Time to say goodbye to Chara / where the hell do we go from here

Yes, a post. Imagine that. The plan is from here on out, they happen a lot. No, really.

As the draft sits less than 15 hours away, and with the news of the massive Todd Bertuzzi-Roberto Luongo trade going on behind me as I type, I figured it’s time to say what I’ve been contemplating for the last month or so:

It’s time for the Ottawa Senators to part ways with Zdeno Chara.

There. I feel better just saying it.

I know, fans, it’s a difficult conclusion to come to, but I believe you too will reach that decision by the end of this post. And if not, my case wasn’t presented strongly enough.

Chara came to this team, truthfully, as a throw in. In the magical swap that sent dickhead extraordinaire Alexei Yashin off to Long Island, the Sens got Chara, Bill “I Couldn’t Score To Save My Life” Muckalt, and a first round draft pick that was situated at number two overall. That draft pick was the real prize. By the time the trade was made, most believed it would be Jason Spezza as the Thrashers were openly gushing about Ilya Kovalchuk. The prospects of acquiring a potential franchise player who could plug the hole created by the loss of Yashin was wonderful.

We all looked Chara as a project. He was a player most fans were aware of, even then, just because he’s a friggin giant, but his skills as a defenceman left a lot to be desired. He wasn’t even a top four d-man on a brutal Islanders team. Where would he fit on this team, which at the time, with Wade Redden, Chris Phillips, Sami Salo, Curtis Leschyshyn, and Karel Rachunek (coming off 30 points as a rookie) was pretty strong. Nepean-born Jason York was set to leave town as a UFA, so there was a spot, but could Chara fill that void?

Fast forward six years and it’s crazy to think I was worried if Chara could contribute as much as York. No offence to Jason, who before this season I thought the Sens should acquire as a 7th blueliner, but Chara has gone so far behind that expectation it’s laughable.

He truly is, most of the time, one of the best, most dominant defenceman in the league.

So why then am I so eager to see him go? Two reasons. One is obvious: $. With the salary cap, the team cannot afford to keep so many high-priced pieces of talent. It’s an almost comical part of the new CBA that was supposed to favor small market teams like the Senators. Long-term, I believe it will, but boy does it feel like a kick in the balls right now.

The second reason is this reality: Zdeno Chara is not a big game player. This past playoff was the final straw in a long line of disappointing postseason performances from the big man who, in January and February, can be among the league’s best players. To say he struggled with consistency would be kind. Chara was flat out awful on most nights, routinely out of position, pinching at the worst times, not using his body, and scary bad with the puck in his own end.

Every now and then he’d have a great shift or two and you’d think “okay, here we go. Chara’s got it together.” Nope. A few moments later, he’d make a clusterfuck that had the entire fanbase shaking their heads in disbelief.

How someone can be so great at one time of the year and so bad in another remains a mystery to me. If you have an explanation, I’d love to hear it. I’m all ears. The only one I can come up with is that he cannot handle pressure. When the demands increase, he folds so badly Pierre Turgeon likely thinks he’s soft.

Some have defended the big Slovak by implying he was hurt. After all, Chara did suffer a severely damaged hand down the stretch in a fight and probably rushed back too soon. Fair enough. I’ll concede his paw was probably bothering him. But a bad hand does not impede effort. A bad hand doesn’t stop one from making mistake after mistake. Those are errors that cannot be justified with an injury.

All of this does not take away from what Chara brings the rest of the time. In the regular season, when he’s on his game, Chara is an extremely valuable player, and contrary to popular belief, I think you need those good games in the regular season. You want home ice when it matters. Ask the Carolina Hurricanes about that.

However, when you’re throwing out figures like $6 or $7 million a year, you want solid play all year round. Zdeno Chara just doesn’t deliver that. I expect him to get that big payday this offseason somewhere else, maybe even into the $8 or $9 million should a bidding war erupt, and it’s a shame more GMs aren’t aware of what I am. I suspect they’ll be blinded by his regular seasons and more importantly his massive size, and the whole “can’t play when it counts” thing won’t matter. They’ll quickly find out.

The decision of Chara or Wade Redden has been looming all season long, and frankly, it’s one I’ve tried to avoid. Perhaps it would’ve been wise to address it at some point in the season. It’s not as if I didn’t have a forum to do so. I didn’t. Why? I was in denial.

