Like most of the Ottawa Senators' unrestricted free agents this season, Matt Carkner presents general manager Bryan Murray with an interesting choice.
At his best, he's a decent third-pairing type of player who brings an element of toughness and reliability to his own end. He can be trusted against weaker forwards and play the penalty kill if needed, and he is capable of fighting any opponent on the ice.
At his worst, he's a slow, one-dimensional defensemen, who lacks the skills to support anything but the most basic play and isn't good for more than jumping an opponent and sitting in the box for five minutes for his effort.
The decision is complicated by two matters: The Senators' need for veteran defensemen, and the fact that Carkner missed most of last season with a severe leg injury and played only four of the team's seven playoff games, visibly hampered by his injury. He tallied one assist and missed one game due to suspension.
#39 / Defenseman / Ottawa Senators
Nov 03, 1980
|2011 - Matt Carkner||29||1||2||3||0||33||0||0||0||17|
Contract status: Carkner is an unrestricted free agent who finished a two-year, one-way contract last season, in which he made $700,000/season.
Season in review: Limited by a knee injury, Carkner only played 29 games, where he played at a similar level as the last year. He returned for four playoff games, but was limited in his effectiveness. He did, however, knock out Brian Boyle as retribution for Boyle's repeated rabbit-punching of Erik Karlsson. He was ejected from that game and suspended for the next one, but those actions helped the team fight their way back into the series.
Comparable players: There are very few comparable players to Matt Carkner. Fighters generally don't log meaningful minutes, and defensmen who log meaningful minutes don't generally play the role of enforcer on their team.
#6 / Defenseman / Chicago Blackhawks
Oct 31, 1971
|2011 - Sean O`Donnell||51||0||7||7||-6||23||0||0||0||30|
Though significantly older than Carkner, and with better offensive instincts, there are still similarities between the two. O'Donnell is coming off of a one-year, one-way deal with the Blackhawks that paid him $825,000. Prior to that, he played on a one-year, one-way for $1.3M with the Flyers. Prior to that, he played on a one-year, one-way for $1.25M with the Kings. Prior to that, he was on a two-year, one-way deal with the Kings also earning $1.25M per year. This could be the future Carkner is looking at across the league: one-year deals as a hired gun for less than a million dollars per year
#25 / Defenseman / Edmonton Oilers
Mar 10, 1975
|2011 - Andy Sutton||52||3||7||10||5||80||0||0||1||41|
The Expert decided to leave the Senators after their playoff run in 2009-10 in the hopes of earning more money on the open market. He joined the Ducks on a two-year, one-way deal paying him $2.125M per year. Unfortunately, his time there was marred by injury and sub-par play, and he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers at the start of last season. Sutton rebounded well with Edmonton, and was suspended twice for being too awesome for league rules. This earned him a one-year extension worth $1.75M.
#6 / Defenseman / St. Louis Blues
May 4th, 1979
|2011 - Kent Huskins||25||2||5||7||9||10||0||0||0||16|
Sharing the same birthday as me, Huskins is recognized as depth defenseman with limited stay-at-home ability and minimal offensive contribution. He is known to be very tough and has a reputation for playing through injuries. His style of play is extremely uncreative, also known as "safe," and Huskins can be relied upon to make the same play consistently. This dependability earned him a two-year deal with Anaheim in 2007, paying him $625K per year. He was able to use those two years to earn him a two-year deal with San Jose worth $1.7M per year. He spent last season in St. Louis, earning $1M on a one-year, one-way deal, but he only appeared in 25 games and it appears the Blues will not retain him.
Conclusions:Carkner offers some combination of what we've seen out of the comparable players, but they also offer some other measure of stability allowing them to earn more than he could expect to command. It's certainly possible Carkner is looked at by the rest of the league as merely an enforcer, which would deflate his price. Being an enforcer with a possible debilitating injury would deflate it even more. Even at his peak, it seems unlikely that Carkner could receive more than a two-year deal from a team. At this point, a one-year deal dependent on his health seems the most likely outcome. Will it be in Ottawa?
The Senators clearly expect one of their young defensemen to step into an NHL role this season, and Murray seems likely to add another either by trade or free agency, severely limiting Carkner's opportunities to get ice time should he be re-signed. Is it practical for the team to retain his services as a seventh defenseman when he'll spend most of the season scratched and may not ever fully recover from his leg injury or does it make more sense to use those precious minutes towards the development of one of their younger prospects?