May 3, 2012
Sens' summer strategy looms large
By DON BRENNAN, QMI AGENCY
Bryan Murray is sitting on a fence.
The Senators GM is excited about the prospects in the organization and he’s willing to wait for them, but he also knows his team could be a contender next season.
If he’s shopping at free-agent time, Murray says a forward who can score and a defensive defenceman are on his list.
In such case, there’s not a boatload of players around the NHL who did an eye-catching job of selling themselves in their “contract year” — the last season of their existing deal before they’re eligible to become an unrestricted free agent.
While not your prototypical offensive weapon, however, Chris Kelly is on the Senators’ radar. Along with everything else he brings to a team — smarts, penalty killing abilities, leadership and just a good guy to have in the room — the ex-Senator potted 20 goals for the Boston Bruins this season.
You’d think B’s GM Peter Chiarelli would want him back, except if he did badly enough he probably would have re-signed Kelly by now.
There are reasons to believe the Senators want to ink Kelly. When he traded him as part of the contract unloading/rebuilding plan last season, Murray said it was one of the hardest things he ever had to do.
Along with the on-ice skills, Kelly would only improve the chemistry that was such an important part of Ottawa’s success in 2011-12.
On the flipside, who knows what a veteran like Olli Jokinen would do to it.
The versatile Kelly would provide a great example to the younger Senators, like Zack Smith, who are requested to play the game right, and within their limits.
Perhaps most importantly, it’s believed Kelly would love to come back to Ottawa.
As far as somebody to fill the second-line left wing role alongside Kyle Turris and, presumably, Daniel Alfredsson, the Senators are likely to take a long look at the New York Islanders’ P-A Parenteau. While a guy like Brad Boyes gave the Buffalo Sabres a paltry eight goals for his $4-million salary in the final year of his deal, Parenteau had 67 points while earning $1.25 million.
He might be a nice catch, but there should also be plenty of others fishing for his services.
After that, obvious pickings from the forward end of the UFA pool are rather slim.
Of course, the Senators could give Nick Foligno another crack at the second-line job.
Watching him struggle through the second half of the season, there were those who thought the 24-year-old former first rounder would become trade bait this summer. But Foligno should be re-signed. A restricted free agent who made $1.2 million, he did register 47 points while playing every game on the schedule for the second season in a row. And only four of them came on special teams, which means he was tied for 48th among all NHLers in even-strength scoring.
Foligno, who was also second on the club with four playoff points, has become the type of scrappy player his dad Mike was for 15 seasons.
While Foligno says he wants to become a big part of this Senators team, he might not turn out to be a second-liner. He could be a very good left winger on the third trio, however.
Much of what happens on the blue line will revolve around what becomes of Filip Kuba.
When I wrote Murray should have traded Erik Karlsson’s 35-year old partner at the deadline, a veteran on the team told me no, Kuba should be kept, that he was an essential and well-liked member of the group. Okay, but I still believe Kuba is going to walk, and I don’t blame him. He made a remarkable plus-52 turnaround from his disastrous 2010-11, and he should cash in on the last contract of his career.
However, the Senators would be unwise to give Kuba a multi-year deal at the $4-million-plus salary the numbers suggest he could warrant. He does make some good, subtle moves in his own zone, but his smartest decision always was to pass the puck to Karlsson and watch him skate it out of the zone. Others can do that for far less money.
While Jason Garrison of the Florida Panthers should garner much attention as he is offered a huge raise on a $675,000 salary for scoring 16 goals, the Senators can contemplate a less flashy group that includes Barret Jackman, Bryan Allen and Kent Huskins.
At 31, Jackman is a hard-nosed veteran who made $3.62 million with the Blues this season. He had only one goal in 81 games, but he was also a plus-20. No one knows for sure, but it figures he’d look good beside Karlsson.
Less of a longshot might be Allen, who is also 31. He made almost $1 million less than Kuba and, at 6-foot-5, 226 pounds, is better at playing his size.
Working almost 20 minutes a night for the Carolina Hurricanes, the former fourth overall pick was a respectable minus-1.
Most impressively, Allen finished fourth in the league with 188 blocked shots. After losing to the Rangers, the Senators should have an even greater appreciation for that talent.
If the don’t re-sign Matt Carkner — and they really should — the Senators might consider Shane O’Brien, a tough 28-year-old who was a respectable plus-2 in 76 games, averaging more than 19 minutes a night, while making $1.1 million with the Colorado Avalanche.
Huskins should be a guy the Senators look at whether Kuba andCarkner are re-signed. An Almonte native with a Stanley Cup ring from 2008 with the Anaheim Ducks, Huskins was Alex Pietrangelo’s partner on the St. Louis blue line at the start of the playoffs. At a salary of $1 million this season, he could be a good buy.