Thursday, February 3, 2011

What I'd Do

So it has been a couple of weeks since the money behind the team announced that he'd seen the light, the cup isn't coming to Ottawa this year after all. Mr. Melnyk also announced that both Clouston and Murray would remain in their jobs for the rest of the year.

Color me underwhelmed.

I am of two minds about this.

Firstly, I approve of keeping Clouston as the coach for the rest of the year. Mr. Melnyk is already paying two other guys to not coach the team, he doesn't need a third. I've long said that the coach isn't the problem with this team.

Secondly, I have mixed feelings about keeping Murray. I think that the on-ice product that the team has now has to be laid at his feet, no matter how badly the ice was tilted against him by his predecessor. Murray's handling of the big team's roster can only be described as poor, as if he is spending his time looking for the single missing piece that would return the team to their 2007 form. The problem is that those single pieces that he's come up with have underperformed, while at the same time key pieces have been slipping through his fingers.

On the plus side, he's drafted like a bear. The prospect larder is well stocked, perhaps to the point where the team will have to trade some defense prospects to avoid wasting their value. Forwards-wise we have some prospects who should fit in the second- and third-line positions quite nicely, even if we don't have any elite prospects in the pipeline.

The problem is, the draft is a long time away. The run up to deadline day has been about trading, and Murray's trading record isn't very strong.

He's also still making noises about a "one year rebuild", which isn't that much of a softening of his "one tweak and we're in" pattern of action over the last few years. So while he says everyone but Alfie and (we presume) Karlsson are for sale, I don't buy it.

So personally I'm worried about keeping him in place through this important trading period. The only thing keeping him in place as far as I'm concerned is a lack of a credible candidate to drop in right now to replace him.

My personal attitude is that we are looking at a full rebuild here, and the sooner Melnyk signs on to that the sooner we'll start actually building something and stop sinking further behind. This means a three, maybe five year program.

With that kind of schedule you have to wonder where your players are going to be in their careers when the stretch run comes. Of the current team today, who is still going to be playing like they belong on a contending team in three years?

If it were me:


Alfie: the fans love him, and he's given his life and soul for this team. That said, if a contending team offered anything, I'd approach Alfie about the trade. Alfredsson deserves a cup ring, and Ottawa won't be able to deliver him one. If a chance comes up, he deserves the opportunity to take it if he wants. Personally I doubt he'd take the chance. But should the opportunity arise, the decision needs to be his.

Spezza: Like him or loath him, Spezza is an elite centre. He can playmake out of nothing and when he's on, magic can happen. That said, where will he be in three to five years? Right now if a decent offer came, I'd trade him if possible because I know the team surrounding him can't make decent use of his skills, and I wonder if he'll still have it when the stretch run comes. And this better be a trade where in hind-sight we look back and say "that was worth it". No Heatley-style trades. Odds are he's untradable due to cap and no-movement. I'll enjoy his play if he stays, he's definitely an asset. He'll be the leadership of the immediate future if he stays.

Michalek: If I can keep him cheap, I'd keep him. He isn't the elite we perhaps hoped he would mature into, but he's a grinder and can make things happen. His speed seems to be coming back, too. He'd provide a good sense of leadership for the younger players.

Fisher: I would trade him if I could. Fisher is a popular player with the ability to score and make things happen, bu the bottom line is that he hasn't been playing to his salary. I would trade him for a salary dump from another team as long as the incoming contract ended before Fisher's does, just to get his money off the books.

Foligno: I would keep him. I suspect he will be cheap to re-sign next time around because he certainly isn't lighting up the numbers right now. I personally think he's capable of more, and if I can have it cheap, I'll take it.

Kelly: Probably too expensive to keep, trade if I can. I would prefer to keep, since the Kelly-Ruutu-Neil line provides energy, is entertaining to watch, and is liked by the fans. Plus they can get goals here and there too.

Kovalev: I love the guy's play to death, but he hasn't been worth $5 million by any stretch of the imagination. Trade him if I can -- even at firesale rates. Don't re-sign if I can't.

Neil: Keep for now. Personally I doubt contenders will be trading for his kind of "character".

