The biggest name scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent for the Ottawa Senators after this season is forward Milan Michalek. Unlike some other top end players in the same situation, there have been no whispers about a contract extension for the Senators winger who is the highest paid player on the club this season ($6M salary).
There are a lot of reasons why the Senators are not rushing to get an extension done:
1. The injury factor – Michalek has chronic knee injuries, and although he will never be a sure thing, the Senators want to see some durability out of the winger who relies on his speed to create most of his scoring opportunities.
2. The Spezza/Ryan factor – The acquisition of Bobby Ryan is supposed to boost the top line, and if he can produce as expected, and develop the anticipated chemisty with Jason Spezza, the Senators might not need an expensive option on the other wing. If the Spezza/Ryan duo can excel, a player with the attributes of someone like Shane Prince (speed, hands and a bit of grit) could fit in there and relieve some of the pressure on the cost-conscious Senators.
3. The Spezza Factor – Milan Michalek set a career high of 35 goals two seasons ago, but looked absolutley lost last season without Spezza. If Ryan and Spezza end up being better than Michalek and Spezza, I’m not sure there is a place for Michalek at the anticipated price.
4. The Money Factor – If Michalek ends up underperforming and being a “third wheel” on the top line, I am pretty sure owner Eugene Melnyk might start asking questions on why they are paying $6M for that production. I’m not sure what Michalek’s demands would be, but you can rest assured that a 28 year old, 30 goal scorer isn’t going to be willing to take a cut on the $4.33M cap hit that he currently sports, and a starting point will likely be the $6M his current salary sits at.
So,just for sh&*s and giggles, hypothecially, lets assume that 1) Ryan and Spezza develop some solid chemistry and 2) it looks like the Senators will be able to extend both to longish term contracts. The Senators would then likely decide that 3) they can fill Michalek’s role internally and 4) figure his $6M could go towards getting the other two extensions done.
I know that is a lot of “if” but it leaves the Senators with a decision to make during the season and as the trade deadline approaches. The Senators should be in the playoff mix if not pretty much a lock by the time February and March rolls around. If Michalek is not in the long-term plans for the team, should they consider dealing him or should they let the season play out and let him walk away for nothing. Michalek should still be productive, even if he doesn’t fit in the future salary structure of the team. Do you potentially hury the team now, at risk of losing a pretty valuable asset for nothing? That hasn’t really been Bryan Murray’s modus operandi and the Senators can’t afford to lose assets and not get anything in return.
They can’t afford to do that, but can they take the risk at reducing their post-season effectiveness?
It seems to me to be one of those “you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t” scenarios.
Or maybe Milan will come to Murray and say “I want to stay here, I will play for $3M per year over 3 or 4 years.” Not likely, but that might be a pill the Senators could swallow going forward, and still leave room to get Spezza and Ryan extended.
I would like to hear what you think. Post your comments in the section below!