Sens feel fiscal pain

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:18 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- The Senators will have to shoulder the load of Martin Havlat's contract while he plays the role of spectator.

And that's another real pain for the Senators.

Havlat will be sidelined for at least four months, but his $2.6-million (all terms US) wage still counts toward the NHL's $39-million salary cap.

Ottawa's current payroll is at about $35.4 million, so there is room under the cap to acquire another player to replace Havlat. But if the club added more salary now, it might not have sufficient cap room left to trade for a superior player who could become available at the NHL trade deadline.

Under the new collective bargaining agreement, a team, if necessary, is allowed to exceed the $39-million cap to replace an injured player. When that player returns, however, the club must shed enough salary to fall under the cap again.

"Let's say a team is at $39 million, they lose a player making $2.6 million and they want to bring somebody else in. They are allowed to exceed the cap by $2.6 million," an NHL executive explained yesterday.

"But when the player who has been injured is ready to return, you've got to get back under the cap. That means you've either got to lose the player that you brought in or move somebody else off your roster so that you clear the space for the returning player."

The New Jersey Devils, for example, were allowed to exceed the salary cap in the case of Patrik Elias, who has hepatitis. When he is ready to return, however, the Devils will have to move a significant player to make room for his salary.

What it all means is the Senators have to be careful if they attempt to find a replacement for Havlat, who requires surgery to repair a damaged right shoulder. The Senators can't afford to get too close to the cap limit as it would inhibit their ability to acquire help at the March 9 trade deadline.

Senators GM John Muckler has insisted that if he's going to upgrade the team, he'd like to do it just before the deadline when a number of players heading into unrestricted free agency will likely become available.

Ideally, the Senators would like to see what young winger Brandon Bochenski is able to do as Havlat's replacement before trying to acquire a high-priced player.

VETERAN HELP

Veterans such as former Maple Leafs winger Owen Nolan, St. Louis centre Doug Weight and possibly Calgary centre Steven Reinprecht are available, but Bochenski will get the first shot at keeping the job.

"We've lost a strong, skilled player in Martin Havlat,'' said coach Bryan Murray, ''but he has to do what is right for him and I think having the surgery is the right decision for him to make this situation right.

"But we're going to give a guy like Bochenski a chance. He has shown that he can put the puck in the net. He went down to (AHL) Binghamton and he was able to get some confidence. Hopefully, he can be productive at this level."

Muckler said Havlat's absence will be a big test for the organization's depth.

"Bochenski has a great opportunity. We're just going to sit back here and evaluate for the next month or so," said Muckler. "We like the people who we have here and we're just going to stick with them."

bruce.garrioch@ott.sunpub.com


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