With three impending unrestricted free agents amongst the seven defencemen on their NHL roster, it doesn't take a hockey savante to figure out that Ottawa's blue line could look considerably different when training camp opens next fall.
While the intents of the organization are unknown, it seems unlikely that the Senators will make concerted efforts to bring back Filip Kuba, Matt Carkner or last night's healthy scratch, Matt Gilroy.
Although there is some optimism that current Binghamton defencemen like a Mark Borowiecki, an Eric Gryba or even a Patrick Wiercioch could play in some NHL games next season, none of the aforementioned players should realistically be expected to contribute in anything more than a sixth or seventh defenceman capacity.
Whether it is through free agency or a trade, one would hope that management would make a concerted effort to address a defensive unit that contributes to the league's second worst shots allowed per game (31.8) rate.
One potential avenue for the Senators to explore is Florida's Jason Garrison. With 16 goals, he is tied with Shea Weber for the second most goals amongst defencemen, trailing only Erik Karlsson's 19 tallies. While this is partly percentage driven as he's 23rd in d-man shots, it's still more than double the total Kuba's fired on net.
With nine power play goals, one would think that Garrison's booming shot would be a welcome addition to many NHL clubs, however, based off today's Jim Matheson article in the Edmonton Journal, one might think otherwise.
The line’s forming to the right for Florida UFA defenceman Jason Garrison, who has 16 goals, second only to Erik Karlsson. The Panthers have offered $2.5 million a year, but he’s barely given the offer the time of day after making $600,000 this year. The feeling is he figures he can get $4 million on the open market. Should the Oilers be in the hunt? Yes, but with reservations. They could use somebody to pound the puck — he’s a shooter not a passer, playing with Brian Campbell which gives him the leeway to fire away — but there are niggling concerns.
Offered $2.5 million? The Florida Panthers are the same organization that would have given Valeri Bure $3 million this offseason provided that it would have got them to the NHL salary cap floor, right?
Why the low ball offers? Matheson has more...
“He’s a No. 5 defenceman,” said one NHL team executive. Plus, he’s only lit it up for one year. There’s no body of work here. That said, it’s a very shallow free-agent market for blue-liners, so he’s holding all the cards. Garrison is six-foot-two and 220lbs, but not physical. He’s only 27, from Vancouver. The Oilers are probably on the hunt.Assuming that this unnamed executive wasn't Bryan Murray, what a crazy bastard! (Note: And if it was Bryan Murray, I'll just favorably pretend it was a savvy effort to drive down the market's price.)
Garrison can score but he's not just some power play specialist. He has the sixth highest Relative Corsi metric in the league and plays more than 23 minutes a night playing against the opposition's best players. In fact, as Scott alluded to on Twitter:
Hopefully for Ottawa's sake, hockey analysts and executives continue to criminally underrate Garrison. It's something Jonathan Willis wrote about last year identifying Garrison as part of "The Game's Most Underrated Defense Pairing", similarily James Mirtle had him finishing #2 in his hypothetical "Rob Langway Award" for best defensive defenseman. More praise could be found in his scouting report for the 2011-12 Hockey Prospectus Annual:
Heroic indeed and in light of having last year's defensive partner replaced by Brian Campbell, Garrison could very well be a suitable replacement for Filip Kuba. He of a similair size at 6'2, 225 with the left-shot you'd want to be paired with Karlsson. Being eight years the Czech's junior doesn't hurt either.
Sure, there will be some cynical naysayers (or PHWA voters) who will ignore his puck possession and quality of competition metrics, but with 119 block shots and 116 hits this season, you just know that he has to be good defenceman!
You're definitely selling Garrison well here, and made some points I think are definitely in favour of bringing Garrison on board. Despite the more-consistent-than-immediately-evident success Garrison's had, there's no denying that his offensive production this season has come due in large part to Campbell's passing. Campbell and Karlsson, though, are significantly different players; Karlsson's a shooter and a passer, but few of his passes seem to be one-time set-ups (there's a reason why Kuba's shot count is so low). That could change based on his partner, but I'm not sure of the potential cohesion between Garrison and Karlsson.
