Regardless of how the Ottawa Senators’ first round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins ultimately turns out, the team has some pressing concerns that need to be addressed, all of which relate to payroll.
It’s no surprise the Senators are in a salary cap crunch, given the fact they have 10 NHL-caliber forwards, five defensemen and two goaltenders under contract for next season. There are a lot of teams in the NHL that would kill to have the Senators’ cap woes.
Assuming the cap stays about the same – initial reports are that it should go up by about $800,000 to $57.6 million next season – the Senators will have a cushion somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.5 million going into the summer.
All of which looks great, but you have to remember that’s predicated on the assumption ownership will be willing to continue to eat Jonathan Cheechoo’s $3 million salary by keeping him in the minors next season. And when you consider they have to sign or replace restricted free agents Nick Foligno, Peter Regin, Jesse Winchester and Chris Campoli – and a huge unrestricted free agent in Anton Volchenkov – that cap space will evaporate in a hurry.
The most important of the signings is Volchenkov, given that the others are restricted and have far fewer options than the Senators’ best defensive and shot-blocking defenseman. There is little doubt Volchenkov will be looking for a substantial raise on his $2.5 million cap hit (he actually made $3.2 million in real money this past season) and a long-term deal that will include a no-movement clause and make him the Senators’ top-paid defenseman.
Can the Senators afford to give it to him? The better question is, can they afford not to do so? Volchenkov led all Senators in blocked shots with 172, hits with 153 and combined with Chris Phillips to form the team’s top shutdown and penalty-killing tandem. And the fact Volchenkov is just 28 indicates his best years could still be ahead of him. The only downside is that because of the style Volchenkov plays, he has missed an average of 16 games a season the past three years because of injury.
If the Senators sign him to a long-term, big-money deal and he begins to break down, what happens then?
It’s a risk the Senators will almost certainly take. Expect them to do everything in their power to keep him on their blueline for years to come.
This article also appeared in the Ottawa Metro newspaper.
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Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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