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2010 NHL Trade Deadline: Can The Stars Keep Steve Ott?

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Last September, I went to Frisco to watch Stars training camp. My sister convinced me that waiting in the autograph line for a couple of hours after practice was somehow a good idea, so waited I did, and took her picture with some players. She wanted Steve Ott to sign a puck for her, but had only a black Sharpie. Otter, upon seeing this proclaimed "Ah, that's no good" and proceeded to march up and down the autograph line, soliciting other patient fans for a silver Sharpie. He came back. He signed the puck. He posed for a photograph, said a few kind words, and went on to the next in line.

That is one side of Steve Ott that 99% of NHL fandom will never experience. And why should they? They hate the guy. I, however, know that he's extremely loyal to his fans, he's a solid contributor in a variety of ways, and that he'll do anything for his teammates.

Therein lies my problem. To me, Steve Ott is a Dallas Star through and through. Drafted 25th overall by the Stars in 2000, he was brought up in this franchise. "Home Grown", as it were. He's someone I think the Stars can ill afford to lose, and it pains me to even consider the possibility. That's me being a fan.

To Joe Nieuwendyk, no matter his relationship with Steve, he must be a chess piece. A financial asset. A bullet in his "Tom Hicks model" pea-shooter, if you will.

The case for keeping Steve Ott is a compelling one, but the reasons to move him are seemingly undeniable. Can the Stars afford an upgraded Ott salary? If a deal cannot be reached, can they deal him before the deadline? Like Marty Turco, he cannot be allowed to walk in July for no compensation at all. Consideration of all of the above awaits after the jump...

The Value of The Intangible: "A maniac on skates"

We spoke recently on DefendingBigD Live with Bob Sturm of Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket about Steve Ott. While Bob is obviously a big fan of Steve Ott's game (and we are big fans of Bob Sturm's), he presented issues with a contract extension that went beyond pure financial difficulty. "It's a complex issue," Sturm said, "because there's a couple of things we have to think about. There comes a time in every players life where they don't play that way [any more]. Players like him are players who are willing destroy their bodies in the name of being pro hockey players."

So one of the first things the front office must ask themselves when considering a contract extension is: Will he sustain this level of play for 3 to 4 more years? And perhaps even before that, does his current level of play warrant such a commitment? Does he spark the team every night, or just some nights?

While, over the course of the last two seasons, Ott has shown the ability to contribute on the offensive end of the rink, that's not the (primary) reason to sign him. A player like him, you sign for his intangibles. Continued Sturm, "If you give him the 4 year deal he so desires, can you say at 31 (years of age) that Steve Ott is still your emotional leader?"

If this were a team that spent to the cap, I believe they would weigh those things and vote in Ott's favor. If this were a team that spent $57 million on payroll, Ott might have had the ink dry on a deal already, and the third or fourth years on such a deal might be considered acceptable risk. On a $45 million team that still needs to re-sign Nick Grossman and James Neal, Ott seems priced out of their range. "Steve Ott provides emotion," said Sturm, "but it's hard to value emotion versus goals. Will he still be a maniac on skates if you make him rich?"

The Numbers:

To see if we can fit Ott in here somewhere, let's take a look at what's already on the books for next season:

Player 2010-2011 Salaries (not cap hit)
Brad Richards $7,800,000
Mike Ribeiro $5,000,000
Brenden Morrow $4,100,000
Loui Eriksson $3,200,000
Jamie Benn $635,000
Brian Sutherby $812,500
Brandon Segal $550,000
Stephane Robidas $3,250,000
Trevor Daley $2,500,000
Karlis Skrastins $1,650,000
Mark Fistric $1,000,000
Jeff Woywitka $700,000
Sean Avery $1,937,500

 

That's roughly $33.1 million in payroll dollars committed to next year already. So we have $11.9 million to play with if we're assuming the budget will stay the same. (In the vicinity of $45-$46 million)

That list of salaries is most notable for what's NOT on it: Goaltenders, Nick Grossman, James Neal, Mike Modano or Jere Lehtinen. Also not on that list: Upgrades at defense.

So start doing the math: Figure $3 million for Lehtonen (conservatively), and he'll need a backup. I'm penciling in $4 million for the goaltending position. Another $4 million goes to James Neal (RFA), if Loui Erikssons deal and offensive output are any indication. Anything less than four is a credit to Joe Nieuwendyk. Let's put Nick Grossman (RFA) down for a very optimistic $2 million. How are we doing? We're up to $43.1 million now, and we're four forwards and a defenseman short. The remaining $2-$3 million or so, split amongst that many players is "warm body" money at best.

