Although Bryan Murray seems to think the Ottawa Senators need a scoring forward more than anything else, I'm of the opinion that the biggest void on the Sens' roster is on the blue line.
Although Erik Karlsson is the team's top defender, he's still prone to mistakes once in a while, and he's just 21 years old. Jared Cowen is solid defensively, but he's also just 21, and he's in his first pro season--we can't expect miracles from him. Filip Kuba has had a great bounce-back season, but he's just solid--he won't do anything special, but he'll be there when you need him. Sergei Gonchar is putting up good points, but he's slow, and that exposes him to speedy opposition forwards and can force him to take penalties. Chris Phillips has had moments of solid play that have been largely overshadowed by many more moments of facepalm-worthy play. Neither Matt Carkner nor Brian Lee appear capable of playing a meaningful shift with any regularity. Consider the possibility of an injury to the top four (Karlsson, Cowen, Kuba, or Gonchar) and all of a sudden that D-corps looks mighty vulnerable, especially if the Senators are able to make the playoffs.
Which brings me to Marek Zidlicky. He's a very capable offensive defenceman who's on the outs with Mike Yeo's Minnesota Wild, and carries a cap hit of $4M for this season and next.
He's having an off-season this year (just 11A in 34GP, no goals), but his career average is better than one point every other game (0.54 P/GP). His plus-minus is pretty awful, but that might be expected from a player of his style. The Senators don't necessarily need another offensive defenceman, but they do need someone who can play a regular shift, and can provide something meaningful with some regularity. That someone might be Zidlicky.
Bryan Reynolds from the great Wild blog Hockey Wilderness offered this scouting report on Zidlicky, and a bit of a backstory explaining the defenceman's declining production:
"Zidlicky was brought in to be a boost to the Wild's offense from the blue line. His first two seasons were what you would expect from an offensive d-man. 40+ points, a plus minus that is wildly negative due to being a defensive liability while being put in roles he doesn't fit, such as a shut down defenseman under Todd Richards. That defensive liability is easy to overlook when he is putting points on the board.
"When Zidlicky missed a long stretch of time last year, his game changed. He was listed with a shoulder injury, and when he returned, the points were gone. His defensive play did not rise to balance his new lack of offense. A guy who is a liability, coupled with no goals and just 11 assists, is no longer worth the $4 million he is being paid.
"When Zidlicky was hurt this year (dirty hit from Lennart Petrell), the Wild played well without him. When he returned, the Wild went on a skid. When he was scratched by Mike Yeo, the Wild are back to winning. Is it a coincidence? Maybe, but it is awfully difficult to say there is no difference."
Zidlicky himself, though, claims he's simply not being used in the proper situations by Yeo. From Michael Russo's Russo's Rants:
"I can't be quiet," Zidlicky began during our sitdown [...]. "I think three games healthy scratch, it's more than just like a healthy scratch. [Yeo's] put me in this position that I am in right now. It's not easy for me. It's good for team probably because the guys played pretty well the last two games, but for me, I did everything what he wants me to do. I played like 17, 18 minutes ice time, I play just third, fourth line, I stood on the blue line, I didn't do anything what I did years before. He said everything I do with the puck and without the puck, it's wrong. So I have a little different opinion."
"He doesn't like what I'm doing," Zidlicky said. "If I'm an offensive player, I'm supposed to play with the top guys. He should show me, ‘You are that guy, and you will be out there the last minute when we need to score.' There was a lot of times when I just laid on the bench and just wait for my chance. We had a couple meetings about that after 10, 15 games in the season, and I can't change my style. That's what I know. That's for sure. He wants to play easy hockey. I tried everything what he wants, but apparently it doesn't work."
Obviously, things don't look very good between the two sides, and it seems less than likely that the situation will be easily remedied.
There are plenty of other defencemen out there who might be available. Pavel Kubina, Andy Sutton, Hal Gill, and Adrian Aucoin should all be available for a reasonable trade offer, and all are more defensively-oriented than Zidlicky--and with Karlsson, Gonchar, and Kuba in tow, the Senators probably need a penalty killer more than they need a powerplay specialist. Still, considering Zidlicky's contract status and the seemingly impassable divide between him and his coach, the asking price might be reasonable. Reynolds thinks the Wild would be looking for a top-six forward:
"With the situation, the price has to be lowered, right? Chuck Fletcher has hinted that he doesn't want to trade for picks, since that signals to the team he isn't serious about helping them make the playoffs. Though, with a semi-demand, it gives him an out if he needs it. My guess is Fletcher puts more value on Zidlicky than I do. I think Fletcher would want a late first round pick, high second round. If it is a second, my guess is he wants a player or prospect to go with it.
"If he is dead set on getting a player, it would need to be a top 6 guy. Doesn't have to be an elite guy, but a second liner leaning more toward the top line than the third line, if that makes sense. I hate to say it, but I'm not up on the Senators players, so you would have to come up with who that would be. A 20 goal guy who shoots would be my guess."
I'm doubtful the Wild would be able to ask for a genuine top-six player, considering Zidlicky's contract and the number of defencemen available--especially if Fletcher and Yeo want to move Zidlicky sooner rather than later. It seems more likely that a package could be put together to make the deal work out.
So what do you think, Sens fans: Should the Senators try to make a move for Marek Zidlicky?