Regin: Like Foligno, is underperforming and will probably be cheap to re-sign. I say keep.

Ruutu: His contract is up again this year. While he's a bit expensive for my tastes, I'd keep him, but I wouldn't consider it the end of the world if someone else wanted to trade for him.

Shannon: Another underperforming youngster. I say keep.

Smith. See Shannon, Regin, Foglino. Keep.

Winchester: I think his window is closing. Trade if we can.


Campoli: If we can keep him cheap, he might have a spot. The problem is that right now we are drowning in 3rd-pairing defencemen. If we can get value for him in trade, I say take it.

Carkner: He is what passes for muscle on this team, and I think for next year anyways we'd need to keep that around until we see if any of the new kids are capable of stepping up.

Gonchar: He's unmovable, but I'd keep him even if he wasn't. No wait, stop laughing. While he may be past his best-before date, and is almost definitely overpaid for what he produces, this guy has been there, done that, at the highest levels. Keeping him around should be a good on-ice influence on these allegedly elite defense prospects like Karlsson and Cowen et al.

Karlsson: I would keep him unless someone offered me the crown jewels. And I'd make them throw in a 1st and a 2nd on top of it. If the right offer came, I'd take it. But the price will be very, very high.

Kuba: I wonder if he is perhaps at the end of his line, he's making too many mistakes and doesn't seem to have much upside. I wouldn't protect him from a trade.

Lee: Seriously, why is Lee even still here? I'd trade him for future considerations, just to get rid of him. Plus it might get his career going as well. Neither the Senators nor Lee are benefiting from the current arrangement.

Phillips: I like Phillips' play. That said, he might have the kind of character that a contender might like. If the right offer came along, trade.

In goal:

Elliott: I'm not one to fit Elliott under the bus by any means. I think he's suffered from poor efforts on the ice in front of him, and to expect excellence from a player in that situation is virtually impossible. Even though I don't think he's a bad goalie, I don't think Elliott will be back next year.

LeClaire: Also suffered from poor efforts in front of him, even when he did play like the elite he's shown flashes of in the past he was let down by a total lack of offense from the guys up front. However since he can't stay healthy for 60 consecutive minutes it is entirely academic. He's untradable. He's injured, so he's unplayable. I think he's done here in Ottawa.

Lehner: Goalie of the future? I dunno, I don't see it. His two starts he was lit up like a pinball machine, even if both times the team provided some offense for once (even if ultimately in a losing cause). I think he'll be the next in a long line of guys who play reasonably well, but not well enough to compensate for a lack of offense up front and poor defensive coverage behind them. He'll be flavor of the month, then get run out of town like Elliott, Auld, Gerber, Emery...

What I'd want in trade: Primarily, picks and prospects. I'll take rookies with potential as well. I'll prefer forwards, since my larder is a bit bare there and I'm reasonably well stocked with defense. I'd make available select prospects in my farm system, but not too many of them, and they won't be cheap.

For long term contracts going out, I'll take short-term salary back as long as it ends this year.

My Plan:

I'm hoping for a three-year rebuild here, but planning for a five-year. Next year is going to be a brutal year for the team, since it will be composed of rookies and veterans who are perhaps past their best. If next year's rookies look like a core we can build around, then I'd go for the three year program; if not, I'd wait another year to see who else we can draft.

As far as my veterans go, I would keep who I could fit from the existing team. The fans like guys like Spezza and Fisher, plus the energy line of Neil-Kelly-Ruutu is entertaining.

In goal I want to grow my own goalie rather than trade for someone who might or might not be done. If Lehner's the guy then great, but I would still be on the prowl for another hot prospect. I'd also be looking for a senior goalie, someone who can be steady in net and can provide mentoring to Lehner (or whomever the next flavor of the month is) before he too gets run out of town, but frankly I'd expect I can pick up someone cheap in free agency for that role.

That's my plan. Not quite fire everyone, but trade who I can, discard who I can, and pack the team with kids with potential. Build the defense around Karlsson. Keep some veterans around to mentor the kids and entertain the fans here and there.

But what do I know?