by SENShobo on 10/25/10 at 11:20 AM ET
Cap troubles bind Ottawa’s hands from digging them out of this hole, and Alfredsson’s success highlights team’s malaise, but first. . .
From the Ottawa Citizen, holes are everywhere in Ottawa’s ship,
“It’s not just one thing. If it was one thing, you could address it. But it seems to be all parts of our game. Obviously, getting the puck to the net and creating offensive opportunities and taking care of our own end and getting outworked at times.” — Chris Kelly, following Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
Put into the most simplistic terms, the Senators don’t shoot enough, don’t defend enough and endure way too many lapses where they don’t seem to do anything at all.
The top players must show more than the limited flashes of inspired play they’ve shown so far. The Senators have scored 16 goals in eight games. At a mere two goals per game, that’s the worst output of all 30 NHL teams.
There are problems just about everywhere. If there’s a positive, it’s that the supposed weak link of the team, goaltending, has been fine, if not spectacular. Still, goaltenders can’t win without offensive and defensive support.
What is left for the team to do?
This isn’t a simple case of players not playing up to expectations. While they have failed to deliver, even an acceptable level from all players combined would not be enough to make this team anything more than scraping for the final playoff spots.
No one playing on the third or fourth lines will score 30 goals; even asking it of half of the top six seems demanding. Gonchar has never adapted quickly to new teams, and with the responsibilities on his shoulders, the unfamiliar positioning Clouston has assigned him, and the difference between Crosby/Malkin and Spezza/Fisher, he won’t soon blossom. Kovalev is anything but motivated by his fellow Russian All-Star, or his contract year, or his legacy. Spezza is injured and will never take an all-around Yzerman-esque turn, nor will Fisher ever admit that offensive production is an expectation of his game.
What is left for the team to do?
The team simply hasn’t looked good and GM Bryan Murray made it known last week he’s looking to make changes. My question is, just what does he think he can do?
Captain Daniel Alfredsson is a lifer in the Canadian capital and isn’t overpaid at $4.9 million. Milan Michalek ($4.3 million) and Mike Fisher ($4.2 million) are the team’s most marketable players, but Murray would be crazy to part with either. Doing so would indicate a rebuild, not a tweak. Youngsters Erik Karlsson, Nick Foligno and, to a lesser extent, Peter Regin would net some here-and-now hope, but moving them would set the franchise’s future back a few drafts. Same goes with junior blueliners David Runblad and Jared Cowen.
All of which takes me back to my original point: Just what does Murray mean when he says, as he did the other day, “It’s not the coaches or players only, it’s me doing anything I can.” Other than moving spare parts for other spare parts, there doesn’t seem to be much he can do short of waiving underachievers or sending them to American League Binghamton. Problem is, there isn’t anyone ready to promote in their stead.
And, really, what did he expect of the squad he’d put together? Putting your eggs in the baskets of guys like Spezza, Kovalev, Sergei Gonchar and Leclaire is a recipe for disaster.
The basket is empty for Murray. Guys like Gonchar, Kovalev, Spezza, Alfredsson, Fisher, and Phillips all control their destiny through either their clauses or their play. Hope for the future is found in Foligno, Regin, Karlsson, and other prospects in the AHL, Junior, or Europe, and not in any quantity that you could use it for gains.
Ever since I was reminded earlier this season that this team has to make the second round of the playoffs to break even, I keep thinking about the moves Melnyk’s team has made.
With Muckler, Peter Bondra was a playoff rental back in 2004, scoring no playoff points, and costing a 5th round pick and Brooks Laich, who has done well for the Capitals. Greg De Vries fared one point better for the Senators, but along with Rachunek cost Ottawa Alexandre Giroux, one of the AHL’s most potent scorers, and a great role model for any prospects playing alongside him. Havlat and Smolinski’s only remaining piece is Wiercioch, no slouch but far less than those two should have delivered in lasting assets, and who could forget that the decision was always to have Redden and Chara play through their final year in Ottawa, never to get them signed or trade them for assets when that proved impossible.
With Murray, Commodore and Stillman were rentals, while both Corvo and Eaves have continued to have success after leaving Ottawa, trading youth for a flickering flame. In handing Meszaros to Tampa Bay for Kuba, Picard, and San Jose’s first round pick, Picard and a second round pick netted a rental in Cullen, and San Jose’s first round pick and McAmmond became Comrie, departed for nothing, and Campoli, still struggling to prove himself a fixture for Ottawa’s blue line. Vermette, whose numbers in Columbus could have him seen as better than Fisher for a center, although he played alongside Rick Nash, became Leclaire and the pick that would be Robin Lehner, the lone move with some forward looking to it. Another second round pick for a rental in Sutton, and failing to have enough of a handle on Heatley as a Senator to make more than Michalek, Cheechoo’s brutal deal, and a second round pick out of it round out the opportunities missed or futures burned.
Unless you have an attraction power, be it the money of New York, the class of Detroit, or the locked up talent in Vancouver, eternal winning cannot go on forever without a rebuild. That Murray, who has done much better at drafting than Muckler, would give up so many key opportunities to succeed there, makes one wonder how much the impetus has been on him from Melnyk to win now, to do anything to help get the red team out of the red. Would Murray have signed Kovalev of his own accord, or did Melnyk’s enthusiasm for him push the deal forward. As powerful as Gonchar can be, was he Murray’s first choice, or did it come about between other forces and Gonchar’s agent requiring a quick decision, rather than taking Michalek’s brother who wanted to play with his sibling, or Martin, who has shone in Pittsburgh thus far? While individuals have taken the fall here and there, with good reason or not, Murray has always stuck to the familiar, trying to trade for Penner and Smid, taking players from his old haunts in Commodore and Cullen, and sticking to family in Tim Murray as his assistant, and familiarity in Carvel as a mystifyingly untouchable fixture behind Ottawa’s bench.
I am not the one to say it’s over, but I fear more than anything a long period of languishing the way the Leafs have endured, or the fluttering mediocrity that the Devils are currently mired in.
Friday night, Lehner had a bird’s-eye view from the end of a bench in Buffalo while that same man from Gothenburg, Sweden, magically recorded his 1,000th.
“Other Swedish players, like Sundin, Forsberg, Lidstrom, Zetterberg and all those guys, they get a lot of credit back in Sweden. I don’t know if it’s because this town is a little bit in the shadow from the rest of the world, but he doesn’t get as much attention as he deserves back in Sweden.
Quizzically, the Senators chose not to properly honour Alfredsson prior to the game. His name was mentioned just after the warmup, to which the too-many Habs fans in attendance showed, on this special occasion, the same disrespect they normally do.
When Ottawa’s starting lineup was announced and Alfredsson’s face popped up on the video board, it was just dumb luck that helped generate a big cheer. The Habs took the ice at the exact same time.
The tribute to No. 11 came during the first TV timeout, when his three goals in Buffalo were replayed. The crowd stood and politely applauded, while Alfredsson got up off the bench and waved back. The problem was that it was just a polite applause, and it lasted not nearly long enough.
It should not go to show that Ottawa fans do not care about Alfredsson and his monumental achievement. Aside from the invasion of Habs fans, the mood likely stems more from the sense that this is a team attempting to tread water for far too long. As polite as Ottawa fans are, middling without action, even action that brings short term pain, will slowly but surely empty the hope, and the stands, too.
But at this moment, there is not much left for Murray to do, not without a card or two of cleverness up his sleeve.
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