In the beginning, there was the HAT TRICK, and it was good.
Just six games into his Ottawa Senators career, just two weeks into the NHL season, Milan Michalek had an equal number of hat tricks as Departed Dany Heatley, and was only one goal off of the former Senator's scoring pace. And we told ourselves that maybe the post-Heatley era wouldn't be so bad. Maybe Michalek could turn into the guy he never got the chance to be with the San Jose Sharks. Maybe Jonathan Cheechoo would regain his scoring touch, and the Senators would not merely replace 50 lost goals, but add to them.
At the end of the season, though, Heatley had gone for 82P (39G, 43A) in 82 games. Michalek had just 34P (22G, 12A) in 66 games. But that was okay, we told ourselves. If Michalek had been healthy the entire season, things would have been different. We repeated the same mantra the next season when Michalek again put up similar numbers: 33P (18G, 15A) in 66 games. It seemed we were proven right the next season, as he went for 60P (35G, 25A) in 77 games.
"That's only five away from 40!" we told ourselves. We gloated over Heatley's 24-29-53 line in 82 games with his new team, the Minnesota Wild, during the same season. Heatley was on his second team in three years and declining fast, while the Senators were still reaping the benefits of the trade with Michalek. We gleefully embrace the Schadenfreude watching Heatley get demoted to the fourth line this year. We cackle at his two goals and two assists in 18 games when we compare it to Michalek's three goals and seven assists in one fewer game.
And then we turn around and wring our hands about our own winger. Michalek has suffered too many knee injuries, we say. He has no points in his last two games! He looks slow! He doesn't look like the same player! He needs someone to help him create offense!
How much of that is motivated by unfair comparisons? After all, with 19P (9G, 10A) in 17 games, Bobby Ryan is the winger that Milan Michalek was supposed to be. We watch him fly around the ice and forecheck and score shooter's goals and feed Erik Karlsson on 2-on-1's and we say, "Damn!"
Michalek is in the last year of a 6-year deal that gives him a cap hit of $4.3M. Per Capgeek, here are the 20 closest cap-hit comparables. Sorted by cap hit, here's what we get:
|Player||GP||G||A||PTS||Cap Hit (in millions)|
|James Van Riemsdyk||15||7||6||13||4.25|
Now, this comparison doesn't mean too much--different players, different systems, different opponents--but a very broad level, we can see that Michalek is slightly above average (average points is 8.28) when compared with similar cap hits. In short, he's a second-line player who is producing like a second-line player and getting paid like a second line player.
Is that good enough?
Michalek is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this year. Could the Senators upgrade his position via trade? Possibly. I believe Jakob Voracek is the ideal fit to play alongside Jason Spezza. As a cap-strapped team, the Philadelphia Flyers might be happy to take on an expiring contract for an underperforming player. But do the Senators want to carry two more years of a $4M+ salary? Their internal cap is well-known. Their looming RFAs (Robin Lehner, Mika Zibanejad, Cory Conacher) and UFAs (Spezza, Ryan, Phillips, Anderson) are well-known. It's unlikely, given their budget, that they can pay $4M for a second-line winger, and retain the rest of that talent.
Michalek has proven to be a solid, but unspectacular, top-six player. That gives the Senators a dilemma, because that's exactly the kind of player they cannot pay market value for. And yet, there seems to be no one on the roster or in the pipeline that's capable of filling his shoes should he depart. Colin Greening is inconsistent and disappointing given his skill set. Conacher is plagued by the same issues. Perhaps all they need is a nightly opportunity--one that can only be created with the departure of Michalek. The big question facing general manager Bryan Murray right now is simple: Should that happen?
Robin Lehner hasn't earned anything yet. Craig Anderson is exepcted to start tomorrow against the Flyers. [Senators Extra]
Varada asks the questions that have no answers. [WTYKY]
Bruce Garrioch was on the radio recently, and suggested the organization was willing to be a little more patient due to recent wins, but that struggling players need to be more consistent. [The 6th Sens]
Kyle Turris' line is the new hotness and there's no pretending it's not. [SE]
Speaking of new hotness, you remember when the Sharks were the best team in the NHL? They've lost 5 straight, while Anaheim is the new hotness. [PHT]
Malcom Subban got in a goalie fight in the AHL. We loved it when Lehner did it! [Puck Daddy]