The Goalie Dilemma in Ottawa
This past summer the Ottawa Senators decided to make a statement in the free agent market by signing Martin Gerber to a 3 year, $3.7 million per year contract hopefully ending all of their goaltending issues they seem to have always had. I didn’t like the deal at the time and next summer we will all find out why. The Senators have about $34.5 million in salary cap space already committed to 13 players. If we assume that the salary cap remains at $44 million (it may even drop), that leaves about $8 million to spend on 8-9 players and approximately $1.5 million in buffer space that every team wants.
Now the problem is that one of the players that needs their contract renewed is Ray Emery. Emery has not only clearly been the Senators best goalie, but he has been one of the better goalies in the NHL. Last season at times he showed he can be one of the better goalies in the NHL. So, is it unrealistic to epect that if he continues performing like he has that he doesn’t deserve at least what Martin Gerber is making? If that is the case Ray Emery is going to suck up half of that $8 million leaving $4 million for 8 players. That means those 8 players will have to be close to league minimum ($475,000) players. Problem is, only 3 defenseman (Redden, Corvo and Meszaros) are signed for next season and trust me, that will be a pretty horrible defense with 3 league minimum players playing on it.
So where does that leave the Senators? It leaves them in desperation to free up some salary cap room sometime between now and the free agent signing period of next summer. The obvious choice will be to try and dump Gerber on someone but as of right now, who would want Gerber with the way he has played and with other better goalies like Nabokov, Toskala, Bryzgalov or even Biron all potentially available. The only team in dire need of a goalie is Phoenix though Philadelphia and a few other teams might be looking to upgrade as well. But the way Gerber has played he wouldn’t even provide them with an upgrade. So if the Sens are to be able to trade Gerber between now and next summer they will need to play him and hope he can show that he can be at least a second tier starting goalie. Problem is, with the poor start the Senators have had to the season they don’t have a lot of room to play at the moment to let Gerber work through his game. To me it seems highly unlikely that they will be able to trade Gerber.
So, what are the other options? They could at some point demote Gerber to the AHL taking his salary off the salary cap books but the Senators aren’t a money making organization and I am not sure Melnyk would want to take that financial hit. They could buy him out resulting in a cap hit of approximately $1.23 million for the next 4 years but one has to wonder if that is a vialble option too because Melnyk would still be on the hook for paying him close to $5 million for not playing with the Senators. They could demote him to the AHL, recall him and hope someone takes him on recall waivers saving the Senators half his salary and half his cap hit. This seems to be the somewhat more vialble but still not ideal. since by the time you pay for half of Gerber’s salary and at a minimum $500,000 for another backup goalie you are still forking out $2.35 million for goalies after Emery saving just $1.35 million from the keeping Gerber option. You are still not going to sign any quality defensemen for that amount of money.
The only other option to free up cap room for next summer is to keep Gerber and trade another high priced player. I wonder who that could be.