It’s no longer a given that Ottawa is a buyer at this year’s deadline. In the last two weeks they’ve gone from a 90% chance at the playoffs to around 40%, according to Sportsclubstats. But let’s forget about how used we’ve become to the idea of Ottawa in the playoffs. Head back to the beginning of the season, when everyone was predicting Ottawa to be somewhere between dead last in the NHL and dead last in the OHL. If back then you were told you could have a 40% chance at the playoffs in February, do you think you would have taken it? I sure would have.
So now, on to righting the ship. A few caveats: 1) I don’t necessarily think that Ottawa should be a buyer. I’m not one for watching my team get destroyed in the first round. But I’m going to assume that management has been convinced that playoffs are obtainable, and that if they can find help for the right price, they’ll go for it. 2) The 2nd round pick is the perfect trade deadline currency. It’s just late enough in the draft not to sting a team who wants to gamble on a pending UFA, and just close enough to offer tantalizing promise to a seller. The point here being that Ottawa obviously doesn’t have its 2nd rounder anymore, having packaged it with one of the best offensive-defenseman prospects in the entire league to take a risk on a borderline bust who, thank Christ, seems to be working out pretty well.
It seems like if Ottawa were to obtain anything at the deadline, it will be a forward. Murray’s said as much, and they’re heavily linked to Tuomo Ruutu by newspapers who have promised 36 straight hours of coverage of the deadline even though there aren’t really any big names on the market. (Aside: remember when Sportsnet had Eklund that one deadline?) I’ve declared my favor for the notion of throwing everything we’ve got at obtaining Zach Parise, but I know that’s not going to happen, especially with the Devils in a playoff position.
But more importantly, I think Ottawa’s offense – or recent lack thereof – can be linked to their porous defense and shoddy goaltending. We’ve seen it before: the early or untimely goal that deflates the team; the aging defenceman who turns in a pylon-esque performance; the inability to run a rudimentary breakout play. Ottawa has shown that it has the guns to score in this league. Perhaps the problem stems from the backend having gone hollow. Sure, we have our glut of mediocrity back there now, and not a lot of room, but with Brian Lee and Matt Carkner making peanuts the team can afford to sit them, or package them along with a pick as a mini-salary dump.
Puck Daddy published its list of seven defensemen who could make an impact, and there are some intriguing names there – especially because Ottawa has its share of puck movers and not nearly enough shut down / shot blockers, which seems to be most of what’s available.
Most obvious to me is the familiar Andy Sutton. I’m on record (looks around, notes that no one is actually producing a record of everything I say) saying that I think he should have been re-signed by Ottawa. After an underwhelming and injury-plagued performance in Anaheim, he’s reclaimed his game a bit in Edmonton. He was obtained two seasons ago for a 2nd rounder; could he be had this season for a 3rd?
Hall Gill is a workhorse, if a one-dimensional player, and is the perennial deadline acquisition for some team meaning to employ the “if I stuck a sumo wrestler in front of the net, would it work?” strategy. Obviously he skates like two traffic signs taped together, and with limited resources on the market some fool team might make this into a bidding war, but Ottawa should keep its head in the room. He’s not a glamorous player, but he’s played some solid playoff hockey.
Pavel Kubina might be one of the most experienced and versatile defenders available, and given his larger cap hit and Ottawa’s excess cap space (even with pro rating giving everyone a jillion dollars in space), they might take advantage of wary shoppers and get him for less than usual. I’m skeptical, as Kubina looked terrible in Toronto and less than impressive in Tampa, but as a complimentary player rather than a core defensive pairing, I could see this paying off. Would tampa take a flyer on Brian Lee and a pick to get Kubina’s remaining million or so off the books, or would it take a late 1st rounder?
Finally, Ottawa could shoot for the moon and try to obtain one (or both!) of Ryan Suter or Shea Weber. I imagine they would have to part with pretty much everyone on their roster and all of their picks from now until the end of time, and probably Scotiabank Place, but it’s still pretty cool to imagine.
Who would you rather have at the deadline?