Go big or go home, boys

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

SUNRISE, Fla. -- So close and yet so far? Will that be the circumstance for the Senators tonight when they face the Florida Panthers on the eve of the trade deadline?

Barring some kind of deal before game time tonight, the Senators will face the Panthers with centre Olli Jokinen and goaltender Roberto Luongo in the Florida lineup.

Both could be available, so why don't the Senators make a big, big, bold move and make a run at trading for both of them?

Crazy?

Truth is, the Senators are one of the few teams that could put a package together that would make such a blockbuster deal feasible for the Panthers.

Much of the chatter in the run up to tomorrow's trade deadline has focused on the Florida pair. Any team looking for a top-six forward (hello, Senators) has to be interested in Jokinen -- set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer --and any team looking for a great, young goaltender has to be looking at Luongo.

He'll be 27 next month and is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer and could be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2007.

He has already turned down a reported five-year, $30-million offer to stay with the Panthers.If you listen to Luongo, it seems his desire isn't so much for money -- that will come when you are as good as he is -- but to be in a winning situation.

NO PLAYOFF EXPERIENCE

Luongo is in his sixth season in the NHL and has yet to play a playoff game. He has seen the Panthers struggle through front office in-fighting and less than mediocre results on the ice, playing in front of sparse crowds in a building that has all the atmosphere of a bus station, a small one, at that.

The Panthers are still years away from being a playoff contender.

As for the team's direction this year, Luongo said recently: "There's definitely improvement that's been made over the course of this year compared to other years, there's no doubt about that," he said. "But at the end of the day, you want to be in the playoffs. That matters the most to me. I've been patient, I think, long enough."

That certainly sounds ominous.

The Panthers haven't been able to sign Jokinen, either, and he could be a rental player.

The Senators could put together a package of, say, goaltender Ray Emery, their first-round pick in this summer's draft, and two of their young players. The young players could be future considerations, so the Senators would still have their services for the rest of this year's playoff run.

That's not a bad package for two players the Panthers could potentially lose for nothing within a year if they can't sign them. If things have gotten this far, what's to make anybody believe they will sign in Florida now?

If the Senators are going to be a contender for the next few years, they are going to have to address the goaltending situation.

Dominik Hasek, 41, is playing for just $1.5 million this season and is a free agent this summer. If he takes them on a long playoff run, you have to think his price is going to go way up. If he doesn't take them on a long playoff run or gets hurt again, the Senators likely won't want him back (do you want to be walking on egg shells regarding his health every time he goes on the ice? The Senators are going through that now).

Luongo would give them a workhorse young goalie who, on his own, makes them a perennial contender.

He'd likely be more than happy to be on a team like the Senators, closer to home, surrounded by good young players like himself, contending for a Cup every year, playing for a coach in Bryan Murray who has the utmost respect for him (Murray traded for Luongo when he was GM of the Panthers).

Emery shows promise, but can the Senators afford to wait for him to maybe develop into a star in three or four years?

Could the Senators afford both Luongo and Jokinen?

Right now, the Senators have just $17.4 million committed for next season for nine players (including Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, Mike Fisher, Chris Phillips, Anton Volchenkov and Andrej Meszaros). If they could sign Jokinen and Luongo for, say, $11 million combined and one of Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara (signing both would be next to impossible), they could have a pretty awesome nucleus in the $33-million range.

Nothing against any of the players involved, but I like the looks of the Senators with Luongo in net and one of Chara or Redden on the blue line than both Redden and Chara and Emery in goal.

At the expense of some fine, but replaceable young players, the Senators would have the best young goalie in the league and potentially a front-line centre in Jokinen to help out Jason Spezza.

Some people might argue the Senators are giving up too much of their future if they parted with Emery, a first-round pick and a Patrick Eaves or Antoine Vermette or Volchenkov.

Thing is, you're getting great players in their prime in return, not veterans who are close to the end.

A bold move? For sure.

Interesting? Absolutely.


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