Sens Seek Facelift

After reaching the cup final in 2007, instead of taking the next step forward, the Ottawa Senators have taken several steps back.

Yes the team was crippled with injuries at the absolute wrong time of the year with both Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher falling to injury in the last week of the season. However, the team was in deep trouble well before that and everything blew up in their face in the playoffs getting swept with ease by the Penguins.

The team started like wildfire with a 15-2 record to begin the season. But a horrible 2nd half where they were below .500, taking until game 81 to qualify for the post season and firing their coach along the way took all the momentum away they got from their hot start.

It was definitely trying times for the Sens. As a result, there definitely should be changes made to the team as they look to forget what turned out to be a very forgettable 2007-08 season.

It starts at the top where Bryan Murray will be on the hot seat this season trying to retool the Sens and make them contenders again. He has made all the wrong moves since his appointment as GM and he is fortunate owner Eugene Melnyk did not pull the trigger and fire him as quickly as he did with John Muckler.

Now Murray will have a chance at redemption. He will likely though have a very short leash and a poor start could spell doom for the GM.

His first job will be to find a coach who can whip this talented team into shape. After the trip to the finals and the hot start, the team became complacent, taking things for granted. It seemed a bit of arrogance got in the way of ability and solid team play. Coach John Paddock lost the team and by the time the Sens figured that out, it was too late. Murray is going to have to solidify this area and with several top end coaches becoming available this summer, he’s going to have to hit the home run with this hire.

He’ll also need to augment a roster that needs change and will be forced to make some changes.

Here is how the team looks heading into the off-season

CAP HIT – $40.8 million for 13 players.

The Sens aggressively re-signed the core of their team but the question now is can this group get it done? It seems those players lost a bit of their edge having a comfortable guaranteed contract in their hands. The Sens have made a major commitment to these guys and now its time for them to pay the team back. The big money spent has taken up a large chunk of cap space and that will leave little room to make the changes and additions the team needs. There are candidates to be moved/bought out due to these players no longer being in the team’s plans.

– Wade Redden, Martin Lapointe, Cory Stillman, Chris Kelly, Mike Commodore, Shean Donovan, Randy Robitaille, Luke Richardson

RFA – Antoine Vermette, Andrej Meszaros, Josh Hennessy, Brian McGrattan

Wade Redden’s career in Ottawa is over. It would take a miracle for him to re-sign. Not only would money be a big issue, the fact is, the Sens need a change, and with Redden being one of their key players and leaders who has proven he cannot get it done, a new direction is needed. He has had a good career in Ottawa but for himself he too needs change. The focus on free agents will be on Vermette and Meszaros. They are good young players with excellent potential for more. But the team does not want to break the bank over these two. Seeing the contracts handed out to players like Stephen Weiss and Martin Erat, Vermette could be looking for something in between those two. They are comparable talents. Meszaros will be interesting as he had an amazing rookie season followed by two so so seasons. The team will also want to bring back Kelly, but he may price himself out of Ottawa.

Under Contract:

Goal – Martin Gerber, Ray Emery

After hiring a coach, goaltending will be Murray’s next biggest task. Emery will not be back. He has played his last game in Ottawa and the team desperately needs to get rid of him. He has talent to be a number 1 goalie and when he is on, he could easily solve the goalie issues that have plagued Ottawa for quite some time. We saw what he could bring during the team’s run to the finals. However he is a distraction with his off ice problems and issues in not following team rules. He is disruptive and poisoned the chemistry in the room. He was perhaps the main reason for the firing of Paddock it will be near impossible for any team to take him off the Sens hands. A buyout is in order here. As for Gerber, well he just is not consistent enough to be the main guy in Ottawa. The pressure here is enormous and its time the Sens bring in a front line goalie. The team will probably ride out the last year of Gerber’s contract. But definitely he will have someone in camp to challenge him for the number 1 job.

Defence – Brian Lee, Anton Volchenkov, Chris Phillips, Cristoph Schubert

The loss of Redden will negatively impact the Sens more than they think. He logged big minutes, played in all situations and when on, was a great stabilizer back on D. There is now a major void offensively when he leaves. With Corvo already been moved out, the onus is on Meszaros to be the main offensive guy. The Sens need to find him some help. Young Lee is a possibility in a secondary role. He is adept at moving the puck, making smart passes and has offensive upside. But he might be a bit too inexperienced to be handed the PP QB duties and slip into Redden’s shoes. Defensively the team has rocks in Phillips and Volchenkov who are among the best at blocking shots. Together they are one of the best shutdown pairs in the league. The team lacks however a defensive presence on the other pairs and can be exposed in their own zone. The team could use a bit more muscle and toughness on D. Maybe allowing Schubert to play full time on D will give them some of the edge they need on defence. The blueline is definitely an area that needs and upgrade, that needs help and that needs to improve.