Should Ottawa let Filip Kuba walk in the off-season, I think the team will need to bring in two top-four defenders in order to have the depth and ability to compete for anything more significant than a playoff spot. This year, we've been relatively lucky with blue-line health; that luck won't carry on indeterminately. Given the periodic struggles of Gonchar and Phillips at times this season, they're better off being played as bottom-pairing role players; that leaves Karlsson and Cowen as the only reasonable top-four defencemen for next season (and Cowen's probably overmatched in that category, unless the off-season does his footspeed wonders). Suter and Weber are atop everyone's list, but I'd target any or all of Roszival, Kubina, Jackman, Carle, Zanon, Sauer, and Garrison next season. Signing two of those guys would be a luxury, but we'd be grateful for the roster flexibility and depth the signings would offer.
Plus, given that they'd all likely receive four- or five-year deals, the transition from Phillips and Gonchar to the next two veterans to up-and-coming prospects (Borowiecki, Gryba, Wiercioch, Claessen, whichever defenceman the Senators inevitably draft in the first-round this year) pretty smooth.
On a different note, if Ottawa can't land a Suter or a Garrison (or Carle) via free agency this summer, how would Sens fans feel about trying to trade for Calgary's Jay Bouwmeester?
He is only 28 yrs old and is a great skating D-man. If we could land him, I think he could be a long-term partenr for either Erik Karlsson or Jared Cowen in our top four. With the skating ability of these three, Ottawa would be one of the most mobile D-unit in the league. He is a big body at 6'4", 215 lbs and can play at both ends of the rink. He is not that physical, but that's not too big of a deal. He carries a cap of $6.6 million for the next 3 seasons and averages around the 30 point mark a season, but he has gone over the 40 point mark 3 times in his 8 season career.
With the upcoming rebuild soon (if they are smart) to begin in Calgary, maybe Ottawa can jump on the Flames early and help them clear some cap space as they restock their prospect shelf. We certainly have enough assets to make an attractive offer while not harming our present and future.
What do you think?
@T-Money I don't think Ottawa's really in a position to give up assets or future assets for an expensive defenceman who is reaching an age when his play should start to regress. I'd pass on Bouwmeester.
@T-Money Ooooh... any acquisition of Bouwmeester would have to be in exchange for a song and dance, because that cap hit--even if it's just for two more seasons--is really ugly. He's big and mobile, yes, but his numbers look pretty bad.
Maybe Calgary wlll be eager to dump the contract for anything they can get in order to clear the cap space, but I don't see it happening. Especially considering the new direction Melnyk seems to be taking in terms of salary expenditures.
With Gonchar ('s contract) expiring next year and Phillips the year after, Murray is going to have to undoubtedly give some free agent a longer term contract that that of a stopgap. So I would like to see some astute signings as opposed to huge 7 million dollar Suter signings that will handcuff the team in a few years. As long as Murray doesn't resign Kuba, which would in fact play into his trend of keeping players "familiar", I think Murray would explore lesser known names such as this gentleman Jason Garrison (or Matt Gilroy).
I still think Garrison is a risky option. To bring him in, Ottawa will have to go big on money or term or both, probably something in the 3-4 million range for 3-5 yrs. I think if Ottawa is going to jump into the free agent market, might as well go big and go after a star like Ryan Suter for a few million more.
Free agent deals rarely work out and teams always overpay (see Gonchar deal). If you can't get Suter, who is close to a sure bet as it gets, then I think Ottawa is best to sign Kuba to a 1-2 yr deal to buy Ottawa some time for their prospects to develop.
I also think potential free agent collegiate star Justin Schultz is a player Ottawa should go hard after this summer (if he is free). He would fit in with our rebuilding plans and is only 21 yrs old. This would be a huge move by the Murrays and could give us a blue chip prospect without having to give up anything.
@T-Money Like your Schultz take. He's along the same vein as a DeKeyser or Sustr signing that has already been discussed on the site. In light of him not signing in Anaheim, it makes me think that he already has an idea of where he wants to go as an UFA.
I think Bob MacKenzie said last night on TSN that DeKeyser is return to sckool for another season. Boo-urns!
I agree with you on that (on Schultz having a preferred team). But I'm hoping Murray doesn't awake from his dream just yet and he finds some way to continue his "GM of the Year" year and steal Schultz away from the Ducks and the rest of the league.