Milan Michalek is going to be an interesting study this season. Blessed with tremendous speed, he has been a solid replacement for Dany Heatley riding shotgun with Jason Spezza. Although not as skilled a goal scorer as the man he replaced, Michalek has blended well and created some nice chemistry on the Senators’ top line.
But there is also the downside of Michalek. The injuries. His chronic knee injuries bit the Senators when they needed him most last season, after Spezza went down.
That also bringes into question the Spezza factor. In 4 seasons with Ottawa, Michalek has played 232 games, out of a possible 294. He has scored 79 goals, or an average of 0.31 goals per game. Since he became a Senator, he has been in the lineup at the same time as Spezza for 176 games, scoring 66 goals or an average of .375 goals per game. In the 56 games he has played without Spezza in the lineup, he scored 13 goals, or .232 goals per game.
The difference for Michalek in the lineup at the same time as Spezza vs without him in the lineup is .143, or a difference of almost 12 goals over the course of an 82 game season.
Michalek has spent a vast majority of his time at even strength on the same line as Spezza in his 4 years, when Spezza has been available.
When you throw Bobby Ryan into the mix, what becomes of Michalek. Michaek is only 28 years old and should have lots of productive seasons left, even if his knees are 35. Both Ryan and Michalek are listed as left wingers, and by nature the player playing on Spezza’s right side (his backhand side) will see fewer pucks than the left winger, and as such fewer scoring chances.
Michalek is entering the final year of his contract, and by salary he will be the Senators’ highest paid player at $6M. With Spezza and Ryan set to enter their final year next summer, combined with Michalek’s injury troubles, the quality prospects coming through the system, and the Senators’ internal salary cap, where will Michalek fit into the Senators’ plans?
Its not like he is a 50 goal scorer, with a career high of 35 being the only time he has cracked 30. Ryan has been more durable and has topped 30 goals in each of his 4 full seasons. On the depth chart at left wing, Ryan is obviously slotted higher than Michalek. But can the Senators afford to pay a 2nd line winger (or a player playing out of position) in excess of $6M when the risk of him playing 70 or fewer games is more likely than him being able to last a full season.
Michalek didn’t thrive without Spezza this past season, and that has to play into the decision as well, because despite the fact that he is eligible for an extension, have you heard one whiff of rumor, news or otherwise that is is being worked on or even considered?
I certainly haven’t. Maybe its a case of “play a full season and show us what you can really do” from the Melnyk/Murray camp, and that might include a lot of time with Kyle Turris to see if they can have chemistry to from a solid second line.
Whatever happens, it should be interesting, especially if Michalek can play a full season. Another injury plagued campaign could be his ticket out of town.