Welcome back for another chat with someone else on the outside! This week, we travel to eastern Canada to have a chat with Ken Warren, of the Ottawa Citizen. Let's see what he has to say about the Senators and the Avalanche.
Let's start with Ottawa. Ottawa seemed to steal the headlines towards the end of last season with an improbably late playoff push, two great rookie forwards in Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone and the rise of Andrew Hammond. How important do you see that experience for such a young team going forward?
KW: The Senators late season run was as spectacular as it was unexpected. Although the young core of the team was improving, nobody saw it translating into such an incredible run. Before his second half surge, Mark Stone had the makings of being a rock solid NHL winger — outstanding defensively and with really good hands which made up for what was perceived to be weaker skating. In the final month of the season, he may have been the NHL’s best all-around forward, never mind best rookie. To top that off, the Senators also got him under contract for a three-year, $10.5 million deal in the summer….if he can come close to what he did last season, as does first line centre Kyle Turris ($3.5 million), that duo might be close to the best bargain duo in the NHL.
As for Hoffman, he’s kind of the opposite. His speed has always made him dangerous, but until 2014-15, he couldn’t translate it into NHL success. Most GMs are now kicking themselves for not picking him up when the Senators placed him on waivers at the start of the 2013-14 season. Hoffman is due for arbitration this week and barring a long-term contract offer from the Senators, will receive a one-year deal. It will be intriguing to see how the Senators handle Hoffman, because they’re also excited about fellow prospect Matt Puempel and trying to give him an NHL spot this year.
As for Hammond, well, that was the Cinderella story of all stories. All that experience should help…and the fact that Dave Cameron will have a training camp to put into place exactly what he wants…..the other side of the coin is that everything went the Senators way in the final two months…and a slow start might result in some second guessing from the relatively young team…
Before free agency, the Avalanche acquired Carl Soderberg's rights from the Boston Bruins for a 6th round pick in a move that seemed to be the final nail in the coffin of the Ryan O'Reilly trade. They then extended him for 5 years, $23.75 million . What are your thoughts on the trade, and the extension?
KW: They needed a replacement for O’Reilly, for sure. I understand that the salary-cap strapped Bruins needed to dump bodies and the Avalanche gave up little for Sodeberg, but I’m generally of the belief that two decent years does not a career make, so I think the Avalanche overpaid in the ensuing contract for Soderberg. Considering he’ll feel increased pressure because of the departure of O’Reilly, it’s important that Soderberg starts strong to take off any early heat.
The Avs' big splash this off-season came in the form of a trade when they dealt Ryan O'Reilly at the draft along with Jamie McGinn for Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Compher and the 31st overall draft pick. What was your initial reaction to the trade?
KW: We all knew O’Reilly was going somewhere, right? I certainly wasn’t shocked that he was moved, but I was caught off guard that Buffalo was willing to jump in with both feet to get a deal done, in the hopes of being a competitive team in the near future. O’Reilly is clearly the best player in the deal. For now. Down the road, it will be intriguing to see if Zadorov develops into a dominating NHL defenceman. Given the choice, I would take a dominating defenceman over a top centre. Grigorenko had problems with the Buffalo organization ever since he was drafted, so he needed to move on somewhere. Plenty of skill. Can he translate that into consistent NHL success? Maybe Patrick Roy can find the secret.
During free agency, the Avs signed Francios Beauchemin for 3 years, $13.5 million and Blake Comeau, for 3 years, $7.2 million. What are your thoughts on the fit and the contracts of these players for the Avs?
KW: I like Blake Comeau, saw him a lot during his big, big year with the New York Islanders. On the right line, surrounded by skilled players, he can score in the hard areas. I think that’s a reasonable contract. Beauchemin should be able to stabilize the defence as a veteran presence, but at 35, I wonder if three years is a year too much.
Last but not least, looking forward, how do you think the Avs look compared to a year from now?
KW: I wonder how they’ll replace O’Reilly immediately, but I also believe Nathan Mackinnon will have a much better start and better season offensively. If you mean how will they be a year from now? I think they will get better. Again, I think Zadorov could develop into an imposing NHL defenceman at some point. Just not sure how soon that could happen. Maybe having Beauchemin around will help him develop.
Thank you to Ken Warren for answering these questions for us. If you wish to give him a follow on twitter, he can be found at @Citizenkwarren.