I haven't even mentioned Tom Wandell (RFA) who also needs a little bump and a new deal.

So if Steve Ott is indeed targeting a Dustin Byfuglien like deal (3 years $9 million) doesn't that make the discussion moot when you look at it from a financial standpoint?

But!!?! New Ownership!!???

We all would like to believe that tomorrow, Tom Hicks will sell the team to a wealthy business man who wants very badly to get his name on the Stanley Cup, and wants to do it right here in Dallas. That may happen, but it won't be tomorrow and it won't be before the trade deadline. Any possible sale of the team will move slowly, and any potential rise in payroll dollars will come long after the sale is done.

Joe Nieuwendyk, as much as he would like to, can't spend money he doesn't have yet. I believe he is approaching next season with the last two in mind, and will continue to do so until he hears otherwise from those above his pay grade.

The Best Fit?

Something that often gets neglected in these kinds of conversations about sentimental favorites is this: Is staying in Dallas the best thing for the player? By all accounts, Steve Ott wants to stay, and Joe Nieuwedyk wants him to stay, but is it the best thing for Ott's career moving forward?

Mike Heika brought up some interesting points about this last month:

The fly in the ointment is that it's really tough to define what Steve Ott is right now.

Is he a gritty third line forward who can kill penalties, agitate and help the team win? Is he a top six forward who can score goals and help make a skilled line tougher? Is he the elusive shut-down checking line center who can win faceoffs that this team so desperately needs?

After posting a season in which he had 19 goals and 27 assists for 46 points in 2008-09, could he go out and get a free agent contract that pays him $2.5 to $3 million a season? He probably could. Should he study that option to help advance his career? Definitely. Should the Stars pay him that money when they don't seem to have a spot in the lineup that would help him advance his career?

Does Dallas need to look to Austin and possibly bring up a Colton Sceviour, a Ray Sawada or a Francis Wathier? Should they see if a Tomas Vincour is ready or possibly look at a Warren Peters as a cheaper alternative to Ott? Should they spend their $2.5 million to $3 million on a right-handed checking line center who can win faceoffs?

I boiled it down a ton, and you should go check out Mike's full post here. But doesn't he have a point? Is this the best place for Steve Ott to advance himself? What is he exactly?

He plays with the Ribeiro line, he plays with Modano, he's on the fourth line, he's taking Jamie Benn's faceoffs for him...he's all over the place. Injuries afford him a lot of opportunity to play many different brands of hockey in many different roles, but none of it's consistent and none of it's predictable. At 27 years of age, wouldn't a more defined role and increased responsibility appeal to Ott, to say nothing of the pay check? Who wouldn't like a team with a big wad of cash whispering sweet nothings into his ear about how "we'll give you the chance to be a top six guy, a real offensive contributor here...".

I'm not saying Steve Ott is a top-six guy. What I am saying is that he will have many suitors should he hit free agency, and they'll tell him what he wants to hear. Some of them may even be right. Do you think Steve can grow his game even more if given the chance?

Do the Stars feel they can fill his shoes, or at least get by with a cheaper option from the AHL? Do you?

A Number of Teams are Interested:

Joe Nieuwendyk has been saying the things fans want to hear concerning Steve Ott, and reiterated those thoughts last week to the Dallas Morning News:

Are you having contract negotiations with Steve Ott or do you leave that to assistant general manager Frank Provenzano and the agent, Howard Gourwitz?

Definitely. I never want to go behind an agent's back, but I prefer to talk to the individual directly. I have talked to Steve, and I will talk to him during the break. I'm not going to get into what we're talking about, but I do believe it is important.

If you don't get a contract extension done before March 3, does that make a difference in how you view Steve at the trade deadline?

It definitely makes a difference. I've said all along that my first priority is to get him signed. But if we can't, I've got to look at these offers. There's a number of teams who have called and are interested.

Stars fans need to be prepared for next week, in other words. Unless there are new budgetary guidelines of which we are unaware, we must prepare ourselves very well.

The first day of training camp this year, during the "captains practice", I was standing behind Marty Turco's net watching a drill. Ott was standing in Turco's kitchen. So Marty, as Marty is wont to do, took his goal stick and racked Ott with it right between his wickets. Otter turned around, wide eyed, and glared at him with an "EXCUSE ME?" kind of look on his face.

After the Lehtonen trade, I thought about how the shutout of Phoenix on Feb. 6th might have been the last time I would see Marty Turco in person at the AAC in a Stars uniform. As it turns out, thanks to an emergency appendectomy, it might have been the last time we see Steve Ott in a Stars uniform as well.

That would be a damned shame. No one gets the American Airlines Center on it's feet like Steve Ott.