The Dany Heatley signing by the Ottawa Senators yesterday had me asking that exact question. It is expected that the Senators are going to desperately try to sign Jason Spezza to a long term contract as well and it is probably safe to assume that he will earn somewhere between $7 and $7.5 million bringing the total for the Spezza-Heatley duo to close to $15 million. So the question is, if you spend that much on two forwards, can you build a good enough team to win the Stanley Cup? It is an interesting question that I think Ottawa GM Bryan Murray and other GMs around the league should seriously ponder.
A prime example for the no, it canâ€™t be done side is the Tampa Bay Lightning who have spent ridiculous amounts on three forwards â€“ Lecavalier, Richards and St. Louis. Those 3 guys eat up approximately $20 million in salary cap space and as good as those three are the Lightning havenâ€™t been able to build enough of a team around them to be much more than a fringe playoff team in a weak division.
If/when Ottawa locks up Spezza long term they would have Spezza, Heatley and Fisher locked up long term at total salary of about $19 million and I am not sure that trio is any better than the Tampa trio. Can Ottawa accomplish something that the Lightning canâ€™t by building a better team around those three over the long haul? Letâ€™s investigate.
If Jason Spezza gets signed they will have nearly $41.5 million spent on the following 12 established players going into next season:
Even if the Senators spend to a $50 million budget that leaves just $8.5 million to fill out their roster with ~10 more players so they can spend an average of $850,000 per player. That means definitely say goodbye to Wade Redden or any other high calibre puck moving defenseman. So the question then becomes, can you win the cup with a defence that doesnâ€™t consist of a high quality puck moving defenceman that kills penalties and can anchor the power play? The Ducks had Niedermayer and Pronger. The Devils had Niedermayer and Stevens/Rafalski. The Red Wings had Lidstrom and Murphy and Chelios. The Dallas Stars has Zubov. The Lightning had Kubina and Boyle. The NY Rangers in 1994 had Zubov and Leetch. So, I am not sure next years projected defence crew of Phillips, Volchenkov, Corvo, Schubert, Meszaros and Brian Lee would be good enough to win a Stanley Cup. Look what happened to Edmonton when they lost Pronger before last season. Letâ€™s watch what happens to the Devils now that they have lost Rafalski. It will be interesting to watch.
Goaltending is another key aspect of every Cup winning team and for a team that wants to be a perennial cup contender, they need an established quality goaltender. Yes, the Senators have Emery signed for three seasons at $3.2 million per season, but I donâ€™t think has yet proven himself to be an elite goalie and when he does, he will command far more than $3.2 million. So in the short term (for the next few years) they could be in good shape having a good goalie at a reasonable price, but beyond that, can they afford to keep him at $6 million when $15 million is being spent on two forwards? And if they do, what will it do to the secondary scoring among the rest of the forwards. Could they afford to keep a Vermette or Kelly around?
I guess the point I want to get with this post is not so much questioning whether the Senators are making a mistake should they choose to lock up Spezza along with Heatley long term at big bucks but rather to prompt a discussion of what is the correct way to build a long term cup contending team? Is it building around a couple of high priced forwards like the Lightning have done, the Rangers seemingly are doing, and the Senators may end up doing or is it going more the route of the Ducks where the team is built around a star goalie (Giguere), and a couple of top tier defensemen (Pronger and Niedermayer last year and Pronger and Schneider this year) and not spending more than $4 million on any one forward (Bertuzzi is the top paid Duck forward at $4 million, Selanne was the top last year at $3,750,000) but having a deep group of forwards with three lines that can score and play two-way hockey. We know what happened when the Ducks and Senators met last spring, but is that a usual outcome when these two differently built teams meet or just one of those things where the Ducks were just playing better at the time, got the momentum and ran with it?
It is my personal opinion that goaltending, a top tier defence and depth up front is the better route to go but what do you all think? Can the Rangers win without a top tier puck moving defenseman? What about San Jose? Can the Senators be perennial Cup contenders (not just a good team that makes the playoffs every year but a true top tier cup contender) with a core of Spezza, Heatley, Alfredsson, Fisher, Volchenkov, Phillips and Emery surrounded by a number of young players on cheap rookie contracts (like Eaves, Foligno, etc.) and aging veterans making under $1 million (like Donovan, Richardson, McAmmond, etc).?
And maybe a similar question would be this: If you had the choice, who would you rather build your team around, Heatley and Spezza or Luongo and Phaneuf (with the latter possibly being a tad cheaper)?