Coming off of his sixth NHL season, Zbynek Michalek is eligible for unrestricted free agency. While there will certainly be no shortage of suitors, the Czech blueliner may have already made up his mind on where he will play next season.
Rumors have it that the Ottawa Senators are interested in acquiring Michalek to fill the void that will more than likely be left by the exit of shutdown defenseman Anton Volchenkov. It is expected that Volchenkov will demand as much as $5 million per season on a long-term contract if he pursues the open market this summer. That's a hefty price tag for a guy who has never posted more than 19 points in a single NHL campaign.
Michalek, a current member of the Phoenix Coyotes, has recently been seen as the "poor man's" Volchenkov. But if you look at their playing styles and performances, the only thing poor about Michalek, when compared to Volchenkov, is the salary he will have next year.
Over the past few seasons many people have taken notice of Volchenkov as being one of the best in the game at blocking shots. The big Russian has collected 352 blocks since the NHL starting tracking them in 2008-09.
Michalek, meanwhile, blocked 427 shots in the same span.
When judging offensive abilities, Michalek has tallied 115 points in his career while Volchenkov has posted 94. What's more impressive about that is Michalek has played one less year in the league – all on non-playoff teams other than this year's Coyotes – while Volchenkov has played on playoff-calibre teams for all but one of his seven years in the league.
With all things considered, Michalek's lack of popularity could stem from playing in Phoenix, which is not the typical hot-bed for hockey. But when the Coyotes qualified for the playoffs this past season, the hockey world took notice of how critical Michalek was to the team's defense corps.
Michalek's defense pairing with Ed Jovanovski saw a bulk of the action when the Coyotes took the Detroit Red Wings to a Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs. For an offensive-starved team that relied on stingy defense to win games, Michalek's play caught the eye of many who expected Phoenix to battle for Taylor Hall rather than the Stanley Cup.
As we countdown the days to the free agency period, it's easy to see how Michalek can be a hot commodity for many teams. If he has a hard time making up his mind, perhaps a phone call from his younger brother, Milan, can seal the deal.
Milan Michalek was traded to Ottawa along with Jonathan Cheechoo in the infamous Dany Heatley deal last summer. In his first season in the Canadian capital, he lit the lamp 22 times but battled injury problems throughout the year.
The Michaleks finally got the chance to play together at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, helping the Czech Republic to a quarterfinal appearance. Now, with the possibility of Zbynek Michalek signing in Ottawa, the brothers will have the opportunity to play together on a daily basis.
Luckily for the Senators, he fits their needs both on the ice and on the payroll.
Zbynek Michalek will be looking for a significant raise on the $1.25 million he made last season and will look for a contract that offers around the $3 million mark. That total is nowhere close to what Volchenkov is looking for, which allows the Senators the financial flexibility needed to shape the current roster.
The Senators are expected to keep Cheechoo in the minors next season, which will keep his $3.5 million contract from counting against the salary cap. If the cap moves up to $57.7 million for the 2010-11 season, general manager Bryan Murray will have money left over to resign Matt Cullen – who played very well in a Sens uniform – and look at other ways to improve the team.
If all goes as planned the Senators will have a cost-efficient replacement for Volchenkov while bringing Zbynek Michalek to a hockey-crazy environment to play with his brother. It's hard to say who benefits more from this deal, but surely both parties would be happy with the end result.