OTTAWA - The return of Daniel Alfredsson for the 2012-13 season saves the Senators from the migraine they would have surely had trying to figure out where to come up with the 25-30 goals they were losing had he retired.
But looking at their lineup — now that the dust appears to be mostly settled — still leaves them the potential for a few other headaches.
For one, they seem to be putting a lot of faith in Jakob Silfverberg, a 21-year-old prospect who has yet to play a regular-season game in the NHL. Silfverberg sure looks like he’ll be a good player someday, but there’s no telling how he’ll deal with the demands of an 82-game schedule.
And right now, he is at least pencilled in as the first-line right winger. Should he need time in Binghamton, that’s a huge hole left vacant.
There is also concern, at least from outside the Senators’ offices, about their cap situation. Things may change with the new collective bargaining agreement — when and if that ever gets done — but right now the floor is somewhere around $54 million. According to Capgeek.com, only the NHL-owned Phoenix Coyotes and often confusing New York Islanders have spent less on salaries than the Senators, who have $50,208,333 going to 20 players.
How are they going to find a way to spend another $4 million? They can move closer to the floor, if they carry another two forwards (to give them 14) and a defenceman (putting seven on their roster).
Right now, Silfverberg is not included on the list, and neither is fellow rookie Mika Zibanejad. They would be paid $900,000 and $1,744,167, respectively, if they make the team.
As silly as it sounds, the fact that Patrick Wiercioch’s salary ($875,000) would be greater than Mark Borowiecki’s ($610,00) might actually give the former an advantage over the latter at roster cutdown day. But even with Wiercioch, they’d still be shy of what they need to spend. So there could be more pressure on GM Bryan Murray to make a trade than that which comes with simply needing to make his team better.
And make no mistake, Murray still wants to improve the personnel.
Not enough of it was made at the time, but the Senators blew it by not re-signing defenceman Matt Carkner. Nobody knew at the time — not even Carkner — that the Islanders would go overboard by giving him a three year deal worth $4.5 million. Before becoming a free agent, all Carkner was asking from the Senators was a two-year contract worth $1.6 million. He simply wanted an extra year, from what was offered, as a little bit of a guarantee for him and his family, to keep playing in his hometown. But the Senators were too worried about the condition of his damaged knee.
In retrospect, Murray himself must be regretting that one.
Even if Carkner could only play 50 games, he’d be a perfect No. 6 or 7 defenceman, an extremely hard-working, set-an-example kind of guy considered one of the best heavyweight fighters in the league who is also decent defensively and great in the room and the community.
“Big Country” was a fan favourite here.
Without him around, the Senators are more prone to be on the receiving end of the kind of headaches Brian Boyle was intent on giving Erik Karlsson in Game 1 of the playoffs before Carkner responded by giving the big New York Rangers centre a migraine in Game 2 with what some are referring to as the greatest 39-second shift in Senators history.
If Carkner had not stood up for his teammates that way, a more magnified version of the way he always did, the Senators very likely would not have taken the Rangers to a Game 7.
So now, even though their captain and leader is returning for at least one more year, they are still left needing some toughness, needing Silfverberg to be a standout rookie, and needing to finding a way to spend at least another $500,000.
That’s not to mention any more shortcomings they may discover once training camp begins in another month and a half — hopefully.