the Senators defencemen, and that could possibly bring some cap room. Plus there's always the possibility that a Heatley trade could happen, which would completely change the Senators' salary structure and depth chart.