With a new coach (John Paddock) and new GM (Brian Murray) at the helm in the Nations' capitol, the Ottawa Senators are likely just catching their breath following their 4-0 start. Perhaps to no one's surprise, they are being carried by their top line who has scored all but two of their goals landing Spezza, Heatley and Alfredsson all amongst the top 5 scorers in the league. While all things are rosy for the reigning Eastern Conference champs in the infancy of the 07-08 season, things are due to heat up in the front office come the trade deadline.
Newly minted GM Brian Murray will face a slew of decisions that will undoubtedly impact the long term success of their organization. Several of their key players are pending restricted and unrestricted free agents making Murrays' cozy office chair a proverbial hot seat. The focal point is the expensive unrestricted free agent defenseman Wade Redden, and restricted free agent Jason Spezza.
What must be considered when speaking of pending contract negotiation’s are those of other young stars, namely Jason Spezza, and the perennially underrated forwards Antoine Vermette and Patrick Eaves. Enforcer Brian McGrattan and defenseman Andrej Meszaros, can also be added to the list of players to become restricted free agents next summer, while All-Star defenseman Wade Redden is once again due for unrestricted FA talks.
How many teams will tender an offer sheet to Spezza (thats right, not might tender, but will)? Barring a outlandishly overweight RFA offer sheet, retaining Jason Spezza to play with Dany Heatley will be priority number one. Meszaros’ services will not come cheap either, and this is all in lieu of the negotiations with Redden, who in all likelihood will command the biggest piece of the pie.
We are left to question how much the Senators ultimately value the veteran Redden, who may have seen the best years of his career. Being so early in the season, their options are numerous, the best of which has yet to reveal itself. The Sens could decide to overpay for the aging Redden, rather than let him walk and sign elsewhere at seasons end. If neither of these seem attractive to you, you're not alone. Backed into a corner by circumstance, it seems that Brian Murray should heavily consider pulling the trigger on a deal which sees Redden exchanged for picks or young talent. Although early for a bold prediction of this nature, I’d take the odds in favor of the latter outcome.
If the Sens are dominating the standings at the trade deadline (as many are anticipating), than likelihood of a drastic change -- such as trading Redden -- may be significantly reduced. We'd be foolish to completely discount his on-ice role entirely. However, a mid-season lull in the Sens, or Reddens’ performance, would lend itself to a ticket outta’ town for the former World Champion defender. At 30 years old, a player whose main assets include mobility and puck movement, and whose main flaw has always been a lack of physicality, one must consider how close Redden is to the denouement of his accomplished career and weight that against his promising trade value. Taking advantage of his track record should be at the forefront of consideration when Brian Murray fields calls from the likes of the Philadelphia Flyers (who are currently rumored to be looking for defensive help) or an improved Florida Panther squad.
Furthermore, his most recent level of play, coupled with acquisitions and quality depth on the Ottawa blue line indicate that the stars are aligned to get the best return-on-investment for Redden. The Sens are a team with a fast, young, and talented nucleus featuring Phillips, Volchenkov, Meszaros, all of whom may have proven superior defensively, in addition to their mounting confidence moving the puck (particularly in the case of the latter two). Additional support buffering the potential on-ice loss of Redden is the offensively gifted Joe Corvo, who is worthy of comparison in this regard, although lacking some of the formers' hockey sense and precision. While Reddens spot on the depth chart can be discussed further, I feel it's clearly in the organizations' best interest – and the smartest move-- to avoid having to re-signing him at the end of the year. Should Brian Murray come to this as the most suitable option, he must trade him at the deadline for an asset in return.
How will this hurt Ottawas' Cup run this season? Perhaps he is worth losing at years end if he can help the team drink from Lord Stanley's mug, but should Ottawa be graced with any other fate and they will be left at an impasse with disgruntled fans and a deteriorating blue liner whose flaws were likely exposed during an extended playoff run. Sure, it's highly speculative and Reddens' absence in the locker room may disrupt some of the chemistry that has developed over the past 5 season. This was undoubtedly the most prominent factor in Zdeno Charas' departure. But we can be assured that the Senators will not make the same mistake of throwing money at Redden this go around, at the risk of losing much more than they'd ever hoped to deal with.