Ottawa Senators: What’s Gone Wrong? What’s Gone Right?
What’s gone wrong this season?
For this franchise?
Fan frustration is no doubt at an all time high, and many of us are left wondering, what went so, so wrong?
Sure the predictions for the success of the 10/11 Senators were mixed, but no pundit had Ottawa finishing near the bottom of the league, but there they are, above only the Islanders and the Devils.
Oh the humanity.
This is not a team used to dealing with failure. We are not a fan based used to watching a team being embarrassed on a nightly basis.
Rather, excluding the “expansion” years, this team has been the most succesful of all Canadian franchises, used to winning, used to post season play.
Since 1996/97 to this regular season, the Senators have amassed an impressive 572 regular season wins, 4 division titles, and a Presidents trophy.
(Reg. season wins since 96/97 – VAN – 532, EDM – 478, CGY – 487, TOR – 519, MTL – 508)
In this same period, the Sens have made post season appearances in 12 of 14 seasons, appeared in 5 conference semi-finals, 2 conference finals, and 1 Stanley Cup final.
That is what we, as Senators fans, and the NHL in general, expect of the Ottawa Senators club, excellence.
The 10/11 version, with 17 wins, in 49 attempts, is unacceptable, full stop.
But how did this come to be? Where did it fall off the tracks?
Well, first and foremost, it came as a result of success itself. Winning results in a weakened draft position, and it is from the draft that teams renew themselves.
Many point to the first four years of this teams existence, the expansion years, as the root of the teams future success. Poor finishes resulted in great drafting opportunities.
Well, the facts do not support this theory.
92 – Yashin. Traded in 2001, for Chara and Spezza. Had an impact more for what he returned in trade, than his on ice performance.
93 – Daigle. Traded in 1998, never an impact player.
94 – Bonk. Traded in 2004 for Shawn Weller. Not an impact player.
95 – Berard. Trade for Redden and Rhodes. No doubt Redden was an impact player.
96 – Phillips. A great player indeed, but franchise?
Among all of those top picks, is there a Crosby, Lidstrom, Sakic, Yzerman, Lemieux, Ovechkin or any semblance of a legitimate franchise player?
So excellence wasn’t built on first round picks. If anything, it was built around a single amazing trade (Yashin for Spezza and Chara), and a lucky 6th round pick named Alfredsson, supported with some sound later round selections.
This brings us to the top 5 mistakes leading to this current mess.
#1 – The loss of Chara to free agency.
Though I do not believe Chara is “franchise” calibre, he is elite, and the Sens have never replaced him. We are absolutely suffering for this loss today.
#2 – The Muckler draft years.
In 2002, Mucklers first draft, the Sens selected ZERO players who have played in the NHL.
2003 – 2 players (Eaves, Elliott), neither being anything near impact players.
2004 – 1, Meszaros, a decent player lost to exorbitant contract demands, resulting in Kuba and Campoli.
2005 – 2 players, Lee, a complete head scratcher and waste of a #9 pick, and Bass, who may yet be an NHL’er, but not an impact player.
2006 – 1 player (Foligno), 1 solid prospect (Gryba), acceptable, but not impact.
#3 – Goaltending.
Add to the above drafting record Mucklers inability to address the long-standing goaltending deficit, either by trade, signing or draft, leaving the Senators where they are today, with a 27th place GAA (3.14).
Murray hoped to have addressed this with the addition of Leclaire, but this proved a bust as well, with Leclaire appearing in only 48 of a possible 131 regular season starts.
#4 The exodus of Heatly.
Yes, he’s a supreme douchebag lacking a top gear (read heart), but he scores, and was at his best riding shotgun to Spezza. We may yet see more from Michalek, mitigating this fiasco, but to date it has loomed large in the current offensive struggles of the Ottawa Senators.
#5 The trade of Havlat.
Another Muckler move that seriously hampered this team in the short-term. Havlat was lost for a paltry return of Preissing, Hennessy, Barinka and Wiercioch (via 2nd round pick, selected by B. Murray).
Moving an asset like Havlat had to result in either a short-term top prospect, or an NHL ready equivalent talent. He landed neither, and only the shrewd drafting of Murray may salvage this deal in the long-term.
Look no further than Kovalev to see the impact of this trade.
So, if the Sens winning tradition was built on solid drafting (albeit not necessarily in the first round), and hampered by poor drafting, how do things look now?
The top 5 reasons for hope.
#1 – Erik Karlsson – He’s only 20 yrs. old, and already we all know this kid is the real deal, and may well prove to be the steal of his draft year, having gone 15th over-all.
He’s fast, agile, a deft puck handler, shoots like a man twice his size, and plays with the confidence of a 15 year veteran.
At best you could knock him for his defensive gaffs, most often a result of pushing his offensive opportunities, but at just 20 yrs old, with 107 games of NHL experience, he has time to improve this side of his game.
#2 – Robyn Lehner – At 6′-3″, 225 lbs, and an attitude to match, Lehner *might* finally be the stopper the Senators have always needed. However, at only 19, he is absolutely not NHL ready, leaving us with little more than hope that he will meet or exceed his projected #1 status.
#2 – Jared Cowan – Another big physical specimen at 6′-5″, 224 lbs, this soon to be 20 year old just might be the Chara replacement so many of us have dreamed of.
He is a mobile, physical defensive Dman who is steeped in both leadership and drive. He also has a heavy shot from the point, so very Chara’esque, non?
Seeing a 17 yr. old work his ass off to recover from double knee surgery, and then exceed his previous level of play, speaks volumes about this kids heart.
#4 – David Rundblad – Another sweet Swede blueliner, with a tremendous offensive touch.
As a 2009 draft pick, this 20 yr. old is likely ready to make his N.A. debut next season, at either the AHL or NHL level.
He is currently playing in the SEL, and is leading his team in defensive scoring and ice time, and sits 10th over-all in SEL scoring.
#5 – Jason Spezza – Say what you will about this guy, the play of the Senators since his being sidelined with a shoulder injury exemplifies what happens when your roster lacks a legitimate #1 centre.
Spezza has been steadily improving in his over-all play, while maintaining his offensive creativity, even seeing regular shifts on the PK.
We’ve got him for another 4 yrs., and that is something to build around.
And building is the only thing to look forward to when you’re on the bottom, bringing me to my next blog posting.
Where do the Sens go from here?