The Senators are experiencing a renaissance that is the envy of every other team in the NHL.
So could an injury to a vital defenceman be considered a blessing in disguise? It's doubtful. But it does seem like an optimum opportunity for GM John Muckler to pause and reflect about the future.
The Senators' unfortunate future includes a salary cap that will allow them to retain the services of either Wade Redden or Zdeno Chara -- but probably not both.
It seems ludicrous to be discussing the possible loss of one of the team's elite defencemen, when the Senators have been basking in the most glorious of honeymoon periods since the NHL's return.
But Muckler, in his perpetually shrewd manner, surely hasn't allowed the issue of core players on the cusp of unrestricted free agency to slip far from his mind.
And with Redden forced to the sidelines recuperating from a knee injury, it would seem that Muckler could use this time to observe how the team functions in the absence of No. 6.
Redden and Chara have time and money in common at the present -- both will see their respective contracts expire after this year. Both are currently pulling down a respectable salary of $3.724 million (all terms US). And based on their play, it's expected that each will be seeking a pay raise.
But that's where the similarities stop.
Everyone is aware of Chara's physical presence -- but when you begin to crunch the numbers it becomes blatantly obvious. Chara, through to last Thursday's game against the Bruins, has recorded 78 hits. Redden had amassed 18 before his injury (one date was unable to be recorded -- the Oct. 24 game vs. Carolina -- as the NHL website did not make the statistics available).
Chara also nearly doubles Redden in blocked shots, with the imposing Czech totalling 39 to Redden's 20.
With his size, Chara brings an intimidation factor that few teams can match. No opposing player wants to be crushed in the corner by 260 lbs. of aggressive power (or caught in the traffic of his menacing slap shot, for that matter).
The sad reality is that the Senators may suffer more with the loss of Chara as opposed to Redden -- in spite of Redden's offensive ability, confidence and his intrinsic link to the Ottawa team core. It is rare to completely and successfully replace an elite defenceman, but certain characteristics can be sought out in others, with less ominous financial ramifications.
Paul Mara isn't Redden, but there's potential to be had -- especially in restricted free agents making $1.775 million.
Muckler has some difficult decisions to make in the upcoming months, for what occurs with these two defencemen will dictate the future of other Senators as well. Jason Spezza and Martin Havlat's contracts will need to be renegotiated, as well as the seemingly ageless Dominik Hasek. Can the Senators retain both Chara and Redden? Right now, it's doubtful. Can the Ottawa GM (and the financial success of the NHL) perform a miracle? Remain hopeful.
NFC THRILLERS: Who would've thought the NFC would be this interesting? The team to finally emerge and secure a berth to Super Bowl XL is still anyone's guess. The Panthers experienced playoff success in the past, but have proved to be somewhat inconsistent and face a difficult schedule down the stretch (they play Atlanta today, Tampa next week and Dallas on Christmas Eve). Chicago is talented, but lacks playoff maturity and Seattle seems to be barely squeaking by, in spite of a league-leading offence and potential MVP in RB Shaun Alexander. Keep an eye on Dallas, which nearly pulled off a Thanksgiving Day victory against Denver in spite of losing CB Anthony Henry to an injured groin in late October, and already has wins against Jacksonville, Seattle and the Giants.
AROUND THE HORN: Whose idea was it to move the Team 1200 broadcasts on Senators' game days to Frank Finnigan's? The location is hardly ideal -- the restaurant is perpetually congested with people ambling about, and the acoustics are horrific ... Still searching for a perfect accompanying Christmas gift to go with that "Free Darko (Milicic)" T-shirt? Nike now sells a version of the tights that Kobe Bryant has recently been wearing during games. Nuggets C Marcus Camby's opinion of them, according to ESPN: "(I) don't wear pantyhose."