This time of year is like Christmas to NHL GMs – They head into the off-season free agent market armed with a wish list for players that will put them over the top when the new NHL season begins. Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray will be no exception, and after a quiet summer of 2012, will be continuing the rebuild that appears to be ahead of schedule.
So, what will Murray have on his FA shopping list? The club appears to be set at forward, with a number of top prospects ready to make the jump in the next year or two. In net, the addition of Ben Bishop late in the season gives the Senators unprecedented depth between the pipes. That leaves the blue line, where arguably Erik Karlsson and Jared Cowen are arguably the only members on the current roster who will still be around in 3 years, if not sooner. Also, there doesn’t seem to be any real impact players in the system that show the potential to replace the minutes eaten up by the likes of Filip Kuba, Sergei Gonchar and Chris Phillips.
With a ton of cap space available, I would think that a top-flight defenseman would be at the top of the Senators’ wish list. And in the UFA class of 2012, there is no better player than current Nashvill Predators’ defenseman Ryan Suter.
Suter is a left-shooting defenseman who is a stellar all-around player, and would be a perfect fit in the first pairing with Karlsson. Suter is capable of playing 25-27 minutes every night, averaging a career high 26:30 this past season. In addition to providing solid defensive ability, Suter has a good shot and solid playmaking ability. He had a career-high 46 points (7 G, 39A) with the Predators last season.
Suter will not come cheap and there will be a bidding war for the blueliner. The 27 year old will in all likelihood come close to doubling the current $3.5M annual salary he is making, and will command a long-term deal. He will be worth the investment for whoever wins the bidding war, as he has only missed 32 games in 7 NHL seasons, while playing a rugged style.
I am not saying that Ottawa will win his services come July 1st, but it is definitely in the Senators’ best interest to investigate the matter, and even perhaps making a deal for his negotiating rights prior to the draft so that they can get a feel for what the big blueliner wants and to see if there is a fit in Ottawa. With Karlsson also heading to free-agency (albeit Restricted) there might not be enough room to sign both players and still leave enough cap space open for the future impending contracts down the road.
It might be a pipe dream, but Suter in Black and Red next season would be at the top of my summer wish list. And another bonus – Suter is a very good friend of fellow UFA and current New Jersey Devils captain Zach Parise, with some suggesting the duo might be a package deal. If Ottawa could get in on Suter early, they could have the inside track on Parise, who could solve the top-6 forward dilemma for years to come. But that would REALLY be a pipe dream. Maybe I have sunstroke already, and its not even June yet