Cap floor crunch puts Senators on defensive
BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency
|Sergei Gonchar reacts after a Maple Leafs goal at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., Oct. 9, 2010. (DAVE ABEL/QMI Agency)
OTTAWA - The Senators are looking at one crowded blue line when training camp opens Sept. 17 at Scotiabank Place.
The speculation in NHL circles is that with nine defencemen vying for seven spots on the roster, at least one will be dealt before the Senators report for physicals.
Six have one-way contracts, youngsters Jared Cowen and David Rundblad are virtually assured spots, while Patrick Wiercioch will also make a serious push.
Something would seemingly have to give. But making a move will be difficult with the Senators so close to the salary cap floor.
League sources say the club tried to deal either Sergei Gonchar (two years left at $5.5 million) or Filip Kuba (one season left at $3.7 million) during the draft in Minnesota in June, but couldn’t find any takers.
Nobody is likely to touch Gonchar after his disastrous 2010-11 season, not without assurances the 37-year-old has completely recovered from the concussion that ended his season in March.
That leaves Kuba as the top candidate to be moved. If the Senators do find any takers for the 34-year-old, they’ll have to take back salary to avoid going below the $48.3-million floor.
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and GM Bryan Murray both stated when the rebuild started that the club wouldn’t spend to the cap.
The only player signed on July 1 at the start of free agency was backup goalie Alex Auld to a one-year, $1-million deal.
According to capgeek.com, the Senators have $51.8 million committed to 14 forwards, seven blueliners and two goalies for this season. But that includes prospect forward Stephane DaCosta’s $1.325-million entry-level deal — and he’ll have a tough time making the team.
Subtracting Kuba's contact from that figure would put Ottawa below the floor, as shocking as that may seem. Murray could be hoping to use Kuba to get a top-six forward who is having problems producing elsewhere.
“They can’t afford to just give Kuba away if they are going to trade him,” said a league executive. “They’re going to have to be willing to take some salary back.”
The Senators could help solve their blue-line dilemma by dealing Brian Lee and his $900,000 contract. But he’s shown that he can be a capable replacement if somebody goes down, and the 24-year-old still has potential.
Matt Carkner, making an appearance at a charity golf tournament last week at Greyhawk, was asked about the impending blue-line battle for playing time at camp.
“It’s the same every year,” said Carkner, who will make $700,000 this season. “You always have prospects coming in and you always have chances of trades before training camp even starts. For our team, there’s going to be a lot of competition.
“I think that’s a good thing because it’s going to push all of us to play at our best level.”
Anybody who thinks Carkner is going to be the odd man out is out of touch. He’s the Senators’ only element of toughness on the back end. Erik Karlsson, Chris Phillips, Kuba Gonchar, Rundblad and Lee all play the same game. Cowen and Wiercioch are both big, but need to get stronger.
Sure, the Senators have toughness up front with Chris Neil, Zenon Konopka and Zack Smith, but they need some on defence as well.
“It’s good to have toughness in every area,” said Carkner.
Murray making a move before camp would probably be pretty tough as well.