A number of the Senators are about to test the free agent market, whether they like it or not. One has to think that Jarkko Ruutu is checking out the real estate in Finland right now and pondering in which European league he’ll be biting ears next year. But with the coming tear-down, one also wonders what will become of the minor mistakes, like pending RFA Chris Campoli.
Ever since Brian Murray traded a late 1st round pick for him (Mike Comrie and Dead McAmmond also switched teams in what amounted to a mild salary-shaving for the strapped Islanders), Campoli has been in purgatory. When he was traded for, he was appealing because he was a cheap, NHL-ready defenceman who could play satisfactory minutes while the team developed its young blue line prospects. But there was a sense – especially after a respectable point production directly following the trade – that he might make a solid 3-4 pairing puck mover.
Now, neither good enough to earn a commitment from the team, or expensive enough to be included in a trade, Campoli is typecast as merely serviceable, and while this team enters a period of uncertainty it looks like he’s all but forgotten about, or destined to be shipped off for a low draft pick. That late round 1st bought this team time and money at the expense of a future roster player. (The Islanders used the pick in a package to move up to #16 in the draft, and it was later traded again to Anaheim, who used it to draft Kyle Palmieri, a decent prospect for them.)
Looking at his numbers, Campoli’s never quite justified the hope in Ottawa that he’d be considered much more than a solid if unspectacular depth guy.
Last year he received a one year deal that seemed like it was trying to make up for all the years of his making league minimum while playing big minutes for a terrible Islanders team, paying him an extra million, to make his salary a still very reasonable $1.4M. And on pace for the worst numbers of his career (albeit on a team that can’t score), it’s hard to imagine he’ll make much more than what he’s making now on the next deal.
The temptation must be there to throw Campoli overboard with the rest of this team come junta time, but it’s important that whoever replaces Murray has a keen eye for value. The days of the Kovalevs and Gonchars should, god willing, be behind us. I’d like to see a team that uses its cap space as a weapon, that goes out and picks up quality players from teams who don’t have the patience or the skill to manage the cap. (Basically, I want Marco Sturm for future considerations rather than paying UFA prices for him.) And that’s going to come by holding on to those low-risk, low-cost players like Chris Campoli.
Meaning, Campoli deserves another year, at another cheap contract. Not because he deserves a chance; there’s enough of a sample there to know that he’ll probably never hit 35 points in a season again. But because, just as when he was traded for, he meets the team’s needs right now. His value is in his cheapness, and his ability to play NHL minutes while this team’s youth develops. Even if they allow him to walk, or trade him, they’ll need a warm body to take his spot, and it’s unlikely that they’ll find one as familiar, and as affordable, as him on the UFA market. Campoli may not ever fill the big shoes on Ottawa’s back end, but prudence and patience say he stays on through the rebuild.