There was a moment shortly after Alfredsson scored on the powerplay against the Habs and Mika Zibanejad scored his first NHL goal that “Cats in the Cradle” started playing in my head. The color guy picked up on it right away too. Torches had been passed, etc! They were both Swedish! Somewhere Bobby Butler eats a frozen pizza over the kitchen sink! It was a nice moment for everyone (except Bobby Butler).
Well, I guess more passing of torches needs to happen, because Jason Spezza is out for about two months, leaving the team without its number one center. This could be a body blow to the team’s momentum. Kyle Turris has been playing well, but having two dynamic centers with strong two-way games gives Maclean the opportunity to line-match. Add to the uncertainty Peter Regin’s inability to get going this season, appearing invisible even when given the chance to anchor the top line, and the fact that Zibanejad is 19 years old, and you have some serious questions.
Might this be enough to actually torpedo the season?
In a word: no. This isn’t the end of the world, though the team is going to have to keep getting points from the likes of Jim O’Brien and Chris Phillips if it hopes to win games, and I don’t see 20 goal campaigns in either of their futures. With continued strong play from Anderson, and those rookies on the blue line continuing to play over their heads, I think this is still a little bit better than a .500 team.
And that’s really all they need. Even if they go .500 for the rest of the season, that gives them 52 points. If you need 91 points to make the playoffs in a regular season, pro-rating that to a 48 game season means you need about 53.5 points. Ottawa is currently 6th in the league with 3.43 goals per game (tied with Chicago). Even with a dip in production, they’re 3rd in the league in goals against–better than Boston or St. Louis. So basically: this is doable, thanks in large part to the 5-1-1 start.
Another option is trying to find a center on the trade market. Let’s look at the worst teams in the league right now and see if they have any centers Ottawa might be interested in:
Florida: Dale Talon has shown a willingness to part with guys he didn’t draft, and Stephen Weiss is on an expiring contract. He’ll be due big money I don’t know if Florida wants to pay out. This would be a great option for Ottawa, though with the Panthers already struggling, I’m sure Talon would rather wait for the trade deadline and see the price jacked on his central trade piece.
Washington: George McPhee has already said he isn’t budging on the team as is; he’ll wait for them to turn it around. But they do have Mike Rebeiro making $5MM on an expiring deal. He has a limited NTC.
Calgary: Jesus, no. They spend an awful lot of money to be the worst team in the West right now, and the only player on an expiring contract I’d be interested in is Jarome Iginla–a winger.
Philadelphia: who fucking knows what’s going on with this team. They’d trade for a defensive prospect in a heartbeat, but they don’t have any centers that aren’t 1) signed long term, or 2) young players they’re going to build around. Plus they probably still think they can win the Stanley Cup this year.
Colorado: I’m sure they’d like to unload Paul Stastny’s $6.6MM per. Not a likely occurrence, especially with another season left on his contract, unless they took some baggage back–and Ottawa doesn’t have much baggage. Colorado might exercise the new CBA’s ability to trade only part of a player’s salary, ditching Stastny and opting to pay some small part of his salary. Obviously Duchene isn’t going anywhere.
All of this is complicated by the fact that Ottawa doesn’t have a 2nd round pick next season. It’s still too early in the season to know where the team’s first rounder is going to land. (Thank you Brian Burke, Cautionary Tale.)