I thought they would find a way to keep them bother. Now, the economics have dictated that such a thing will be next to impossible. And I’m okay with that.

These playoffs opened my eyes. Order me a “Team Redden” t-shirt because I’m officially throwing my hat behind that campaign.

Wade Redden’s true colors were revealed this playoffs. With the death of his mother Pat still in the back of his head, he had the playoff series of a lifetime in the first round against Tampa Bay. He was, hands down I think, Ottawa’s best player. By the second round, his play fell off a little bit, but with the adrenaline wearing off and the grief sinking it, I expected it. I hoped those around him, Chara especially, would pick up the slack and allow Redden to have a subpar series and still be playing in the third round. Didn’t happen. Instead, Redden’s average play against the Sabres made him Ottawa’s best d-man, again, with perhaps only Brian Pothier having a superior series.

Wade Redden needs to be back in an Ottawa Senators uniform next season. Whatever it takes, get that deal done John Muckler. If it means a no-trade clause like the Leafs gave Tomas Kaberle, so be it. $6 million, so he’s paid more than the aforementioned Czech and his teammate Bryan McCabe? Great. He’s worth every penny.

For Zdeno, thanks for all you did, and better luck elsewhere. Maybe it was the environment in Ottawa that had you playing so terribly in the playoffs. I doubt it though.

The Ottawa Senators just have too many needs to justify paying an unreliable player when the chips are down $7 million. They need a real #2 center. They need veteran leadership. Oh, and they probably need a goalie. These things cost money, lots of it.

So that's settled. Phew. What a relief.

Oh shit, we still have a lot of work to do. Guess I better sit back down.

The cap is believed to be at $44 million, if you believe all the projections coming from the PA. Let's assume they're not filthy liars hoping to bamboozle us all and are being accurate. If you're Tom Benjamin, that's not hard, but me, I sorta think they're crooks. But okay, I'm taking their word for it.

The Ottawa Senators will not spend $44 million on their payroll next season. Unless Eugene Melnyk suddenly has a change of heart. Sucks, I know, and I've made many long-winded posts about how I wish Melnyk wasn't such a tightwad (where's the "I'll do whatever, spend whatever it takes to win" guy who swooped into town that we all fell in love with? Oh, right, this guy go to him.)

How much they will spend remains unknown and seems to depend on which media outlet you believe. I've seen projections as low as $36 and as high as $42. I'll do what the NHL and the players couldn't for a whole damn season and go with the middle number of $39 million, slightly higher than this season's payroll, which makes sense when you remember they've frozen all ticket prices.

First, let's look at who's signed through next year. It won't take long, unfortunately:
Dany Heatley. Cap hit $4,500,000
Heatley didn't have the playoffs any of us expected, and sort of makes those of you who raked Marian Hossa over the coals as he left town for his supposedly shitty playoff play and proclaimed Heatley the kind of kid who would prosper in the postseason look pretty stupid. But it was his first kick at the can and, hopefully, a learning process. He finally got to experience the NHL playoffs and he'll be a better player for it the next time around. No to trading him.

Daniel Alfredsson. Cap hit $4,666,666
I've thought a lot about what to do with Alfie. If you remember, at one point, when Ottawa was down 3-0 to the Sabres, I was vocal about my opinion that he was a problem and the team couldn't win with him as the captain. I've moved off that position slightly, as have a lot of you I imagine. Alfie's simply too good a player, and too much of a bargain at that price, to be moved. If the problem is his leadership, then surround him with better leaders. Veterans who've won before and can bring that attitude to Ottawa. They don't necessarily have to wear the C. They can be leaders without a letter. It happens.

Mike Fisher. Cap hit $1,500,000 The 3-year, $4.5 million deal the Sens signed Fish to last offseason looks like a steal now, doesn't it? He's coming off his best season, was one of the lone brightspots up front for the Sens in the playoffs, and there's no reason to think he can't continue to improve as a player. Who's to say he can't score 30 goals this season? I'm not sure he's the guy for the number two center job, but right now, he's the best we got. I prefer Fisher as the third center, because it also allows him to log big minutes on the PK, where we know he's dangerous.

Chris Phillips. Cap hit $1,970,000
It will be an interesting time for Phillips. Should Chara not return like I suggest, he'll be without his defence partner of the last four seasons, and in turn, probably be asked to take on a bigger role. He's also in the last year of his deal, and will be a UFA at the end of the season himself. Trade rumors will likely persist throughout the season but at this point I think it's wise to hold onto him because, at that price, he's a pretty good deal.