Forward – Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, Mike FIsher, Nick Foligno, Chris Neil, Dean McAmmond

There were thoughts of maybe breaking up the top line and trading someone from there to shake up the team. But why break up one of the few things that works. Spezza, Alfredsson and Heatley are terrific together. They are perhaps the most potent trio in the league. Keeping them intact will assure the Sens of having a decent offence. The key is Alfredsson as his presence makes everything click. Injuries are starting to creep in and his absence last year was a blow to the team. He knows no other way to play than all out and has proven to be an excellent leader. You cannot ask him to slow it down but he may need to if he wants to stay healthy. Heatley is a top sniper and should be good for 50 goals again if he plays a full season. Spezza’s next step is 100 points. He got close last season and is poised to break the century mark. He showed off his goal scoring ability notching 34 last year. They need him to score and not just be a passer. The depth behind the big 3 is lacking. Fisher, Vermette have 20 goal ability but thats it. They’ll need a youngster like a Foligno to emerge as a scorer and add some depth. There is also missing a true checking unit as they have not been able to find the right mix for that role. And for an eternity the team is in need of grit, leadership, heart and toughness up front. Forever the team has neglected to bring in a guy who can help Alfredsson lead the way.

Top Prospects

Goal: Brian Elliott

is an ok prospect who would benefit from more development. He got a brief taste of the NHL and did not look too out of place earning a victory. If the Sens completely overhaul the position this summer, Elliot could be a solid candidate to serve as a backup as he would be affordable. Another minor pro season would best serve his development and in about a year he could definitely be part of the team’s parent roster.

Defence: Kirill Lyamin, Tomas Kudelka

Their top defence prospect, Brian Lee, is with the team now. All 5 of the team’s top 5 blueliners are original Senators. The team has done an excellent job finding NHL calibre blueliners and the trend must continue. The ranks are a bit thin with just Lyamin and Kudelka on the radar. This will be an area the Sens will need to add more depth. Lee though should make up some of the loss with the departure of Redden. He’s made major strides going from a sophmore in college to the AHL to the NHL in a year. He definitely has top 4 calibre talent.

Forward: Ilya Zubov, Josh Hennessy, Jim O’Brien, Kaspars Daugavins, Alexander Nikulin, Peter Regin, Igor Mirnov, Cody Bass
Due to some of their cap issues, the Sens may be left with little choice but to find scoring depth within. Foligno with his grit and willingness to go to the net should find a way to pot a few tap ins and tip ins with more ice time. The team is very high on Hennessy whom they acquired in the Martin Havlat trade and they hope maybe he can win the 2nd line centre job next season. Zubov is another candidate for that role and he fared pretty well in his first season in North America. He even made his NHL debut with Ottawa this past year. Bass wont provide much scoring, but he along with Foligno will add some sandpaper and grit to the forward ranks and youthful enthusiasm physically which is something the Sens need. Someone must emerge and be able to provide some scoring acumen to the team if it wishes to move forward. Buying the offence could be a difficult task.
The depth in the draft could allow the Sens to retool what has been a thinned out farm system. As hosts, the team will definitely be picking in the first round and will probably just grab the best player available as the team needs to replenish all areas. The team may need to think about adding another goalie to the system. Elliott may be at best a backup and Emery is going to be chased out of town so depth is a bit of a concern. They’ll probably focus on this in the middle rounds and hope that a guy like Kevin Poulin or Chet Pickard fall out of the first two rounds. They definitely need more depth on defence and with this draft, defence oriented, they could definitely filll a big hole with their top pick. Perhaps they will pick Tyler Cuma who plays with the jr club in Ottawa. Or maybe another OHL blueliner like Michael Del Zotto who would be another young, skilled blueliner to add to the likes of Lee and Meszaros. The team probably could use a highly skilled forward. They need another late round steal like they got when they picked up Havlat a few years back. Mikail Stefanovich and Mattias Teddenby would fit that bill as as highly skilled forwards. There are plenty of ways the Sens could go to stock up their future and as the home team, there should be plenty to cheer about at the draft.
For the current group of Sens, there isnt much to cheer for at all. The best chance to win may have come and gone with their loss to the Ducks in 2007. They looked overwhelmed and overmatched in losing to the Pens and with more changes and departures due this summer, the team may take another step back. It will unlikely be so bad they’d miss the playoffs. The team is too talented to let that happen. But they definitely need great improvements behind the bench and in goal if they have any aspirations of moving forward. For years arrogance has gotten in the way of the team acquiring the best players available, the best people around to work for the team. Its time now they bite the bullet and do whatever is necessary to find the depth they need, to rectify the chemistry issues and bring in the right people and the people they need. The Sens are simply going to have to bite the bullet and do whatever it takes if they want to bring a championship to the Nation’s Capital. They have nothing to boast about after last year’s debacle and hopefully it wont get any worse than that.