Catching up on the happenings

After laying dormant for a good week or so, Sens GM John Muckler has had a busy couple of days, wrapping up a few of the unsigned players as well as adding a new one.

Re-signed Chris Kelly to a one-year, $725,000 contract.

Kelly’s an important, if underappreciated piece of the puzzle, so getting him signed was a priority. I’m slightly disappointed that it was only a one-year contract, because I think he has some good upside and so getting him locked in for a few years at that price might’ve ended up saving some dollars down the line. I have Kelly penciled in as the fourth-line center, in the same role he occupied last season, but he’s certainly capable of moving up a line if the situation calls for it. That said, the experiment Bryan Murray tried towards the end of the regular season, and into the playoffs, putting him on the top line with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, was ridiculous. I could sort of, kind of, understand the logic, in that he wanted a defensively sound, dependable forward with the often defensively erratic youngsters. The coaching staff clearly views Kelly as a trusty footsoldier based on how often he’s on the ice late in key situations, especially late in the game, but it was unfair of them to put Kelly on that line, as his skillset just isn’t strong enough to warrant such a role. I actually felt bad for “Battleship Kelly”, because try as he might, he was just not suited for that role and as a result, struggled to perform with all that ice time.

Having said all this, the occasional promotion up to the third line isn’t a bad idea, because with Kelly, you always know what you’re going to get, and that’s a consistent effort every time he’s touches the ice. An incident that I remember very well to exemplify his character was in a game between the Sens and Hurricanes at ScotiaBank Place around Christmas time. Very early in the contest, Patrick Eaves, at the time still very wet behind the ears having only played a handful of games in the NHL, was hit from behind by a ‘Canes player whose identity I cannot remember at this moment. Without batting an eye, Kelly, not a big man nor known to be a scrapper, jumped in to defend the kid, taking on the mystery Hurricane (who, if my memory serves me right, was much bigger). Kelly got the boot from the game, but the message was clear: don’t fuck with our players.

Re-signed Chris Neil to a three-year, $3.3 million contract.

I have to admit, I was a little worried about this one, because Neil’s a big softy and I could see the arbitration process hurting his feelings. The truth is, Neil is coming off a big season, having set career highs in all the key offensive categories, however, 16 goals is a sort of misleading stat as I don’t think he’s as valuable, offensively, as say Antoine Vermette, who scored only four more goals. The good news is he’s inked for three years, which is a longer commitment than either Wade Redden or Jason Spezza were willing to give the franchise. The sorta bad news is, at $3.3, the pressure is on for Neil to perform. Will Neil continue to improve or is the 16 goal range his ceiling as an offensive contributor? If so, I’m okay with that, as Neil brings a lot of other things to the table that make him a valuable member of the squad. No one cares about his teammates more nor will you find a player in a Sens uniform more willing to defend said teammates. I believe he would literally take a bullet for the rest of the squad. So having a guy like that in the fold cannot hurt. I also like the role he played in the Lightning series of superpest extraordinaire. His antics got under the skin of the opposition, drawing numerous penalties and generally taking their focus off where it should have been (score goals) to something much more unimportant (let’s get Neil!). Neil, on a line with his good pal Mike Fisher I hope, will have another productive season, I expect.

Signed Jamie Allison to a one-year contract.

So this one’s interesting. Allison’s 31 years old and has played nine seasons in the NHL (though up and down from the AHL early on, having only played 372 games total). He’s a mostly stay-at-home blueliner, and adds depth to the franchise, so that’s all good, but the question out there seems to be whether or not this is a move leading to others. It’s doubtful the contract is a two-way deal, as I’m pretty sure Allison, who’s been a full-timer NHLer for eight years now, wouldn’t accept such a contract, so are they keeping him around as the 7th d-man? I assumed, with the acquisition of Tom Preissing, that Christoph Schubert would fill that role, existing as the spare part because of his ability to play either forward or D. Are they planning to keep two of those around? Or are they, as the speculation has said, perhaps dangling one of their defenceman for help up front?

The name that’s been thrown around has been Anton Volchenkov. He’s paid $1.25 mil, not an unreasonable contract by any stretch of the imagination but certainly not great for a 5th or 6th rearguard (which is where I have him penciled in), and he’s young enough that, despite some moments of inconsistency, is still regarded as a hot commodity around the league, possibly able to get something of significance in return. The working assumption has been that the second line center job would be Russian prospect Alexei Kaigorodov’s to lose, however, the transfer agreement with the Russians and the IIHF isn’t going so well, even with Sens’ European scout Anders Hedberg over there trying his best to help the process and specifically to pry Kaigorodov from Magnitogorsk’s cold evil claws.

If it can’t happen, there is a wide gaping hole that needs to be filled, and if they have a glut of top four defenceman, it makes sense to use one of them address a weakness that exists. Dealing Volchenkov might just be a case of the odd man out, as they’re not going to move Wade Redden or Preissing. Andrej Meszaros better be considered an untouchable at this point, and I’m pretty sure they’re not going to move Joe Corvo, who’s apparently trying to buy Bryan Smolinski’s house in the area. So it’s either Chris Phillips or the A-Train. I’m not entirely opposed to moving Phillips for the right price, because he’ll be a UFA in 11 months and with the prices comparable d-man got this offseason, it’ll be hard for them to be able to afford him. On the other hand, Phillips is a fixture in that locker room, one of the leaders, and the turnover is already big enough having lost Zdeno Chara. Of course, if the Sens were to be without both Chara AND Volchenkov, their backend is suddenly a whole lot less menacing to their opposition.

I’m sure Allison signed for the league minimum, or close to it, however, an extra $500K against the cap, if not especially necessary, seems unwise to me. He might be able to clear waivers, and so could be down in Bingo doing what Lance Ward was supposed to last year, which is provide veteran guidance to a youngish defensive unit, but who knows.

So all that’s left is to convince Kaigodorov to leave Russia and come here. I wouldn’t think it would be hard. I’ve never been to Russia, but I have to think Ottawa, in spite of it’s shitty winters, is a cooler place to live. And he’d get to play with Daniel Alfredsson! C’mon.

Oh, and Peter Schaefer, whose arbitration is scheduled for Friday. More on that tomorrow, or late tonight if I feel inspired. I'm a little nervous about it's outcome as the arbitrators appear to be hitting the blow especially hard this month. Who knows what wacky things they'll decide in this instance. Let's hope Muckler manages to avoid this one as well, getting Schaefer's name on a lengthy agreement. He's sort of a good player, I heard.