Note: This entire article is pure speculation.
In yesterday's 30 Thoughts post, Elliotte Friedman (to whom, as I mentioned on Twitter yesterday, every hockey blogger owes a debt of gratitude for such insider information) included this interesting nugget about Filip Kuba as a "perfect complement" to Erik Karlsson (and a massive minute-muncher):
"Couldn't help but watch Rob Scuderi and think of Filip Kuba. Both men are paired with stud defencemen, Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson. Those guys are great players, but need an egoless partner who recognizes how to be a perfect complement. Scuderi/Kuba are exactly that. UFA Kuba appears ready to leave Ottawa, and it'll be interesting to see who the Senators view as Karlsson's next mate."
Candidates as a suitable replacement for Kuba are dropping quickly: Ryan Suter's not coming here, it sounds like Matt Carle isn't interested either, and Barret Jackman is out of the picture. No one else on the market is capable of playing 23-plus minutes per game against the opposition's top players (with the possible exception of breakout player Jason Garrison, nor is anyone on the current roster (despite Don Brennan's feting of Chris Phillips as capable of manning that position) capable of it.
There is one defenceman available who's capable of fully taking those minutes (and, given his history, taking even more) and, based on his skill set, would be perhaps an upgrade to even Kuba as a complement to Karlsson: Jay Bouwmeester.
Various sources--from Darren Dreger to Arthur Staple to George Johnson of the Calgary Herald--have speculated that Bouwmeester may be a piece the Calgary Flames are willing to move this season, in large part due to his huge $6.68M cap hit for the next two seasons and the Flames' stagnation outside of the playoffs.
There are hang-ups, though. Bouwmeester may be overpaid, but he's a huge part of the Flames' D-corps, and replacing him would be at least as hard as replacing Kuba is for the Senators given the current seller's market for defencemen. Plus he's got a no-trade clause. And the Flames' defence is pretty thin after him and Mark Giordano; Mitch Smith from Matchsticks and Gasoline called J-Bo the Flames' best defenceman:
"Jbo is the best Flames defenseman. His contract reduces his trade value and the Flames blue line minus him looks like a team going for a lottery pick not a playoff position. It is a total contradiction to suggest that Jbo is on the block to be traded but Kipper and Iginla are not.
"It is possible I guess, his value as a proven D man is there but at quick blush I don't see how the Flames replace him. I did a quick glance through teams and the few where he may be attractive don't have the return to give back unless the Flames are in on Ryan Suter but lets keep it real.
"Jay also has a NTC, so the only way to give this credence is if he is asking to be moved."
I suppose it depends on whether or not the Flames are entering a rebuild in earnest, but even if they are, Jay Feaster's asking price for Bouwmeester would be necessarily high to get a rebuild moving. Would Bryan Murray be willing to part with the assets required to pick Bouwmeester up? If so, would Eugene Melnyk be willing to pay him $6.6M in actual salary over the next two seasons?
I've got virtually no idea what it would take to acquire Bouwmeester. Cap space is only good if you spend it wisely, so I doubt Feaster will be satisfied simply clearing the contract. Would the Flames be happy with a second- and a third-rounder for next season, the same return Johnny Oduya yielded at last year's trade deadline? If they're looking for a prospect, are we talking about someone like Fredrik Claessen or someone like Patrick Wiercioch? Someone like Bobby Butler or someone like Andre Petersson? Your guess is as good as mine; Bouwmeester's spotty record and highly inflated salary will skew his market worth as much as his value to the Flames in particular will.
Personally, I think it could be a fit--if the asking price isn't too high. Bouwmeester would be able to play against quality competition alongside Karlsson at even-strength and on the powerplay, and J-Bo's positional play and great skating would allow him to cover for his partner's oft-dangerous rushes. He'd also be able to fill in Kuba's role as a top penalty killer on the team, alongside either Jared Cowen or Phillips on a very big D pairing. And I don't buy the argument that Bouwmeester's cursed to play his entire career without a playoff appearance.
As much as anything, the acquisition would balance out our defence corps between the older veterans (Gonchar, Phillips) and the younger guys (Karlsson, Cowen, Wiercioch, Mark Borowiecki) with someone right in the middle. His presence for a couple of years will give the team the freedom to assess their defensive situation and address it during free agency next season (which, at least as of today, looks like a better FA class) or via trade, setting up well for a smooth transition into incorporating the team's other (younger) defensive prospects. It also brings the freedom to resist re-signing Kuba and, a year from now, Gonchar, both of whom will likely see their play diminish significantly in the coming years. The D pairings could end up looking like this:
Bouwmeester - Karlsson
Cowen - Gonchar
Phillips - Matt Carkner
... with Borowiecki and Weircioch looking to turn some heads in training camp and bump Carkner (or whoever else the Sens might bring in) out of the top six.
Yes, Bouwmeester's contract is outlandish, but that will reduce the number of teams vying for his services, thereby (theoretically) reducing what it would take to acquire him. Cap space is hardly a concern for Ottawa, even with Karlsson's $6.5M salary now on the books and a potential top-six forward brought into the mix, but the team's internal budget is certainly a concern--assuming Melnyk remains fiscally disciplined in the face of a potentially significant acquisition.
Acquiring Bouwmeester is an option, anyway. It's an expensive option, but it's not a long commitment. There are plenty of reasons why it might not happen, but at least as many reasons why it might not be a bad idea.