Anton Volchenkov. Cap hit $1,250,000 million.
A contract signed last summer seems about right. Volchenkov became the goat during the playoffs, and not without reason as he was not good and made too many mistakes, but overall, he had a solid season and for the role he plays did his job.

Andrej Meszaros. Cap hit 984,200.
During the season, this looked like an out and out steal, as Meszaros played like a 10 year veteran instead of the green freshman he was supposed to be. Come playoff time, we saw that side, as he was dreadful, in over his head and unable to perform when called upon. But he's only 21 and should have an even better season coming up.

Bryan Smolinski. Cap hit $1,786,000.
He's been the local whipping boy all season long and most of the time he deserved it, as we saw yet another remarkably unspectacular season from the guy who was supposed to be the team's second line center. Smolinski had some good games in the playoffs and in that sense managed to redeem himself somewhat but I still think he has to go. Too old, not consistent enough, too costly for what he brings.

Patrick Eaves. Cap hit 942,100.
Not even with the team when the season started, Eaves got opportunities to play with the big club due to injuries and made the most of them, scoring 20 goals in 58 games. He showed a skill to find the net and play far beyond his size, as his officially listed stature of 5-11 and 174 pounds (I doubt them very much) is supposed to mean he can't stand in front of the net. Apparently the kid missed that memo because he did so with success in every game he played. It's a shame the rest of the team, most of them bigger than Eaves, couldn't do the same.

Brian McGratton. Cap hit (estimated) $500,000
Just signed a new two-year deal last week. No figures have really come out but it's safe to assume it's close to the league minimum. Since it was a multi-year deal let's say the Sens boosted him by 50K to be nice.

TOTAL THUS FAR: $18,098,966. And we still have a whole heap of players to re-sign. Yikes


Wade Redden & Zdeno Chara
. I've made my opinion clear. Chara, for the price he's apparently seeking, is too expensive and just not worth it. Given what McCabe is supposedly going to get, it's probable Wade Redden will command more. Hows five years at $32.5 million sound?
Projected Cap Hit: $6,500,000

Brian Pothier.
Used to be the local whipping boy, but a solid season and strong playoffs have erased that. At least in my eyes. Not an elite defenceman and far too soft in his own end for my taste, but good skillset and a strong powerplay presence has me wanting him back. Assuming the price is right. I'd say a mult-year deal at a million even is fair.
Projected Cap Hit: $1,000,000

Vaclav Varada
A healthy scratch for 2 playoff games, there's no way he's coming back, even with GM Muckler as the President of his fan club. He was overpaid for the role he played all season long, as a fourth line guy making over a million dollars was absurd. Bye Vaclav. Nice to know ya.

Wow, that was easy. Two defenceman back, one gone, one overpaid forward out of town. Pretty good. Oh, wait.

TOTAL THUS FAR: $25,598,966. We don't even have half a roster and we've got less than $13 million to spend. And you wanna bring Chara back, John? Are you on crack?


Jason Spezza
The big one as far as I am concerned. Spezza's regular season said he was an elite center, but his playoffs, especially the second round, left some wondering if he's the right guy to center this team's top line. Like with his linemate Heatley, I'm willing to give Spezz a mulligan because it was his first playoffs and he wasn't awful. Just not the player they needed him to be. So we want him back. What will it cost? With his 90 points in 68 games and then 14 points in 10, his agent Mr. Orr will likely want a big increase over the $1 or so he got this past season. The plan many had was to sign him to a long-term deal to get him locked up, but with all the other headaches, the Sens just can't afford it. Sorry. It would be nice to lock him up ala Rick Nash, but that will cost Rick Nash money. The Sens don't have the $5 mil to spare. Sign him to a one-year deal for now. Let's say $3.5 million because, I dunno, that number seems right to me? After all, he's only had one big year. If he demands a big increase, play hardball. He has zero leverage. No arbitration rights. So if that turns out to be the case, fuck him.
Projected Cap Hit: $3,500,000

Martin Havlat
In case you missed the news, Havlat's agent Alan Walsh says Havlat only wants a one-year deal and will test the open market next summer as a UFA. My reaction? Great. Because that's all I want from him anyway. The only positive to come out of Havlat's shoulder injury, which kept him out more than 50 games, was that he didn't have the chance to put up the big numbers he likely would've. Unlike Spezza, he can go to arbitration, so the Sens would be screwed. Give him $3 million and pack his bags because he won't be around past June of 2007 anyway. And if he struggles during the season, feel free to use Havlat as trade bait.
Projected Cap Hit: $3 million

