When the Ottawa Senators traded Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves to the Carolina Hurricanes on February 11th, the Senators both improved their team on the ice and on the books.
Corvo was costing the Senators $2.625 million against the cap for each year of his four year deal signed in the summer of 2006. This was too much to pay for a fifth defenseman, who served no other significant role than as a power-play specialist.
Eaves was earning only $942 thousand and was set to become a restricted free agent. The Senators would not have had any difficulty retaining the young right winger, but signs were beginning to show that despite scoring 20 goals in his rookie season, 2005-06, Eaves was not likely to develop into a top-six forward.
Of course, time will tell on Eaves’ development. Perhaps he will thrive in Carolina; so far Corvo has. Regardless, on the ice, the trade was made to bring in a tough defensive defenseman in Mike Commodore and a skilled top-six forward in Cory Stillman.
Commodore is still adjusting to playing in Ottawa, but no one seems concerned that he won’t find his stride come playoff time. Stillman however has made a seamless transition. He has scored 13 points in his first 16 games in Ottawa, and was one of Ottawa’s only players to perform well during their struggles in late February.
Both Stillman and Commodore are to become unrestricted free agents this summer. They fit the bill as your typical playoff drive rental players.
However, from the get go there was talk of trying to retain both players. Stillman waived his no-trade clause to come to Ottawa and has publicly stated that he would like to sign with Ottawa this summer. Based on his play so far, Ottawa should be keen to accommodate him.
Commodore’s interest in re-signing may depend on Ottawa’s success in the playoffs this summer. Either way, the team still needs to be able to find the money to pay them. While only earning a combined $3.05 million this year, one would think that both are due for raises.
Additionally, other current Senators will most likely be looking for significant raises as well. Candidates include Chris Kelly, Antoine Vermette, and Andrej Meszaros. With big contracts handed out to Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, and Mike Fisher which start next season, the Senators may find themselves up against the cap with little room to accommodate everyone’s needs.
It is a forgone conclusion that Wade Redden will not be retained, and likely replacement Brian Lee will cost the club less than $1 million. Even so, depending on what each of the players Ottawa would like to retain command there may not be enough cap space to go around.
However, as a bloody well known Ottawa sports writer reminded us recently, Ray Emery, who Ottawa has been actively trying to trade for months, can be bought out at a cost of only one third of his salary distributed over twice the remaining term of his contract. If this option is enacted the team’s salary cap commitment to Emery will fall to $528 thousand from $3.167 million for the next two years.
If top goaltending prospect Brian Elliot, 22, who earns only $943 thousand (including bonuses), is brought up from Binghamton to take Emery’s spot, the team would save $1.696 million next year. Add this to the approximately $500 thousand saved in the Corvo trade, this move alone would enable Ottawa to offer five players $440 thousand dollar raises. This could be enough to retain each of Stillman, Commodore, Kelly, Vermette, and Meszaros, depending on their demands, even if the cap does not rise next year.
Additionally, one would also have to think that a Gerber / Elliot goaltending tandem would be much more stable than the Gerber / Emery fiasco this past year (or two).
It seems that Bryan Murray has the flexibility to retain as many of the players on the current roster as he likes (less Emery and Redden).
However, if the team does not make it back to the finals again this year, the roster might be due for a shakeup, in which case an influx of inexpensive rookies from Binghamton would change the financial situation for the team tremendously. With the addition of the NHL draft in Ottawa this year, it will make for an interesting summer in Ottawa regardless of the team’s playoff performance.