Ottawa Senators' Future Begins Now

David LawCorrespondent IMarch 3, 2009

The Ottawa Senators are going to look different next year, and their fans are hoping they will play differently as well.

In 2008-2009, the season collapsed on the Senators. After a brilliant start, the team inexplicably imploded, and since late December 2008 Ottawa has consistently been an NHL bottom-feeder.

For years a model franchise, the Senators have been consistent Stanley Cup contenders. Last year's lengthy fade was punctuated by a first round sweep by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

This season has confirmed the Senators are simply not good enough to compete for a decent playoff position. The lack of a legitimate starting goalie continues to be the franchise's Achilles’ heel, and it has been exposed by weak play in the defensive end.

Ottawa has let go of a number of puck-moving defensemen in recent seasons, most notably Wade Redden, Joe Corvo, and Tom Preissing. General Manager Bryan Murray has attempted to address this weakness recently with the addition of Chris Campoli.

Neither Brian Lee nor Alexander Picard have developed as well as the team had hoped. The addition of veteran blueliner Jason Smith looked like the right move, as he could offer a stable presence and leadership in the playoffs, but for a non-playoff team in need of a rebuild, signing Smith now appears to have been a mistake.

Where does Ottawa go from here? Next year Ottawa will have some room under the salary cap, and seems to need a starting goalie and an offensive defenseman.

Who's Not Back? Cap Space Implications?

Martin Gerber, (waived), $3.7 million

Filip Kuba, (UFA), $3 million

Chris Neil, (UFA), $1.1 million

Who Should be Traded? Cap Space Implications?

Antoine Vermette, $2.7 million

Jason Smith, $2.6 million

Chris Kelly, $2.1 million

Jarkko Ruutu, $1.3 million

Christoph Schubert, $900,000

With these deletions, the Senators would free up over $17 million of cap space, more than enough to obtain a defenseman and a goalie. Although admittedly, goalies do not grow on trees. Ottawa is not the only team lacking a solid #1 goalie.

What about the "Big Ticket" Players?

Jason Spezza has replaced Redden as the prime target of the wrath of fans. Spezza's failure to respect his defensive responsibilities, along with his penchant for some colossal giveaways has long been an annoyance to fans.

Worse, Spezza's mediocre work habits appear to be contagious, as Dany Heatley has abandoned all pretext of being a two-way player, as he had promised when assigned an "A" on his jersey.

The problem is that Bryan Murray's counterparts throughout the NHL have seen the same habits as Ottawa's fans have seen, and no GM will be willing to take on Spezza's $7 million cap hit, which extends until 2015.

If Murray could trade Spezza, don't you think he would at this point? Next year Spezza's no-trade clause kicks in, so if he cannot be moved now, it is safe to say that he will be with Ottawa for a long time.

Daniel Alfredsson is the heart and soul of the franchise, and continues to play at a high level every night. He's a lifetime “Sen.”

Heatley is still one of the league's pure scorers, and at a $7.5 million cap hit I think he will stay unless Murray can move him, probably in the offseason, for a top flight defenseman.

Mike Fisher, at $4.2 million until 2013 is overpaid and won't be going anywhere. Not even the Islanders are dumb enough to do Ottawa that favor. This is not to blame Fisher, because he is still an effective checking center. If someone offers me twice what I am worth, I would grab it just like Fisher did.

Senators Should Not Repeat Toronto's Mistakes

For a number of years Ottawa saw their archrivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs, hold on to expensive and aging players, thinking they were one or two players away from a serious run at the Stanley Cup.

If Ottawa wants to avoid that pattern of mistakes, then a more significant house cleaning is in order. Getting rid of the players identified above provides Ottawa with an opportunity to change the chemistry in the room, bring in fresh blood, and fill in the two greatest voids on the team: goaltender and offensive defenseman.

Some of the moves seem likely to take place by the trade deadline. Kuba and Neil will probably be gone for draft picks. Gerber is already gone. Right there, $7.8 million dollars in cap space is available.

Whether now or in the offseason, Murray needs to move some of the others to clear up more space. Pulling in prospects and draft picks will strengthen the franchise over the long run, while new players and a youth movement can put Ottawa back in the playoff picture relatively quickly.


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