Bryan Murray had a busy and extremely productive 72 hours. Between Thursday morning and Saturday evening he re-signed franchise building blocks Mark Stone and Mika Zibanejad to reasonable deals, solved Ottawa’s three-headed goalie problem, saved over $5 million in cap space and began to clear out the logjam on Ottawa’s blue line. By trading Robin Lehner and David Legwand to Buffalo on Friday for the 21st overall pick and Eric Gryba to Edmonton on Saturday for the 107th overall pick and Travis Ewanyk, Bryan Murray has successfully dealt with two pressing issues and put the franchise on solid footing moving forward.
Goodbye Robin Lehner and David Legwand, Hello Colin White
Regardless of the return, I will miss Robin Lehner. Why? See Exhibit A below:
Lehner leveling Poulin for no discernible reason is my favourite moment from the Swedish goalie, but I equally could have posted a video of him beating up Riku Helenius in the AHL or his goalie stick in the NHL. Either way, Lehner clearly plays with passion and desperately wants to win. However, his poor performance this season (905% SVP), combined with concussion problems, meant that he was the odd man out in Ottawa’s goalie triumvirate. However, his age, pedigree, and previous performance meant that teams were willing to pay a reasonably high price for Lehner. Considering the packages of picks the Vancouver Canucks got for Eddie Lack (a 3rd round and a 7th round pick) and the New York Ranger for Cam Talbot (2nd, 3rd and 7th round draft choices), a first rounder and dumping Legwand’s contract in return for a goalie with less impressive numbers than either Lack or Talbot is an excellent deal for Ottawa.
The main concern about the deal for Ottawa fans goes something like this:
Worst case scenario of the Lehner deal? Tampa and Buffalo — Bishop vs. Lehner — playing in conference finals any time soon.
— Chris Hofley (@chrishofley) June 26, 2015
Since leaving Ottawa in 2013 Bishop has become the NHL starter scouts predicted, while Ottawa’s return of Cory Conacher was let go on waivers and finished last season playing for the Utica Comets in the AHL. So in a few years will we see Lehner in the Stanley Cup finals with Buffalo while Colin White – Ottawa’s selection with the 21st pick – toils in Binghamton? Maybe, but that is an inevitable risk when you take when trading away potential. While I previously argued that Ottawa should have allowed Hammond to leave as a UFA, once they resigned him a trade was inevitable. In that case Murray’s job was to get the best possible return, which he did.
What further differentiates this deal from the Bishop one is that unlike Conacher, if White is a flop it won’t be due to a bad trade. It will be because Ottawa’s scouting staff made a mistake. However, a quick look at Ottawa’s track record with first round picks during the Murray regime should give fans hope. Jared Cowen and Matt Puempel are the only two questionable picks (more on Cowen later in the post) and both may well yet become contributing players. So it is really up to Ottawa to make sure this trade doesn’t come back to bite them and I have faith that it won’t be Bishop 2.0.
Beyond the tangible return of a first round pick, by including Legwand in the deal, Ottawa also gets over $5 million in cap space and almost $6 million in real savings. Those saving can be applied to resigning pending UFA Erik Condra and RFAs Mike Hoffman and Alex Chiasson (if so desired). If trading Lehner and Legwand means Ottawa keeps Condra, that is a further benefit for the Senators. While not as obvious an asset as picks, prospects or players, cap space/budget space is critical for teams and poor management of said asset can come back to burn you. Ask Boston.
Goodbye Eric Gryba, Hello Christian Wolanin and Travis Ewanyk
Maybe Ottawa trading Gryba shouldn’t come as a surprise. Try and read Bryan Murray’s lips after Gryba gives up the puck. The GM is not pleased.
As previously discussed, Ottawa has a logjam on defense. However, of the 8 defenders Ottawa had under contract at the start of the 2015 draft, only 4 were solid options on the blue line. Furthermore, with so many defensemen on the roster, Chris Wideman, the AHL Defender of the Year, was threatening to walk away as a UFA. Dealing Gryba goes a long way to solving these problems. At least Chris Wideman certainly thinks so, inking a one-year deal with Ottawa the Monday after the draft.
Trading Gryba also means that Jared Cowen will get one final chance to prove he is an NHL defenseman. The good news for Ottawa is that even if Cowen falters, Phillips or Wideman will be suitable short-term replacements and if Cowen does manage to develop substantially, his hefty contract will suddenly become moveable. Or, alternatively, Ottawa will have addressed their need for another top four defender with internal growth. Certainly giving Cowen another chance is a risk, but it is one worth taking. At this point the only other option is buying him out, which will cost the Senators money they don’t seem to have. So they have to play him and hope for the best.
The return for Gryba was minimal but not surprising. Travis Ewanyk has not demonstrated any offensive potential at the AHL level and is a long shot to ever play a game for the big team. However, he’ll provide depth for the Binghamton Senators. The fourth round pick became Christian Wolanin, a defenseman from the USHL who committed to University of North Dakota for next year. Statistically he has about a 9% of playing 100 or more career NHL games. While a long shot, Ottawa has found value in the fourth round before (Chris Wideman and J.G. Pageau) and he is a tangible asset in return for unloading a contract Ottawa didn’t need.
Overall, the draft, from a roster management prospective was a success for the Senators. I’ll take an in-depth look at Ottawa’s draft choices over the next couple of weeks but in terms of setting up the team salary-cap wise for the next year, Murray has gotten a great start to the off-season. Ideally, he will deal with Colin Greening’s terrible contract and hopefully move another deadwood defenseman, but there is still three months before training camp, so he has plenty of time.