Securing Sens future

Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, head coach Bryan Murray, and owner Eugene Melnyk have a...

Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, head coach Bryan Murray, and owner Eugene Melnyk have a laugh during the teams official photo prior to practice at the Scotiabank Place in Ottawa on March 1, 2007.(Ottawa Sun Photo By Sean Kilpatrick)

ERIN NICKS

, Last Updated: 12:12 PM ET

When the Senators decided to trade winger Peter Schaefer away for a song named Shean Donovan last week, a rather unattractive term was immediately invoked.

"Salary dump."

Despite this distasteful phrase, how else could anyone interpret the exchange of one player set to earn $2.1 million (all terms US) in 2007-08 for another who is set to make $925,000 in the same year?

After the ostentatious spending we have witnessed during the off-season thus far, you may start to believe that Senators owner Eugene Melnyk could cover Donovan's salary with the pocket change discovered in a jacket that he likely wore only once.

Who knows what would happen if Melnyk could entrust his wallet to a non-salary cap system, but since such an arrangement no longer exists, what seems like a relatively small amount retained from the Schaefer trade becomes a question of where that so-called newfound money will go.

The Senators' cap hit for next season currently sits at about $40 million, allowing for just over $10 million of wiggle room to accommodate Christoph Schubert, Chris Kelly and most notably, Ray Emery -- assuming that the Senators wish to re-sign all three.

Emery will undoubtedly garner the largest chunk of available cap space, based on current trends among recently signed backstoppers of similar talent.

UNCOMFORTABLE SITUATION

The question is whether the Senators, with the money they currently have to play with, choose to allot it toward the resolution of an uncomfortable situation now or a potentially disastrous problem later.

Let's assume Emery goes to arbitration Tuesday and is eventually awarded a two-year contract worth around $4 million a season.

Unfortunately for the Senators, the club has five restricted free agents (including Jason Spezza) and three unrestricted free agents to tend to after next season.

The most notable on that UFA list -- and maybe in the NHL -- is Dany Heatley, who potentially could break the bank and blow the majority of recent weighty free-agent contracts out of the water.

If Emery is awarded such a substantial paycheque, it will undoubtedly cut into the funds that Ottawa would need to re-sign Heatley.

However, it is far more difficult to replace a Heatley in your lineup than it is to find a Emery clone.

Keep in mind the Senators still have a potential No. 1 goaltender under contract for two more seasons in Martin Gerber, but there is no player on the team or within the system with the ability to seamlessly replace Heatley.

Then there's the issue of separating Heatley from Spezza -- his attached-at-the-hip linemate -- who will also need to be re-signed.

DYNAMIC DUO

The Senators have invested a fair amount of time into producing an elite tandem and it's highly probable they will do everything in their power to ensure both Spezza and Heatley remain in Ottawa for a long while.

Ottawa has also placed a lot of effort into developing Emery through its own system, but the Senators can roll the dice and replace him with someone their cap space has already accounted for.

Whenever a salary dump takes place, the speculation on where the money will be spent goes from zero to 60 in a nanosecond.

The Senators have a relatively light off-season on their plates, but that won't be the case at this time next year.

The remainder of Schaefer's allotted salary isn't nearly enough to compensate either Emery or Heatley.

However, when one is more valuable and harder to replace than the other, it seems in the team's best interest to begin squirrelling away cash while thinking about the future -- the future off-season, that is.


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