Monday, January 3, 2011

Waiting For Deadline Day

It has been a hard year as a hockey fan. Frankly, the team's play hasn't been inspiring for more than short stretches (as in minutes, not games). So I'm only watching a period here and there... and not particularly caring if I see any more. Or less, frankly. It is so discouraging to flip on the TV and see stats like "the Senators have only 2 shots on net after 12 minutes of play." I'm obviously not missing much.

I've tried to write this article about a dozen times over the last month. Not once have I come up with anything intelligible, or indeed new, about the current state of the team.

What gets me going for this attempt is this article from Black Aces. It dissects a rumor that Murray wanted to fire Clouston about a month ago, but Melnyk squashed it by telling Murray that if Clouston went, Murray would be gone with him.

Now I don't think I've ever been in favor of firing a coach. Coach firing is a quick-fix for attempting to re-engage an unmotivated group of players, possibly trying to frighten them into playing well. The Ottawa Senators have given up on coaches before (see also Martin Gerber's entire stay here).

The fact of the matter is that the problems with this team begin and end with the roster, and the responsibility for the roster's state lies with the GM. I read or heard a saying recently that special teams' effectiveness is directly proportional to the effectiveness of the coach; the teams' effectiveness at five-on-five hockey is directly proportional to the GM's effectiveness. And while by that yardstick Clouston isn't covered in glory, his record book looks better than the turd sitting on Murray's.

It has been three long years with Brian Murray at the helm, and I think that the organization's state can finally be laid on his desk rather than blaming the mess that he inherited from Muckler. While Murray has done an arguably good job of filling the farm development system which should yield some quality (but possibly not stellar) players in the future, the current team is overloaded with overpaid, under-performing, over-the-hill veterans of past campaigns. Popular players, to be sure, but hockey is a "what have you done for me lately" business and this roster isn't getting it done.

But at the same time I'm not ready to get behind canning Murray.

The facts of life in todays salary-cap world is that you can't get trades done. How many trades, league wide, have there been since opening day? Five? So how come Murray is condemned for being unable to do what so many other GMs are also failing to do?

So given that we can't trade our way out of our problems, then what?

Well yes, Murray should stop giving out long-term contracts with no-trade or no-movement clauses like they are candy. But aside from that.

Start waiving 1-way players? The best case scenario here is that another team picks them up for half-price. Or maybe the best case is that they would clear waivers and then refuse to report to the AHL, that might save Melnyk some bucks. But the worst case is that they clear and report to the AHL, meaning we're still burning Melnyk's money and getting nothing out of it. And then we'd drag some AHL players up here possibly before they are ready.

I think that what needs to happen is that Murray needs to act like he has a plan. One that builds for a 3- to 5- year horizon. Stop trading and signing for short-term fixes.

If I were Melnyk, I'd be waiting to see what happenes at deadline day, since that's really the GM's last chance to put his mark on a team. After that a GM basically has his feet on his desk until June.

If Murray is still trying to buy up rather than sell down, I'd say clean house. If Murray is making intelligent trades that build for the 3- to 5- year term... well that would get him a reprieve from me.

But I'm not Mr. Melnyk.

We also perhaps have to look at the very top of this organization, and by that I mean Mr. Melnyk himself. Melnyk was on Hockey Night In Canada a month or so ago promising that they team was going to go all the way this year and he means the Cup so buckle up.

If Melnyk seriously believes this team is a contender then Murray may be operating with both hands tied behind his back. If Melnyk is directing and vetoing Murray's planning and operations, the results... well the results might not be all that different from what we see here. Trading and signing as if the team was one small tweak, one veteran, one "dressing room character" away from being a contender.

I sincerely hope this isn't the case. If Murray can't get it done, we might have a chance by changing the GM.

If Murray is merely dancing to Melnyk's tune, well frankly we're screwed no matter who is in the GM's or coach's chairs.

I guess the question comes down to who's hand is really on the steering wheel of this organization? And beyond that... do they really know what they are doing?

Ottawa needs a plan. Ottawa needs a youth movement. Ottawa needs two or three years of awful results (kinda like this one) but with the promise that the organization is building, rather than the slow-motion collapse that last year continued into this year. Ottawa needs to make everyone and anyone available for a trade. Nobody should be safe, except perhaps Karlsson. But those trades need to be about the future. Not next week.

Or even next year.

Like I said, I'm waiting until deadline day.