Kukla's Korner


The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Gerber Starts

The Senators’ continued brain farts, and a good look at why the Sens and all teams might not clamor for Bouwmeester and others as hard as they’d thought, or be able to, but first…

From the Ottawa Sun, on Gerber starting in Chicago,

With the Senators 12th in the conference and in dire need of a lift back to the winning ledger, coach Craig Hartsburg has made the logic- defying decision to start Gerber in goal tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks, one of only four NHL teams to have hit the 90-goals-for plateau at the end of yesterday’s business hours.

It will be the first start in a more than a month for Gerber, and if he’s to get another one any time soon, he’ll have to play very well.

“With this busy week, it’s a good challenge for our team, but it’s a good challenge for Martin,” Hartsburg, who was expected to break up a back-to-back situation for Alex Auld by giving Gerber a game in either Washington Friday or back home against Tampa Saturday, said before climbing aboard a charter for the Windy City. “We trust that Martin can go in and play good for us.”

Not exactly a logic-defying decision, as the busy schedule and uncharacteristically average Auld against Florida necessitate a change, but it will be interesting to see if this start puts any fire into the team or media.

Gerber played his last game November 7th against Carolina, a 2-1 loss, and has been strictly a positive practice presence since then. Amusing, though, as that game saw Gerber face 30 shots and wind up with a .933Sv%, his best of the season, as he held the Sens in a game where their offense sputtered before they experienced a full defensive collapse.

Should Gerber play well tonight — and as a UFA in June in a tight market, he’ll need to boost his value to get any contract at all — it could give the team a boost, giving them confidence that they can be steady but not overstretched in their defensive efforts, and still walk away safely.

I had expected Gerber to start last game against Florida, giving Auld a break after 10 straight starts and resting him for the challenge of facing Chicago and Washington, 3.52G/G, 3rd, and 3.11G/G, 7th, respectively. Playing Auld against Florida, one of only three teams in the League scoring fewer goals in a game than Ottawa, seemed the wrong time to pull another game out of him.

Now, if Gerber plays well, you could get controversy again. If Gerber had started against Florida and played well, the excuse that it’s Florida minus 7 regulars, many of them good scorers, would have put a damper on it. Now, against the League’s 3rd most offensive team, averaging 5 goals a game over their past three games, including a 7-1 slaughter of Phoenix, it will be hard to deny Gerber credit for any success the Sens have, and there you have potential for another controversy.

Not that we like controversy, but sometimes it just gets spoonfed to us like that.

From the Ottawa Sun, on Ottawa’s bad habits,

“Every night we’re playing a team we probably can beat,” Hartsburg said the morning after a slow start cost the Senators a possible point in a 4-3 OT loss to the Panthers. “And if we’re not ready to play the right way, we’ll probably lose to anybody.

“It’s happened before this year, it’s happened many times. When we lose we don’t seem to have that same focus. I think it starts to come down to individual players not being prepared to play.

“We’re a team that we think can be a good team. But mentally we don’t allow ourselves that chance some nights to be in the game early. It’s hurt us too many times.”

Florida may be the dregs of the League to some, but it’s not just Anderson worth taking note of in Florida, it’s their whole defense corps, not that you have to tell anyone to notice Bouwmeester. Florida’s top 6 defensemen in terms of points and games played — Bouwmeester, Ballard, McCabe (formerly of Toronto), Boynton, Skrastins, and Cullimore — have combined for 16 goals (23.9% of the team’s total) and 55 points. They are led, as a team, by Bouwmeester in points, half their top 6 having double-digit point totals. Ottawa, by comparison, has received but 7 goals (11.1% of the team’s total) and 38 points from its top 6, with only Kuba reaching double-digits in points.

Hard work is every bit a key to the Sens winning, but certain skills are needed, and the ability of Florida to move the puck out of their zone, out of danger, was a key to their assault on Ottawa. That would be precisely why Bouwmeester has been featured so prominently in trade rumours this season, often paired with Ottawa and Murray’s hunt for a puck-moving defenseman.

From the Ottawa Citizen, on the looming changes for the League,

Making a deal is not easy. A lot of teams remain in contention. Of those looking to move a player, most teams are looking to dump salary, even offering players who signed as recently as this past summer.

With the Senators having about $53 million U.S. already committed, Murray has a couple of million to play with, but would more likely be looking at swapping a comparable contract.

Also creeping into the equation is a league-wide worry about the economy, shrinking revenue and a salary cap that could also shrink by several million dollars down the road.

“My owner (Eugene Melnyk) and I talked about this, going back to last summer, even before everything broke loose,” Murray says. “We had a feeling this couldn’t keep going. We were trying to prepare for two years down the road when it might be a max of $50 million, and it may be less now.

“Coming out of this board of governors meeting, I suspect they’re talking about the economy a lot and where the dollars are coming from in this business now ... these long-term contracts that we’ve all made, they eat up a lot of the money.”

Just as the slowing economy makes talk of costly relocation foolish, especially if new arena costs or payoffs are required, it also means that there will be great difficulty in getting new deals made. Should the Sens try to land Bouwmeester, they may only feel comfortable enough to sign him to a new one year deal, with the cap expected to shrink by several million between next season and the one after it.

Should they not act responsibly, as Murray has usually done, they will find themselves in the unenviable position of having too many high priced contracts for too many players in a League where only the cheapest contracts for the best players are tradeable. Melnyk has already made club policies, one being that no AHL player will be paid NHL salaries, hence the trade of Nycholat to Vancouver, but also that he will not pay real dollars to buy out players.

Next season, the Sens have $42 million committed to one goalie, four of their current six defensemen, and only Neil, McAmmond, and Shannon (RFA) looking for new deals up front. With a cap of $55 million expected, that leaves roughly $12.5 million to sign up and coming AHL goalie Brian Elliot to a new deal, to hopefully retain Kuba and Bell, should he perform well, and the front ranks could be filled with players who’re under contract.

After that season, the Sens have $30 million tied up in Phillips, the big four (Spezza, Heatley, Alfie, Fisher), Kelly, and Ruutu. At that point, the cap is expected to fall to as low as $45 million. That leaves $15 million to sign both a starting and backup goaltender (Auld’s numbers don’t mix with a $1 million salary anymore, less so after another season and a half of his current performances), five defensemen, and half a dozen forwards.

Confident still that the Sens should sign Bouwmeester? Already making $4.875 million, he is expected to get a big raise, which would leave the Sens shopping for two goalies, four defensemen (having only Bouwmeester to move the puck), and half a dozen forwards, 12 players in all, with only $10 million in cap space.

Suddenly, confidence should be shrinking, especially away from players with exorbitant demands, even if they are justified. Suddenly, Fisher’s $4.2 million salary, which looks a tad overpaid at the moment, appears set to be one of the worst contracts in the League if he can’t regain his old form (and perhaps even if he can). It’s looking quite possible that Ottawa might be the next incarnation of the Tampa Bay Lightning, only replacing Lecavalier, St. Louis, and Richards’ high priced contracts with those of Spezza, Heatley, Alfie, and Fisher, those four set to eat up over half the team’s cap space when the cap dwindles.

The one saving grace, if you can call it that, is that should enough teams be caught in this, the NHLPA might soften its stance, and consider a salary rollback once again, or a move to a player-employment-saving cap system like the one I once proposed, which would never face teams with these challenges.

One way or the other, though, teams and players will have to face this economic downturn, just as the rest of the world is doing. Whether they come out on top, stronger and safer, or tumble to new or unthinkable chaotic lows, however, is entirely up to them.

Filed in: NHL General, NHL Teams, Ottawa Senators, | 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