Senators blog roundtable: Dog days of summer

Welcome to hopefully the first of many monthly Ottawa Senators blog roundtables, with Bobby Zijiac from SenShot, SLC from Five for Smiting, Graeme Nichols from The 6th Sens, and, at least this time, yours truly from Silver Seven (we'll probably have a rotation of authors from Silver Seven take part).

This month, well into the off-season, we're talking mostly about free agents, but with a side of speculation and prognostication on next season's lineup. So here goes:

1.Give me your delayed reaction on the Sergei Gonchar signing? Fair or foul? Do you like the contract or do you think it's too long for a person of that age?

Peter, Silver Seven: I still like the Sergei Gonchar signing. Is it longer term than I'd like? Yeah. Is it more expensive than I'd like? Yeah. But Gonchar was one of the best offensive defencemen in the league last season, so I think it's a risk worth taking. Even with some decline in his abilities, Gonchar can still provide--and he should definitely give us a huge powerplay boost. It's tough to predict who he'll be playing with, but he'll most certainly teach Erik Karlsson a lot about controlling a powerplay in the NHL, and that will be great for the kid's development (especially after we saw last season that Karlsson isn't a defensive liability, either). It does concern me that I'm using many of the same justifications for the Gonchar signing as I did for the Alex Kovalev signing a year ago, but not too much.

SLC, Five for Smiting: My delayed reaction to the Gonch is pretty much the same as my immediate reaction: Um...yay? His (potential) impact on Karlsson's learning curve makes me absolutely moist not to mention the instant upgrade to the PP. BUT...I can't help but worry about the overall softness of the D now that A-Train and Sutton (apparently) are gone. It's all well and good for The Bryan to say "I want other teams to block our shots for a change", but I have this recurring nightmare of Colby Armstrong or Kris Versteeg turning 55 into a long red smear on the forecheck before playing keep-away for ten minutes. My head says this was an awesome signing (if one year too long). My gut says one of the kids Pete mentions damn well better make the team out of camp to add some testicular fortitude, or we're screwed. I can't help it. It's Pavlovian.

Bobby, SenShot: For me, signing a top flight offensive defenseman was Bryan Murray's top priority all along. He was able to snatch the best one on the market by the name of Sergei Gonchar. Although I'm a tad bit frightened with his defensive play in the Montreal series, his contract is understandable and he should be able to earn every penny of it. Watch out for Gonch and Alex Kovalev next year on the Power Play.

Graeme, The 6th Sens: For all of the power play inefficiencies for the past few seasons, I'm surprised that Gonchar's addition hasn't been more well received by the Ottawa faithful. Whether or not you feel that the contract may have been one year too long for a player of Gonchar's age, it was a necessary evil that ensured that he'd leave a Conference rival to sign in Ottawa. And at $5.5 million per annum, it's fair dollar for a player who is going to be playing top pairing minutes.


2. What are your thoughts on the Chris Campoli contract?

Peter: I'm happy with the Chris Campoli signing, though. It's a little more than I was expecting, but I really liked what I saw from Campoli towards the end of last season and into the playoffs, and it's such a short contract that it just gives us an opportunity to see if his hernia-ridden season last year wasn't an indication of his potential. It's a small price to pay (relatively speaking) to find out what we gave up a first-round draft pick for. And he's still a restricted free agent after this season, anyway.

SLC: Now that the deal is done, I can say absolutely and without doubt or prejudice that Murray overpaid. $1.4M for a small, relatively soft (see?? DING! Told ya. Can't help it) kid with a decent if not great first pass is too much and sure as hell not worth the first round pick we gave up to get him. Frankly, I wouldn't have been all that heartbroken to see him walk. That said, the length of the contract should tell us something about Murray's intentions and/or true faith in Campoli. May as well make the cheque payable to "Dude keeping the seat warm for Jared Cowen".

Bobby: Chris Campoli has never found that "something" that Bryan Murray traded a first-round pick for. However, I like this signing because it's only one-year and for a guy like Camper $1.4 million is at most reasonable. However, I'm not as excited as I was with the Foligno and Regin signings.

Graeme: From questioning whether or not it was prudent to move a 1st round pick in a deal for Chris Campoli and Mike Comrie, to questioning whether or not he's even worthy of having a Senators' blogosphere roundtable question devoted to him, it's funny how far Campoli's stock has fallen. Having signed a $1.4 million deal, I can live with the fact that he's inevitably keeping the seat warm until one of Ottawa's heralded blueline prospects is ready to make the jump.


3. The off-season has surrounded this Jason Spezza drama for the Ottawa Senators. Do you think it was just hardball for Bryan Murray, or did Spezza actually contemplate leaving Ottawa?

Peter: I don't think it was hardball from Bryan Murray, and I don't think it was Jason Spezza genuinely wanting to leave town. I think it was an emotional reaction to the continuing unfair treatment from Senators fans, and it was blown into a huge controversy thanks to some irresponsible and sensationalistic yellow journalism from the Ottawa Sun. I don't think it was ever the big issue that it was presented as.

