Senators Watch: Proper cap management provides room to spare this summer

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The fact that the Ottawa Senators resisted the urge to trade pending unrestricted free agent Anton Volchenkov at the trade deadline indicates they are, as coach Cory Clouston often puts it, “here to win hockey games.”

Now all they have to do is sign Volchenkov and the strategy will have worked out brilliantly. And unlike a lot of other teams that have mired themselves in salary cap hell with a series of bad contracts they can’t move, Senators GM Bryan Murray has done a very good job of managing his cap while tying up his key players to long-term deals.

(Of course it helps that he has ownership’s blessing to put Jonathan Cheechoo and his $3.5 million stipend in the minors, thereby removing it from the Senators books.)

So, can the Senators re-sign Volchenkov? They should be able to if Volchenkov wants to stay. Going into next season, the Senators have $46.7 million committed to nine forwards, five defencemen and two goalies, which would leave them a shade more than $10 million to spend providing the cap stays in the neighbourhood of the $56.8 million it is this season. That’s also assuming they’re willing to continue to take the hit on Cheechoo’s salary and keep him in the minors next season.

With that cap space, the Senators would have to basically sign Volchenkov, plus restricted free agents Nick Foligno, Peter Regin, Jesse Winchester and Chris Campoli if they choose to keep them. Assuming Andy Sutton, Matt Cullen are rentals and Shean Donovan will be set free after this season, they’d also have to find replacements for those players.

Clearly Volchenkov and Foligno are the two most important of that group. Defensive defensemen are valuable, but the Senators know that teams are rarely willing to overpay for them. Volchenkov falls somewhere between Dan Hamhuis of the Nashville Predators and Zbynek Michalek of the Phoenix Coyotes, who are scheduled to join him as UFAs this summer if they don’t sign with their teams. The thinking is Volchenkov would get between $3.5 million and $3.75 million on a long-term deal if he stays in Ottawa and might get slightly more than $4 million on the open market.

As a restricted free agent, Foligno doesn’t have as many choices and while he was having a good year, didn’t help his cause by suffering a broken leg. He would likely get more on a long-term deal, but might want to take a short-term contract with less money.

The rest are essentially fill-in parts who can be signed for reasonable prices. So while most teams will scramble in the off-season to make their compressed dollars fit, Murray will have the luxury of knowing he has some wiggle room.

This article also appeared in the Ottawa Metro newspaper.

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

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