The Ottawa Senators are in a major rebuilding mode, whether they like it or not. Not more than four years ago, the Senators were one of the top 5 best teams in the league, year in and year out. They finished the regular season either in first or second place in their conference, and came within one point of finishing first overall just a couple of years ago. So, how did one of the best teams in the NHL become bottom feeders?
It all started with some terrible trades. Zdeno Chara was dealt to the Boston Bruins for monetary reasons, so that the Senators could keep Wade Redden. That worked out really well, as did getting rid of Marion Hossa and Martin Havlat, both trades garnering little to nothing for the Senators. While general manager (GM) Brian Murray had some problems keeping under the salary cap, especially after signing sniper Dany Heatley to a long term, ludicrously expensive contract. Heatley did more to ruin the Senators than disgruntled goalie Ray Emery could ever dream of.
Going into the 2009/2010 NHL season, the Ottawa Senators have but one win in the pre-season, but looked good losing. Pascal Leclaire, the goalie brought in last year to be the goalie of the future, is starting to come into the form that he had with the Avalanche, before his injuries started. He is now healed, and ready to prove that he was not a flash in the pan, and could possibly be one of the top-ten goalies in the league this coming season. The incoming Alex Kovalev, he of the oft-on, oft-off calibre sniper, has something to prove to the team that he wanted to retire with, but had had enough of his spotty play.
With Ottawa, Kovalev would have looked brilliant with Alfredsson and Heatley, leaving Spezza to play with Jarko Ruutu, and either Mike Fisher or Chris Neil. However, what’s in the past stays there, and the Senators must make do with what they received in a last-minute trade to rid themselves of the on-ice and dressing room distraction of having their highest paid player not wanting to play with them, without even telling them why.
Look for Ottawa to have a fairly slow start to the season, lucky to have a .500 record at the 1/4 mark of the season. With a few trades or signings of free agents who have no teams to play for, the Senators should build up in size, as they already have enough smaller, faster players. They learned in their only Stanley Cup Championship series that speed is not enough, you need to bang the opposing team up so bad that they become afraid to chase loose pucks into the corners, and fear standing in front of either crease.
Matt Carkner is the lifeblood that the Senators have been looking for, but will most likely end up starting the season in Bingo (Binghampton, their farm team). He will probably be called up when Chris Neil gets injured, as Bryan Murray is not the type of GM to build a big, strong, fighting team. Ottawa still needs at least two more players, preferably on defense, who are big (over 230 pounds and all meat), strong, fighters with the ability to pass and score.
With other newcomers in Erik Karlsson, Zack Smith, Peter Regin and Robin Lehner, Ryan Shannon, Chris Campoli, Aleandre Picard, and the Heatley trade fluff, the overly-under-achieving Jonathan Cheechoo, and the impressive Milan Michalek. That is a lot of new players to learn the system, their teammate’s play-making abilities, and their young coach’s plans.
Will Ottawa miss the playoffs for two seasons in a row? That is something that, just two years ago, nobody in the league would have suggested, let alone bet on. Up until the year before last, the Senators were yearly in the top-5 of teams suggested to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, and now they are pegged at barely making the playoffs, and if they do, dying out in another first-round loss.
A team in transition does not normally make the bog show, but Dany Heatley will most likely make the show with his San Jose Sharks team, probably the one team that he wanted to play for in the first place. He turned down a trade offer to San Jose when Joe Thorton’s name was mentioned as his trading partner, but it is now apparent that Joe is who Dany wanted to play with all along.
If this is another losing season for the Senators, it could be chalked up to being a team in transition, with too many new faces on the bench and a young coach, who many may blame for Heatley’s departure. The Senators, though, look like they could be in the middle of a race at season’s end for the last playoff spot in the East. Look for Ottawa to gain at least 86 points this year, and maybe even 96 if Pascal Leclaire can steal some of those one-goal games for the team.T