As an impending unrestricted free agent, Anton Volchenkov has the Senators organization by the balls. Not only is he a lynchpin, stay-at-home defenceman who routinely takes shifts against the oppositions top lines, he's also a unique player for the Senators. Although Matt Carkner exudes many of the same qualities as the A-Train, he simply can't skate well enough to be consistently matched up against some of the best players in the NHL. And Jared Cowen, a projected shutdown defensive defenceman is years away from logging significant minutes for the organization. Without a suitable replacement who is ready to assume Volchenkov's role, if he opts to test free agency, the Senators could be up shit's creek without a paddle.
It doesn't help matters that Volchenkov is coming off of a cap friendly contract. He's already taken a hometown discount once. Will he do it again?
I'm leery of what could happen and for good reason. Jay Grossman, Volchenkov's agent, is a snake. When one of Grossman's other clients, Ilya Kovalchuk, rejected two market value contract offers from the Atlanta Thrashers, it irked all five of the Atlanta Thrashers season ticket holders. This modicum of resentment for Grossman is so transparent on the Interwebs. So much so that a quick Twitter search for Jay Grossman revealed this message from one Dylan Harr -- fuc (SIC) you Jay Grossman.
As a Senators fan, I'm conflicted. I sure as hell don't want to see Volchenkov go. But at the same time, I don't want to see Bryan Murray pay an arm and a leg to keep Volchenkov in tow. Especially when there are a slew of modern examples of defensive defencemen who have signed big contracts but haven't lived up to them. (Read: Jay McKee, the recently waived Brendan Witt, Mike Komisarek, Mike Commodore, etc.)
If you're Bryan Murray, you need a contingency plan -- Jan Hejda.
With 3 goals and 10 assists, Hejda will never be mistaken for Mike Green. Instead, one has to dig a little deeper to find his true worth as a defensive defenceman. Even though Hejda's a minus thirteen for a bad Columbus Blue Jackets team, I believe those numbers have been inflated by the porous goaltending of Steve Mason.
Hejda's true value lies in his Volchenkov'esque blend of hits and shot blocking ability. Here are some numbers to keep in mind...
- 2009/10: 93 hits, 118 blocked shots
- 2008/09: 3 goals, 18 assists, +23, 168 hits, 157 blocked shots
Most importantly, unlike some other defensive blueliners who are reportedly available (ie. Dennis Seidenberg), Hejda would remain under contract through the conclusion of the 2010-11 season at an affordable $2M cap hit. Granted, it may cost the Senators a bit more in terms of trade assets to acquire him, but the additional cost to acquire Hejda would be worth it. For one, it would help negate the advantage of last change during the playoffs when opposing coaches attempt to keep their best skill forwards away from the pairing of Phillips and Volchenkov.
I'm not exactly convinced that Bryan Murray needs to pursue a soon to be unrestricted free agent defenceman. According to Cap Geek, the Senators currently have pro-rated cap space of $5,541,597. They do have the financial flexibility to make a move without having to worry too much about the future and to be honest, I'm not sure if it's the best course of action. By acquiring Hejda and his non-rental contract, the Senators would be protecting themselves in the event that Volchenkov decides to test the free agent market. Which to me is the most important thing. If Bryan Murray is willing to flip assets to acquire a blueliner, wouldn't it be in the team's best interests not to acquire a player who could flee the team after the season with Volchenkov and leave the team with nothing to show for it?
Come on Murray, if Volchenkov and Grossman leave you up shit's creek, the least you could do is pack a paddle.