Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray addressed a glaring hole on his blue line with Tuesday’s blockbuster acquisition of Dion Phaneuf.
It was the sort of deal that might lead other GMs to prop their feet up on their desks and leave the rest of the season to their coaching staffs. But with issues to address and five points separating Ottawa from a wild card berth, there’s a good chance that Murray isn’t done tinkering just yet. He’s been working the phones for weeks now looking to improve both the back and front ends of his roster. He has assets to move. He also has some financial freedom after paring a bit of payroll in the Phaneuf deal and getting the green light from owner Eugene Melnyk to do what it takes to get this team into the playoffs.
So, where does Murray go next?
There was speculation during Wednesday night’s TVA Sports broadcast that the Sens might be the frontrunners to acquire Jonathan Drouin now that the St. Louis Blues are out of the hunt.
Murray’s interest in the malcontent winger is no secret. The question is whether he’s willing to give up what the Lightning needs in return. Tampa Bay is thought to be looking for a young defenseman, and there are a couple the Bolts would love to get their hands on in Ottawa’s Cody Ceci and 2015 first-rounder Thomas Chabot.
Ceci, though, is emerging as a solid performer on the Sens’ second pair and should only see improvement with the more experienced Phaneuf as his new partner. Trading him now weakens an area that Murray is still looking to improve.
Chabot, currently playing with the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs, is a slick, offensive-minded defender with top-pairing potential. He’s not unmovable, but his value is high enough that Murray would likely want a player who could make an instant impact in return ... and that’s no guarantee with Drouin.
Patrick Wiercioch is a player Murray would be willing to move. Ottawa has four blue liners locked up to long-terms deals and four others on expiring contracts. Ceci is one of them and will certainly be re-upped, but the rest, including Wiercioch, could be expendable. Wiercioch is not going to get a deal done by himself—the 6' 6" blueliner has never lived up to his potential and was scratched from Wednesday’s loss in Detroit—but he might be a piece that keeps the ball rolling.
If a trade for Drouin doesn’t work out, Murray likely will look elsewhere to bolster his depth on the left wing. First-liner Mike Hoffman leads the team with 23 goals, but behind him the Sens are trotting out Zack Smith, Shane Prince and Ryan Dzingel. Lack of experience is as big an issue there as lack of scoring pop, so Murray could kick the tires on a few veterans. Winnipeg’s Andrew Ladd has three goals in his past four games and looks to be finding his game as the deadline approaches. He’s a big body and a strong leadership presence with a championship pedigree (carolina, 2006; Chicago 2010). Scott Hartnell leads Columbus with 36 points and is second with 18 goals. His physicality, especially in front of the net, is exactly what Ottawa needs. Either players would be a godsend to a 23rd-ranked power play that settles for too many low-percentage bids from the outside. Vancouver’s Radim Vrbata is another option. He’s having a down year (11-11-22), but plays with finesse and creativity and might be a nice fit alongside Ottawa’s Mika Zibanejad.
Murray might also look for one more veteran for his blue line. A significant move isn’t out of the question, but given the state of his top four, it’s more likely that he’ll look for skilled depth. Edmonton defenseman Justin Schultz, an RFA after this season, might be an option here.
The numbers game
• Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers recorded his 58th career shutout (and third of the season) on Wednesday night, tying John Ross Roach for 18th place on NHL career list. Among active goaltenders, only Florida’s Roberto Luongo (72) has slung more bucket of whitewash. Lundqvist also moved ahead of the great Martin Brodeur by posting a record 366 wins in his first 11 NHL seasons.
• Crafty Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk needs two points to reach the 900 career mark.
• John Klingberg’s four career overtime goals are a Stars franchise record, topping the three potted by Trevor Daley, Richard Matvichuk and Sergei Zubov.
• Six years before the legendary 1972 showdown, a team from Canada slipped into the Soviet Union for a groundbreaking international series. CBC remembers the 50th anniversary of that meeting in this fascinating short video.
• Victor Hedman explains the magic of Sweden's developmental system in one word. Fortunately, that word is in English.
• Chicago has been selected to host the 2017 NHL Draft. Time to get acquainted with Gabe Vilardi, Nolan Patrick and Max Gildon.
• Now that the Maple Leafs are in full-on tear-down mode, it's time to determine whether Nazem Kadri is a keeper or trade bait.
• Jaden Schwartz won’t be the Blues’ savior, but having him back in the lineup might be exactly what they need.
• The Hurricanes are celebrating the 10th anniversary of their 2006 Stanley Cup win with a series of special events this weekend.
• The great Mitch Albom has written a play he calls “Spamalot – with hockey sticks.” Tickets for the premier run in Detroit go on sale Friday.
• A trio of suspended Flames had some 'splainin' to do before being welcomed back into the lineup for tonight's game in San Jose.