Senators Watch: Stuck in salary cap hell

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The Ottawa Senators could deal a few veterans and shed a little bit of salary before the NHL’s trade deadline to be sure, but in reality that would be tantamount to putting a Disney Princess Band-Aid on a blunt trauma victim.

This particular patient needs radical surgery and the recovery process will be a long and difficult one. That is the reality facing the Senators as they decide what direction they will take as the Feb. 28 trade deadline approaches.

It would probably be a nice touch for them to trade defenseman Chris Phillips to a contending team after all he has given the Senators on and off the ice. A few other deals might be made involving players whose contracts expire after this season. But let’s not get silly here. Nobody will be touching Alex Kovalev even if the Senators offered to pay them to do so.

They might be able to get a late-round pick for Jarkko Ruutu’s expiring contract or Peter Regin, but both the real money and salary cap savings will be minimal.

Generally speaking, the Senators are trapped in what is becoming known in the NHL as salary cap hell. They have too many underachieving players on the types of big-money, long-term deals that have effectively made them untradeable.

There’s no team in the NHL that would take Jason Spezza in a trade, not with a $7 million cap hit each of the next four seasons. Sergei Gonchar at $5.5 million for the next three seasons? Not likely. Milan Michalek at $4.3 million until 2013-14? Not on your life. Captain Daniel Alfredsson should not – and will not – be going anywhere.

In many ways, the Senators are stuck with what they have and it’s not as though they have a bevy of dynamic young talent on the way up to vault the Senators back into respectability in the next season or so. Anyone who watched the recent World Junior Championship has come to the inescapable conclusion that goalie Robin Lehner and defenseman Jared Cowen are, in a best-case scenario, long-term NHL projects.

The sense around the hockey world is that neither GM Bryan Murray nor coach Cory Clouston will be occupying their current job titles next season. Whether that tandem is replaced by Pierre McGuire and Ken Hitchcock or anyone else, whoever takes those jobs should insist on long-term deals because they have one enormous rebuilding job ahead of them.

This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.

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