Wayne Scanlan of the Ottawa Citizen reported today that GM Bryan Murray will be walking away from defenseman Filip Kuba when he reaches UFA status on July 1st.
It is an interesting move, since Kuba has had an up and down 4 year career with the Senators. He played very well in his first year, which happened to be a contract year. His numbers were down after signing a 3 year extension with the Senators, culminating with a terrible 2010-11 season that had many, including myself, calling for the Senators to buy him out of the final year of his deal.
Murray stuck with him, and it paid dividends as the 35 year old blueliner was a steadying force in helping Erik Karlsson reach Norris-trophy levels. Perhaps it wasn’t his best season in terms of points, but I don’t know if he has had a better all-around year in his career (again in a contract year).
That decision leaves a hole in the Senators top-4 (and deeper), and with the uncertainty of where Sergei Gonchar fits in, there could be two gaping holes. Sophomore Jared Cowen will get a promotion to the top-4 on a permanent basis and Murray will look to free agency to come up with a replacement. Chris Phillips is the only other roster defenseman currently signed as Karlsson is a restricted free agent and Matt Carkner and Matt Gilroy will both be unrestricted come July 1.
I’m not sure I agree with the move, but it also depends on what Kuba’s demands were, if any were made. He has shown great ability in contract years, and at his age a series of 1 year contracts wouldn’t be out of the realm of the asking. The influence he had on Karlsson might be even more than many give him credit for. What a difference a year makes! And I would have been wrong last year, so I hope I am again.
Could Murray be setting the Senators up for a run at the prize defensive free agent out there (Ryan Suter)? This move clears some cap space that would otherwise have been committed, and even after signing Karlsson the Senators will not be in cap problems. A Karlsson-Suter pairing followed by a Gonchar-Cowen pairing and putting Phillips with a younger defenseman (Borowiecki, Wiercioch or the first rounder this summer) partner wouldn’t look too shabby all around.
But that could just be wishful thinking.