Numbers don’t lie, and they certainly don’t in the case of Filip Kuba. He has been quietly having a very solid season that has been overshadowed by his partner Erik Karlsson. I’ll be honest, I did expect a bit more from Kuba this season, especially after the disaster last season. I also agreed at the beginning of the season that Ottawa would be lucky to unload him at this year’s trade deadline for something of worth (a 2nd round pick). Many fans thought that the Sens should have bought him out during the summer. This obviously didn’t happen and they showed their displeasure by loudly booing Kuba during his introduction in the home opener (which I thought should not have been done, no matter how bad he was last season).
One could easily see why fans were so eager to get rid of Kuba though. Last season went bad right off the bat as he injured himself on the first day of training camp. It wouldn’t get any better for him as he returned from his injury to a struggling Sens team. For the whole season he appeared to be lacking confidence and it showed on the ice. He just couldn’t get into any sort of groove, with the injury seemingly having taken a toll on him with the missed training camp. Kuba would end up playing 64 games, ending his season with only 16 points and the 3rd worst plus/minus on the team of -26. To fans, he was an old veteran whose time has passed and was made out to be a scapegoat as one of the reasons the team failed last year.
Fast forward to the present, Filip Kuba has found himself paired with Erik Karlsson where they have become the top tandem for this club. He is 2nd in TOI for Ottawa (only behind Karlsson), logging 25:24/game. He has also become MacLean’s go to defenceman for the penalty kill, leading all players in SH TOI at 3:31/game. When he suffered an upper body injury late in late November he ended up missing 9 games. The Sens would end up with a record of 3-4-2, clearly missing the veteran presence on the back end.
In addition to logging heavy minutes for the Sens, Kuba hasn’t been doing too badly in the stats department either. In 51 GP, he’s put up 21 points (5G, 16A), surpassing last season’s total already. More impressive is in the plus/minus department in which he is the team leader at +16. He’s definitely become a totally different player from the one we saw last season and it has fans wondering what to do with him.
Kuba isn’t young, he’s currently 35 years old and only has a few more years left in the gas tank. There’s pretty much three options on the table. The first is to try trading him at the trade deadline. With his stats now I could see Ottawa being able to snag a 2nd round pick in return. However, if the Sens remain in a playoff position it’s my opinion that Ottawa should keep him. He’s logging a ton of minutes for the team and if Ottawa wants to make a push for the playoffs he will have to be part of it. It would be unfair to the team to trade away key players that have been essential for the position they are in. Another way to look at it is to consider him as a rental. If he weren’t on this team it’s likely Bryan Murray would have traded a 2nd round pick to get him anyways (like Andy Sutton). The best part is that we know he’s fully capable of playing the role of Erik Karlsson’s partner. There’s no guarantee another defenceman (whether within the organization or traded for) would be able to do as equal a job as Kuba.
Now assuming we did keep him past the trade deadline, that leaves two options on the table at the end of the season. Either re-sign him or let him go to free agency. His current contract has a cap hit of $3.7 million a year. Given his age, the best scenario would be for Ottawa to sign him to a one year deal for next year at approximately the same cap hit. However, knowing his age Kuba’s agent will likely be going for term. That’s where it will get tricky from Ottawa’s point of view. The last thing they want to do is get stuck with an underachieving old defenceman in the latter years of his contract (or worse, get the Kuba from last year for his entire contract). The longest I could see Ottawa willing to sign him for is 2 years, any longer and I think the Sens are better off letting him go. We still have a lot of games left in this season though and they will play a big role in determining Kuba’s future within this organization.