After getting off to a start eerily similar to two years ago, there is reason for both hope and consolation with the Ottawa Senators.
The hope comes in the form of the Buffalo Sabres, who, going into their game tonight against the Atlanta Thrashers, look just as inept and uninspiring as the Senators do.
The consolation comes in the form of former stalwart defenceman Anton Volchenkov, who has it even worse off with the New Jersey Devils.
You’d have to hope that Volchenkov’s $4.25 million over each of the next six seasons will keep him happy. It’s fitting that he plays for the Devils, who currently occupy a space known as Salary Cap Hell. To make matters worse, he hasn’t played since the second game of the season, when an errant shot in a 7-2 loss to the Washington Capitals broke his nose and gave him a stiff neck. He’s not expected to play tomorrow night in Montreal, either.
Would this Senators team be better off with Volchenkov in the lineup? Undoubtedly they would defensively. Their man-on-man play in their own end in last week’s 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins was nothing short of dreadful.
But for a team that has scored just 12 goals in its first six games, the presence of Volchenkov wouldn’t have made one iota of difference.
There are myriad reasons for the Senators’ early season woes, the little-known no-movement clause in Alexei Kovalev’s contract being one of them. Sure, Kovalev can be traded or sent down without his approval, but it has become apparent that there is something in his contract that obliges him to move only when he feels like it.
The fact is Volchenkov is a very good shutdown defenceman, one of the best in the league, in fact. But to pay north of $4 million on a long-term deal for a player who is so one-dimensional didn’t make sense for the Senators. Replacing him with a one-dimensional offensive player in Sergei Gonchar for three years may not have been the best move either, but Volchenkov simply doesn’t bring enough aside from his defensive play to make him worth that kind of commitment.
So it looks as though the Senators bailed on Volchenkov at the right time, the way they did with Wade Redden. Unfortunately, they chose Redden over Zdeno Chara. But while Chara has won a Norris Trophy in Boston, he has displayed a career-long penchant for coming up short in the playoffs, a tendency the Senators know all too well.
So, there’s probably a little bit of consolation there, too.