Peter Schaefer
Another key signing in my book. Schaefer had a terrific season and needs to be brought back. Fisher is for sure and since we're saying Havlat will, allowing the third part of that line to leave would be foolish. It won't be cheap though. He's a year away from UFA status so they'll have to pay up. A contract slightly more than Fisher's seems likely and fair. $1.75 million? If he gets ridiculous with the demands, maybe a trade is in order. I like Peter, but not for more than $2 million, and that's pushing it.
Projected Cap Hit: $1.75 million

Tyler Arnason
John Muckler says he will exercise the team option on him. John Muckler is clearly certifiable. Why in the hell would you bring him back, at over a million bucks, when he sucked so bad? Are you we going to hope he'll be better next season? What the hell John. I mean, really, are you retarded? *breathes* That felt good. Look, he seems like a nice kid, but it didn't work out. Chalk it up as an L and move on. He can't produce like a number two center, he can't take Fisher's spot as #3, and even if we want to give him Chris Kelly's spot on the fourth line, he doesn't have the skills to play that role. Do not qualify him. I'm not in this little fantasy anyway.

Antoine Vermette
This one will be tricky. He had a terrific season, but was one of the many underwhelming playoff performers. At $600K last year, he was a steal, and I want him back in the worst way, but what will it cost? I don't believe has arbitration rights, which is a blessing because he had the best point-per-minute-played average in the NHL last season and could probably command a lot in that situation. If they can get him to a Fisher-like deal, I'd say great, but I doubt that will happen. Something tells me he's not all that happy in Ottawa (with his ice time, he probably shouldn't be) and won't take a long-term deal unless it pays VERY well. The Sens don't have the luxury of doing so. $1.2 million, double his pay, on a one year deal anyone?
Projected Cap Hit: $1.2 million

Chris Neil
Also had a career year. Great for him, sucks for us right now. Neil solidified himself as a legitimate third line forward, which is something I sure didn't think he'd be able to do going into the season. With McGratton around to take care of the fistacuffs, Neil was finally able to play other roles, and the one he played against Tampa in the first round, of superpest, was awesome. Bring him back.
Projected Cap Hit: $850,000

Chris Kelly
Another must return guy. Doesn't put up points and isn't flashy, but works his ASS off every shift, is a leader, and can play in all situations. He got in over his head when put onto the top line in the playoffs, as that's not where he's suited to be based on his talents.
Projected Cap Hit: $750,000

Christoph Schubert
Showed his value and versatility, I believe the big German has earned a spot on the roster. Put him in the top six on D.
Projected Cap Hit: $550,000

TOTAL THUS FAR: $37,198,699. Uh oh. See the situation? We have less than $3 million to sign two goalies. Let's unload a problem then.

See ya Bryan Smolinski. I'm sure some other team will take a flier on ya. If we get nothing back, so be it.

-$1,786,000. TOTAL NOW: $35,412,699. A little better but still not great, and now we need a forward on top of our netminding problem. Might as well try and address that one then.

So what to do there?

Ray Emery
I'm putting my chips on him. I believe he should be our starting goalie. While everyone continues to say Hasek is on the way back, I believe it time to look past all of the bullshit that surrounds Dominik and go with a new face. Emery showed he's up to the job in the playoffs. I hope most of you have gotten off your stance that goaltending was why we lost. I hope you have had an about face ala mine with Alfie. Emery didn't win us a series, but he didn't lose it either.

And truth be told, I don't see any other solution. The goaltenders that are available on the open market, the Dwayne Rolosons via free agency or Evgeny Nabakov and J.S. Gigueres via trade are just too pricy.

And we saw with the Carolina Hurricanes, and Anaheim Mighty Ducks, and Buffalo Sabres, that young, hungry goaltending can win big games.

Don't buy into this nonsense that we need a proven goalie. It would be nice, sure, but we don't NEED it. We do need Emery to step up but I believe he's up to it. You will not find a more motivated player. A more intense competitor. As badly as we as fans want to see this team win, I believe he wants it 10x more, and with the experience he gained this past spring, I think he's in position to perform.

