Monday, June 30, 2008

Across Canada on the Free Agency Wire - Ottawa

In June 2007, the Senators were facing off against the Ducks in the Stanley Cup Final. In June 2008, Ottawa players had already been golfing for a month after a first round exit at the hands of the Penguins. A strong start, a mediocre mid season and a horrible finish left Ottawa crawling into the playoffs. Fans and Management were left to ask what went wrong.

More than just Ray Emery happened here in Ottawa last season. Like many Assistant Coaches before him, John Paddock couldn't make the transition to Head Coach. Players like Shean Donovan, Dean McCammond and rookie Nick Foligno seldom saw ice time. Randy Robitaille, brought in from Russia after training camp, appeared lost all year and completely disinterested by the end of the season. So the question here is not so much about who's being signed, it is who will be let go.

There are some big contracts kicking in on July first. Jason Spezza becomes a 7 million dollar man and Heatley gets a raise to $7.5 million. The core of this team is already under contract for a few years - Fischer, Phillips, Volchenkov and Alfredsson all have reasonable deals. It's the players on the fringe that will be on the move. Wade Redden has not been offered a contract and will not be back on the blue line. Luke Richardson and Mike Commodore have not been offered a deal but don't rule out Commodore coming back if the price is around one million dollars and Richardson was originally signed to be a player/coach on the farm team so that might still happen.

At Forward, trade deadline acquisition Marty Lapointe appeared slow and took too many bad penalties, he's gone. Cory Stillman will get a raise from his $1.75 million last year and may price himself out of Ottawa's reach. GM Brian Murray would like to find the cap space for the veteran forward. He really clicked with Antoine Vermette and Chris Kelly and may be the second line that Ottawa has been searching for. Of course everyone knows the Emery situation. Ottawa will be searching for a back up goalie.

There is some money for Free Agent spending and there are some positions that need help. Obviously the goaltending needs to be upgraded. Martin Gerber looked good at times and is going into his contract year. Brian Elliott may be brought up from the farm to be the number two. Ty Conklin is getting some interest here if he's available at one million dollars. Jocelyn Thibault is a cheaper but less reliable option, as is Boston's Alex Auld.

Since arriving here, GM Murray has been trying to land a top six forward. Hey, who isn't in this league? Cory Stillman, as I mentioned was a good fit here but other teams have more money available. Miroslav Satan's name has come up a few times here in trade rumours so perhaps an offer could end up on his agent's desk. The help needs to come in their own zone. It was shaky last season and this fall rookie Brian Lee will be inserted in the lineup full time. If he continues to improve, all is well. If he hits any stumbling blocks it could be trouble. Murray has wanted Campbell out of San Jose but that's very unlikely. Maybe another former Sabre, as Campbell was, is the answer. If he has recovered from heart problems, Teppo Numminen would be a good fit. A veteran presence that can move the puck very well.

It won't be very active here on the first. Look for Ottawa to sign Antoine Vermette and Andrei Mezsaros. Both are RFA's and they might let the D man go if someone made him an offer over $3.5 million. Vermette is a player Brian Murray would love to fit in long term, like the Chris Kelly 4 year deal. Any Free Agent action here will probably come on the second or third of the month, after the bigger names go on the first. So let's go to Montreal where there are desperate to sign an impact player on Canada Day.

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