Kukla's Korner


Murray’s Moves, Fans’ Shakes

The dust has settled, did you get what you wanted?

The Senators feel they got things they’ve been craving, but at the same time, the fans just don’t seem to be buying it yet, with worry befitting these tough economic times.

If you left for your day a little later than usual, as I did, you were treated to a double dose of early deadline day news. First, as was oft-rumoured, Vermette found himself having to pack his bags, en route to Columbus as injured goaltender Pascal Leclaire and a 2009 2nd round pick came back the other way. Shortly afterwards, we hear that Murray has re-signed Kuba to a three year deal.

For all the quickness of the start, the only other ‘news’ of the day was that Gerber was claimed by Toronto, and that Neil was not dealt.

There’s some good audio and video footage from after the deal was made, courtesy the Ottawa Senators’ website. Some fans around the internet sounded upset that Leclaire didn’t answer each question with “I want to win. Period. Next question.” What was interesting and pleasant was the ease with which he seemed to deal with all the attention. He knew that he might be traded, that when a new goaltender comes in and does well, it’s usually the older goaltender that gets the boot. “I’m not stupid.” Casually dressed and plain-spoken, it would be a great surprise to find him unflinching in his role, plenty used to disappointments after playing for the only team to have never made the playoffs, rather than a jittery goaltender who can’t talk to the media, too focused on every flaw in his game, so much so that he relives them every night.

Both Vermette and Leclaire are on deals that speak to management believing that they would be moved, and be a valuable commodity at the time. Vermette is making just over $2.5 million this season, with $3 million his paycheck in his next and final year, while Leclaire is making $3 million this season, with a pair of years left at $3.6 and $4.8 million, for a $3.8 million cap hit. That deal was signed as Mason was peaking in the OHL, and don’t forget that Columbus is in the same division of Nashville, where they’ve seen a string of goalies upset one another (Rinne upsetting Ellis, who had previously upset Chris Mason). Even if Mason wasn’t ready for a year yet to take the reins, the two years in Columbus would have afforded the team a $1 million discount over what they should have paid, while Ottawa was afforded a roughly $250,000 discount for backloading Vermette’s contract. Perhaps the most crucial tip was that Vermette’s deal expires at the end of next season, when the cap is expected to decline, allowing him to enter into a new deal under what will be the new economic circumstances, while Leclaire will see his cap hit represent a large chunk of the team in that season.

It was more than a little surprising to see Kuba still in Ottawa at the end of the day, not because he didn’t want to be here (he did), but because he was Ottawa’s most marketable UFA. The new three year deal carries a cap hit of $3.7 million per season. Hopefully, that cap hit won’t bring with it the same difficulties as the last Senator received (it is the same as Gerber’s). The Ottawa Sun also reports that the deal contains a no movement clause, but only in the first year. For once, a logical use of the clause, giving Kuba a chance to stay a while.

Since arriving in North America in 1996, Kuba has played with the AHL’s Carolina Monarchs, New Haven Beast and Kentucky Thoroughblades, as well as the IHL’s Houston Aeros and the NHL’s Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, Tampa Bay Lightning and now the Senators. That’s eight cities in 14 years.

“If I commit to something, I want to stay and be with the one team and try to accomplish something there,” said Kuba, whose new deal has a no-movement clause in its first year. “I don’t want to try new things every year.”

Both those deals carry risk. Last season, Leclaire was 2nd in the League with 9 shutouts on a non-playoff team; imagine what success this deal (which upgrades the importance of Ottawa’s Quebec presence) could have if a team with better defenders (arguable) and better forwards (Columbus having basically Rick Nash) allows Leclaire’s hard work to lead to better results? Murray had done his homework on Leclaire, his entire team agreeing that the deal should be made and that Leclaire is a legitimate number one (the last time the Senators’ team was in agreement was when they declared Chara the obvious choice over Redden; at least that flip flop won’t happen this time). The injury is obviously the concern, but with no reason to rush him back and expectations high that the recovery will bring about a new Leclaire, would you want him to push this team into 10th place?

Kuba’s deal carries perhaps the greater risk. He is the team’s top scoring blueliner this season, going 2-27—29 in 54GP and leading the team as a +8, but he lacks the physical edge you’d expect from a 6’4 frame, and is just 1-3—4 in his last 18GP. Considering there were originally rumours that he was seeking (and July 1st likely could have received) $4.5 million, $3.7 million represents a reasonable deal, just above Chris Phillips. Hopefulness has me wanting his lack of consistency to come from having played for three different coaches on two different teams in less than a year, coupled with concern over where he might be traded to, and where he’d be able to settle down again after that, and for how long. With a three year deal and one year no movement clause reprieve, he will get his chance to settle, and hopefully build on what could still be a career year for him this time around. If Murray is able to sign Erik Karlsson to a deal and bring him over, this would also have Kuba’s salary coming off the books when Karlsson’s would likely have to be raised, a nice transition there.

As for the smaller news, there is still significance there. Gerber was claimed by Toronto, as had been speculated the night before, due to Toskala undergoing season ending surgery and a load-carrying goalie needed for the final month. Had Gerber made it through, it was expected that Elliott would be sent down to Binghamton to get more seasoning, and to help the team in their Calder Cup push. Bell did clear waivers, and is expected to be assigned to Binghamton for that same reason in the near future, and other Senators might join him in the next week before their roster must be set.

Schubert did not get traded, but to nobody was this a surprise, and it would be even less of a surprise should the Senators decide that ~$300,000 a year for two years is not too much, and buy him out this summer. Neil, however, was expected to be dealt. For all the supposed interest, I was not all that surprised to see him stay. If you look around the League at his counterparts, you will find that Darren McCarty is not playing in Detroit, that Georges Laraque is unhappy with his lack of ice time. Neil is not a welterweight, and his calf skate injury only makes him that much more risky. Hard hitters are a welcome presence on a team, but when someone like Guerin with far more scoring touch goes for a 5th rounder, you know that Neil is going to bring back little if anything, especially in this climate, with teams appearing unlikely to offer him the reported $2.5 million he is seeking, not that this is likely to lower his expectations. He has lifted Sens fans for years, and he might just get the chance to continue doing so, but only if his expectations can be dampened by reality. Keeping him around instead of trading him for nothing also allows Murray to send one more player to Binghamton for their drive.

Until that point, Peter Regin has been recalled, and he will be in the lineup in place of Vermette tonight. That’s right, back to thinking about hockey games, it will be a good three months before trade speculation picks up again prior to the draft and July 1st. For the moment, a rest from rumours doesn’t seem like such a bad thing after all.

Filed in: NHL Teams, Ottawa Senators, Trades, | SENShobo | Permalink


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About SENShobo

Native of Northern California.  Hockey fan since 1998... sort of... there's a hiatus in there that I still can't explain.

I want to know about anything and everything related to the sport and the spectacle.  I watch, I react, I write it down.

My interest in the Sharks was initially a matter of geographic convenience and regional loyalty because that seemed to be how it worked.  I had no prior interest (at all-- AT ALL) in professional sports of any kind.  When I met hockey, it might have set off a chain reaction of general sports fandom.  It hasn't, I don't think it will.  At all.

Since then, that interest developed into full blown (mostly sort of usually almost completely) exclusive loyalty to the Sharks.

I started blogging a couple years ago on wordpress. I still occasionally put things there that I don't think fit here because they are not about the Sharks. Wherever my words wander, here on Kuklas Korner, they will (usually) hang on to a teal thread.

I can be found in cyberspace on Twitter @petshark47, or emailed at talkingstick@petshark.net