It's a risk, I know, but in situations like this, you have to have some balls.

The safe route is going back to Dominik Hasek. Sorry, but no. I can't endorse that approach, and even though it looks more and more likely like that will happen, I won't even now. It's the wrong move. He cannot be counted on, and is one butterfly away from being out for an indefinite period.

If what happened this season with Hasek was an isolated incident on his record, I would be all for bringing back the sure-to-be Hall of Famer. But it was just one of many embarassing instances where Hasek let his team down.

I realize, when he's healthy he can be a game stealer and he's saying all the right stuff, and he can probably he had for a cheap price relative to what he can do, but I just do not want to see Dominik Hasek in an Ottawa Senators uniform ever again. Period.

Frankly, I doubt many of his teammates do either. None will say so publicly, because going against a player, even an ex-player, seems to be against the NHL player code, but I can't see how any of them could want him back after he let them down so badly.

TOTAL THUS FAR: $36,112,699. $2.9 million for a back-up and a forward. Ideally a top six one.

Who is available?

In goal, you want a veteran but also someone who can come in and play if possible. For what we have to spend, the pickings will be slim, but maybe someone might come to Ottawa for cheap in hopes that Emery will collapse and they’ll get to play behind what will still be a very good team. Hey, I’m being an optimist here.

Johan Hedberg, Chris Osgood and John Grahame fit the bill. Sorta. Oh, Patrick Lalime AND Martin Prusek are out there. Just saying.

Of the available, I’d prefer Osgood. He’s won a Cup, was decent with Detroit if I remember right, and is a team player. He won’t come in and undermine Emery nor will be politick to be the starter. This isn’t to suggest he can’t become the #1 goalie, but he should understand, coming in, that his first priority is to provide support to the youngster we’re going with.

So Chris Osgood everyone? I know he’s not Patrick Roy, but we gotta do what we can here people.

Projected Cap Hit: $700,000
TOTAL THUS FAR: $36,812,699.

$2.2 million for a top six forward. Not too shabby if I say so myself. Again, who can we get? The list, as I see it, includes

Anson Carter | Petr Sykora | Mark Parrish | Mike Peca | Brendan Shanahan | Jason Arnott | Doug Weight | Mark Recchi | Marc Savard | Jeff Friesen

A couple of these are pipe dreams on my part, I know. Coming off 30 goals, Carter probably wants a big deal and our little $2.2 million isn’t that. I imagine he took that $1 million to play in Vancouver hoping a year with the Sedins would give him big stats so he could cash in.

Recchi apparently wants to go back to Pittsburgh, because he’s insane, but if he doesn’t, I can’t see him leaving the Cup winner unless it was for big bucks, which we don’t have. Same with Weight.

Mark Parrish would be nice, and $2.2 million isn’t that silly is it? Seems to be in his wheelhouse, and maybe we can convince Mean Gene to spend an extra couple hundred Gs if that’s what it takes.

However, for this spot, I believe we need a veteran. Someone who can aid Alfredsson, Redden, & Phillips in the locker room. Someone’s who’s won would be wonderful.

Hello Brendan Shanahan.

I’ve heard all the same things you have about him not wanting to leave Detroit, but maybe he looks at a situation like Ottawa as a better chance to win, and wants one more Cup ring before he bows out? To a lesser extent, I guess these same circumstances could describe Joe Sakic, who’s name I hear all the time, but I think that’s much less likely.

And if not Shanahan, why not Mike Peca? I thought he was crap during the regular season, but he proved his worth down the stretch and has all the intangibles this team needs right now. Grit, heart, experience.

He would have to take a pay cut, but I can’t see anyone paying him $4 million this offseason so it’s going to happen anyway. Why not Ottawa? He has connections to the area, having spent four years under Brian Kilrea.

Let’s say we do get Peca.




Not bad?

And by the way, I'm not married to all those names. As I said, I'd be more than willing to part with Havlat under the right circumstances.

I know a lot of you want to blow the ship up. Change the whole team. I get it. I was there a month ago too. But time has given me perspective, or too much forgiveness, depending where you stand I suppose.

At the end of the day, there's too much talent here to start over with all news faces. And frankly, as a fan, I don't want to. I want THIS team to win. I want to see Alfredsson hoist the cup. I want to see Redden win a Conn Smythe. I want to see Fisher get spotlighted the way Rod Brind'Amour did.

And I believe they can.

It will be an interesting summer.