SLC: Oh, for Christ's sake, can we please stop talking about this?? Please? Two worthless gasbag Cox-wannabe typists had so much fun with the Heatley soap opera last summer that they needed something to recapture the contact high of actually being taken seriously during the off season and turned a molehill into the world's biggest ass pimple. I have no doubt Giggles complained to Murray about the booing. I have no doubt Murray listened with a sympathetic ear. And I have no doubt that Murray knew trading a League wide top-ten centre for the equivalent of a bag of pucks and another Cheechoo would cost him his job. Jason isn't, and never was, going anywhere.

Bobby: Personally, if Jason Spezza really wanted to leave Ottawa, he would have asked for a trade. He didn't, though, and that's why I believe Jason is fully committed to winning in Ottawa. The Bryan really just wanted to scour the market for some good offers, but we all know how the Dany Heatley trade came out. You never get fair value for a top-flight forward such as Spezza.

Graeme: The whole Jason Spezza angle has been blown out of proportion. Regrettably, too much of Bryan Murray's private conversation with Spezza became public knowledge. Whether or not you buy into Don Brennan's belief that Bryan Murray's candour was contrived to punish Spezza, I'm inclined to believe that Murray took up Spezza's offer and examined the trade market to see if it'd be beneficial to the organization and it wasn't. It's too bad we can't send this to minors where we can bury non-story like it is Wade Redden's cap hit.


4. Down on the farm team, there should be a huge battle for the No.1 goaltender position between Mike Brodeur and Robin Lehner? Who's your early favourite to win the job?

Peter: I think Mike Brodeur and Robin Lehner will probably split duty in the AHL. Lehner is a blue-chip prospect, and the Senators' brass won't allow him to spend most of the season sitting on the bench. On the other hand, Brodeur is only one year removed from an AHL All-Star season; he won't take kindly to being benched too often, either. If (when?) either Pascal Leclaire or Brian Elliott sustain an injury, I think it's more likely Brodeur will ride the pine in Ottawa, while Lehner playing top dog in Bingo. If not, they'll probably be 1A and 1B on the farm.

SLC: Unlike Pete (who, I should add, is a much better person than I [Ed. note: Probably not. -PR), I have no qualms about bruising the tender sensibilities of career minor league journeymen. For better or for worse, Gigantor is the (latest) designated franchise saviour for the next ten years, and as such needs as much time and as many games between the pipes in Bingo as he can handle. He's done all he can in junior and letting him ride the pine in the A in order to spare Mike Brodeur's feelings wouldn't be doing the big club any favours down the road. Of course, having said that, Lehner will be given the job, Mike will demand a trade and five years from now he pulls a Timmy Thomas and fries our ass 4-0 in the Final with three shutouts for...say...Edmonton.

Bobby: I would love to see Robin Lehner steal to job under Mike Brodeur's nose, and even though I can't make a prediction before Binghamton gets a new coach, I believe the victor will be Brodeur, but by slim margins. Simply, he has more experience in net and offers more to the team than Lehner will, for now.

Graeme: Interesting battle here. The Golden Swedish Saviour who is destined to end almost two decades of Ottawa goaltending mediocrity or that guy who gets way too much credit for kick-starting Ottawa's 11-game winning streak last season. Ultimately, I expect the two to split the duties evenly as the new Binghamton coach tries to balance winning now with putting Lehner in the best position to succeed at the NHL-level.


5. Give me your predictions for the rest of the off-season. Will Ottawa sign anyone or trade anyone, or will they stay pat?

Peter: I think Ottawa will stick with their current lineup through the off-season, at least until training camp starts. If Jared Cowen or Patrick Wiercioch (or maybe even Eric Gryba) makes waves in camp, I imagine the Senators will probably try to trade one of their defenders (my money's on Brian Lee, although he could still have a good training camp) or perhaps even waive someone, similar to what happened with Christoph Schubert at the beginning of last season.

SLC: With everybody under contract, I'd have to say what you see is what you get, barring any truly mind blowing revelations coming out of camp (and even then, there are too many one way contracts on the roster to make even that a possibility...go ahead, tell me why Jesse Winchester shouldn't be replaced by Zack Smith). I'll go with Pete here and put Lee in slot 1 and 1a on the trading block.

But at the end of the day, when you think about it most of the arguments around next year's team revolve around fourth line wingers and sixth D-men. And that's a pretty awesome problem to be having, isn't it? Damn. Drop the puck already.

Bobby: I'm in the belief that Ottawa still needs to sign one more Top-Nine Forward, but with the recent re-signings, they only have less than $2 million left in cap room, which isn't good enough. So, they won't get anyone on the free-agent market, but I could see them clearing some space on D and move a guy like Brian Lee or even Filip Kuba.

Graeme: My prediction for the rest of the offseason? No more moves, unless they're of the 2-way contract variety. It looks as though management wants to retain as many assets as they can until camp starts to promote the whole competition from within philosophy. Unlike in years passed, the depth in Ottawa means that there aren't many (if any) roster spots up for grabs. I'm hoping this leads to an incredibly competitive camp that sees some of Ottawa's heralded prospects seize the opportunity and push the veterans. And even if some of the blue-chippers can't crack the opening day lineup, the competition to be the first emergency call up should be intriguing sub-plot to the season.

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