Sens need major front end work

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

Well, even after they traded Martin Havlat and Bryan Smolinski, the Senators are going to have two good lines next year.

Right now, actually, that's what they have.

Six of last year's forwards under contract.

They would be Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, Mike Fisher, Patrick Eaves and Brian McGrattan.

After GM John Muckler has concentrated on remaking the Senators' back end -- they are the Jennifer Lopez of the NHL right now -- here's hoping he's ready to get a little enhancement for the front.

Thing is, a Jessica Simpson is now out of the question given the amount of money left in the kitty, most of which will be spent just bringing back into the fold the likes of Peter Schaefer, Antoine Vermette, Chris Kelly, Chris Neil, Christoph Schubert and rookie centre Alexei Kaigorodov (if they can ever get the NHL-Russia transfer agreement finalized.)

So, what you see right now is pretty much what the Senators are going to be come next season.

Near as I can figure, they have committed $34.7 million (all terms US) in salary cap dollars (the average of players' deals rather than what they make next year) to 14 players.

That leaves about $5.5 million to bring in the remaining five free agents and prospect mentioned above and another player (F Denis Hamel or the likes of C Joshua Hennessy or D Michal Barinka from the Havlat deal) to bring them to 21 bodies for next year.

Signing another "name" free agent is out of the question.

In the context of losing stopper defenceman Zdeno Chara, I like the looks of the Senators' blue line with the addition of Tom Preissing, who comes over from the Sharks in the Havlat/Smolinski deal, and Joe Corvo, the free agent from the Kings.

Both can skate and handle the puck, which is the way the NHL is going these days (did you see Chara trying to turn and chase those Sabres?). Based on last year's stats, the Senators' starting six on the blue line right now (Preissing, Corvo, Wade Redden, Chris Phillips, Anton Volchenkov and Andrej Meszaros) accounted for a very nice 50 goals last year.

Take a look at the Stanley Cup-champion Hurricanes. They won the Cup with a group of defencemen that lacked a real star presence, but had no weak links.

The Senators have Redden followed by a solid group of five.

The issue is going to be up front now.

SMOLINSKI OVERPAID?

For sure, there will not be an outpouring of regret over Smolinski's departure. He was viewed as overpaid for what he contributed to the Senators' cause, though he was one of their more visible forwards in the loss to the Sabres in the playoffs.

Whether that says more about Smolinski or the rest of the Senators forwards is a matter of opinion.

There was simply no way the Senators could have afforded the $6 million a year Havlat got from the Blackhawks. All you have to do is look at the numbers above.

The question now is where do the Senators go from here?

The Senators have lost Havlat, Chara and Smolinski and basically got Preissing and Corvo in return.

You can't say they are a better team now than they were before.

The Senators' saving grace is in this salary cap era, there are other teams of which you can say the same thing.

The teams that have had the money to spend on free agents weren't very good to start with for the most part and they're raiding the better teams.

That's what you get in a cap system -- everybody moving toward the middle.

It's why an eighth seed can make it to the Stanley Cup final.

The departure of both Smolinski and Havlat -- with no proven NHL forwards coming back in return -- seriously depletes Ottawa's forwards ranks. Spezza is going to have to shoulder more of a load, as will Fisher. Vermette will likely get more ice time in the middle (which he deserves after last season) and Kelly has shown he can handle a defensive role and kill penalties.

But it looks like the Senators -- as they were at the trade deadline -- might still in need of centre who can insulate Spezza until the 23-year-old grows into a responsible number one guy.

"Responsible" in the official coach's handbook is defined as "not making all those FREAKIN' backpasses at the other team's blue line!"


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