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June 19, 2019
Bolts Buck Up, Acquire Meszaros
by Jim Iovino, Ace Reporter
Rarely do young defensemen make an immediate impact at the NHL level.
Andrej Meszaros has been an exception to the rule. At the age of 22, Meszaros has already spent three years in the NHL with the Ottawa Senators. And he's played in every single regular-season game during those three years.
So when it was time for him to reach restricted free agent status this off-season, there was bound to be a team out there ready to pounce. The defense-starved Tampa Bay Lightning was that team.
But a funny thing happened on the way to a contract offer. It seems the Lightning, in all the hustle and bustle to make sure they could sign free agents Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts, dealt a third-round pick to Pittsburgh to secure the rights to negotiate with them exclusively.
But in order to make an offer to Meszaros, who was squabbling over a new contract with the Sens, the Bolts needed to have their first-, second- and third-round picks available as compensation.
Doh. That third-rounder was now in the hands of Pittsburgh, who was not feeling generous enough to deal it back so Tampa could sign another talented young player.
So the Bolts had to get creative. They ended up trading Filip Kuba, Alexandre Picard and a 2009 first-round pick to Ottawa for Meszaros, who they then signed to a six-year, $24 million contract.
Tampa hopes to groom Meszaros into a first-line defender who can also handle power-play duties. And at the average price of $4 million a season, they've locked up a young blueliner at a great deal.
That's puzzling if you're a Senators fan. Young, talented defenseman like Meszaros are hard to come by. And after losing the likes of Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara of the past couple of seasons, one would think the Sens would want to lock up a former first-round draft pick who has already amassed 246 career games at the age of 22.
Not so fast, my friend. The Sens say they've been disappointed by Meszaros' progress since the departure of Chara. They said he wasn't picking up his defensive assignments, among other things. So they let him go.
They got Kuba in return. He's 31 and will be a UFA after this coming season. So he's bound to be a one-year replacement. They also got Picard, 23, who impressed in his brief stint with the Bolts last season after being acquired from Philly.
The first-round pick they acquired from Tampa is actually a San Jose pick. So we can assume that will be a low draft pick.
But the funny thing is that the Senators will probably still have a better defensive corps this coming season than the Lightning will. You combine Kuba, Chris Phillips, Anton Volchenkov, Jason Smith, Christoph Schubert and Picard, and that's a solid group.
The Bolts, on the other hand, will start with a top six of Meszaros, Matt Carle, Shane O'Brien, Paul Ranger, Mike Lundin and (perhaps) Andrew Hutchinson.
Advantage in 2008-09: Sens.
Advantage in 2009-10 and beyond: Lightning.
So after their big free-agent splash in late June, the Lightning continue to show they're ready to improve, and ready to spend the money to do so.
The Senators, on the other hand, continue to reel from on-ice disappointments and off-ice distractions and show no clear direction for the immediate future. They're slowly dismantling the talented young squad they were so proud of building just a few years ago.
Sadly, it might take some time for the Senators to get back to the top of the NHL yet again.