Senators Need to Go Big At the Deadline

Over the last several seasons the Ottawa Senators have been very active at the trade deadline. Over the years, players such as Greg De Vries, Bryan Smolinski, Tyler Arnason, Mike Comrie, Oleg Saprykhin among others were acquired as the team pushed towards a championship.

This season will be no different as the Sens will need to do something to shore up their team as they try to get back to the Cup Finals. However this time, instead of adding some support players, the team is going to need to do something big to really shake things up and change the balance of power in the East.

Yes, the team is in first, but they are now hanging on to that lead just barely with a 1 point advantage over the Montreal Canadiens. Yes the team is struggling with injuries with both captain Daniel Alfredsson and winger Dany Heatley out of the lineup. Indeed those are huge holes to fill but even with them, the lineup still needs help.

This is relatively the same squad that went to the finals and lost badly to the Anaheim Ducks. The road to get back will be difficult with several very competitive teams in the east. Therefore, a big shakeup is probably in order for this team.

Goaltending has plagued the Sens all season. Going in, the team felt they had an emerging number 1 in Ray Emery. Instead, they ended up with a player who does nothing but cause controversy off the ice. He has been a real distraction this season and one wonders if he has the mental stability to take the Sens through 4 playoff rounds. His arrogance has gotten in the way of being a good team player and if the Sens could ever find a new number 1, they would jump on it.

The problem is that the number 1 wont be Martin Gerber. Gerber is simply to fragile and unreliable to carry the full load. He has put up very good numbers, but can he deliver a big game performance? Or will he be the next Patrick Lalime for Ottawa?

The goalie market is bone dry right now. Finding an upgrade will be very difficult for the Sens and they will probably need to stick with what they have now. This could be the achillies heel that leads to their downfall.
There are a couple of options they could explore:
  • Nikolai Khabibulin (6.75 million cap hit through next season) – At that price tag, the cost could be a bit too much for the Sens to swallow. But here is a goalie who has won a cup and with a good team in front of him could actually have something to add. He’s the type of big game goalie that could put over the Sens, but does he have anything lefft in the tank?
  • Dwayne Roloson (3.6 million cap hit through next season) – Another goalie with some cup final experience, Roloson was strong just 2 years ago helping Edmonton to the finals and could be the saavy, reliable veteran the Sens need between the pipes. Roloson wont wilt under pressure like Gerber, nor will he be an off ice distraction. But again, age is an issue as one wonders how much Roloson can contribute over a grinding 2 month period.
If they find someone, great. Otherwise, what you see is what you get in Ottawa and for many, what they see, they don’t like.

Defensively the Sens have struggled. The team is 23rd in terms of goals against and while part of it is attributed to their shaky goaltending, the defence as a whole has been inconsistent. It all starts with Wade Redden. I am not sure what it is, be it a lack of confidence, the coaching change or simply jealousy from seeing almost all of the other core players on the team get contract extensions except himself. He has struggled and pretty much the writing is on the wall that he wont be back. But, if Ottawa is going to make a push, they need a top pair guy and Redden is it.

But a couple of questions arise from this. Could they possibly move Redden and still find a way to upgrade the team? It will be very intriguing to see what GM Bryan Murray chooses to do. He may not be too keen on losing Redden for nothing in the summer but those 25 plus minutes will be near impossible to replace.

On the other hand, Murray could ship Redden out to improve the team up front (more on that later) and go after:
  • Dan Boyle (UFA at seasons end) – Boyle comes with Stanley Cup experience and a great ability to move the puck and quarterback the powerplay which would be a perfect fit in Ottawa. It could be difficult for the Lightning to re-sign Boyle and the Sens have the kind of young assets they can part with which Tampa would be interested in.
  • Barret Jackman (UFA at seasons end) – Like Tampa, the Blues are probably not going to be too keen on losing one of their better defencemen for nothing in the summer. Jackman would add plenty of sandpaper and grit and a guy who could really support Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov in shutting down opposing team’s top players. He would definitely make the Sens much harder to run over like Anaheim did in the cup finals. Jackman is the type of player all championship teams could use.
  • Jani Pitkanen (RFA at seasons end) – With Pitkanen due for a likely large pay increase, that may turn off his parent team, the Edmonton Oilers, and open him up for trade. He, like Boyle has a high skill level and would fit in with the Sens. And being a RFA, at least the Sens would be able to keep his rights during the summer. Acquiring him could allow the Sens to easily move Redden if a deal for him came to fruition.
Indeed the Sens have some other options to improve their depth on D. There are going to be several blueliners available such as Nick Boynton, Bryce Salvador, Jaroslav Modry, Brad Stuart, Marek Malik, Mattias Norstrom, among others who could provide some depth, but if the Sens want to go big, they have choices.

As mentioned earlier, the Sens do have needs up front as well and it would do them some good to maybe do something significant to really shake things up.

The Sens have a wonderful top line with the trio of Spezza-Alfredsson-Heatley being a dominant force on offence. They’ve scored over 40 percent of the team’s goals despite having both Alfredsson and Heatley miss time with injury.

But the team needs to give their big guns more support. If the big line is shut down like they were in the finals last year, there is no one else on the team who could pick up the slack. Sure Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette are fine players, but they wont scare anyone. In fact they are the only other players with double digit goal totals. The Sens need another impact forward to lead a 2nd unit to keep opponents honest.

The options are out there, it all depends on whether the team is willing to go after these players.
  • Peter Forsberg (UFA) – He will only cost a team money. As a free agent he is the most attractive player out there because no assets need to be given up to acquire him. He could anchor a 2nd unit and really make teams pay for just focusing on the top line. He is a playoff warrior and a proven winner which is something the Sens lack. while a long season grind is something Forsberg cannot handle anymore, a couple of months of good playoff hockey
    is something Forsberg can provide in spades
  • Patrick Marleau ($6.3 million cap hit for 2 more seasons) – The Sharks captain has struggled big time this year and is in need of a change in scenery. The best thing for Marleau is to take a back seat in terms of leadership and simply be asked to provide offence. He can do that in Ottawa.
  • Tuomo Ruutu (RFA at seasons end) – Ruutu is a player who also needs a change in scenery. He is highly skilled which would mesh well with the Sens team but he adds a willingness to battle physically which could be an asset come playoff time. You see that quite a bit around the league where a player leaves the team that drafts them and turns into a star. Ruutu could be that in an environment like Ottawa’s.
  • Alexander Frolov (2.9 million cap hit for 2 more seasons) – While it may be a bit of a stretch for the Kings to part with a young player, the Sens have young assets to give in return. Plus, with Frolov due to be paid 7.5 million in actual salary the next couple of seasons, there could be some interest to shave off actual dollars off their budget. He isnt the proven playoff guy everyone believes the Sens need, but he is a highly skilled player who will make others around him better. And he doesnt have to do it all. Thats what Alfredsson’s for.
Whatever the Sens decide to do, it has to be significant and have a big impact. I dont think money will be a problem with owner Eugene Melnyk and the Sens have smart management to weed through all the cap jargon.

While players like Comrie and Smolinski are nice players, in the big picture they didnt make all that much difference. The Sens right now are basically the same team that lost to Anaheim last season. They need a big improvement to not only get through the trecherous East but also have enough ammo to take that next big step which would be a championship.