Terms like "historic" and "record-breaking" seem to be thrown about by the press like Toronto Maple Leafs jokes on Ottawa sports radio shows.
"Go ahead and write it, I guarantee we'll win the Cup this year." Famous words uttered by Senators Captain Daniel Alfredsson the first few games of the 2003-2004 season.
The Senators lost in the first round to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Now, 18 games into their 2007-2008 season, Ottawa is off to a 15-3-0 start, and sure enough, the Cup predictions are starting to circulate.
Though making it to the Stanley Cup Finals last season was a massive boost to the organization, there was never any doubt that the Ducks would beat them, and they did quite handily, winning in 5 games.
The Senators were not prepared for a high-scoring, hard-hitting Western Conference team.
Some would argue that 2005-2006 should have been the Senators year with Dominik Hasek in the lineup.
To put it bluntly, the Senators' chances at a Cup have run out, and it's all in the numbers.
The current unit of the Ottawa Senators is comprised mainly of draft picks, including captain Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Mike Fisher, Ray Emery, Anton Volchenkov and Andrej Meszaros after a decade of perpetual NHL basement dwelling afforded them a great many high draft picks, allowing them to build a decent team.
Now, as the Senators are perennial contenders for the Presidents' Trophy, they are seeing their first round picks no earlier than 20th overall, and a great deal of those picks that panned out in years past coming into their free agency years, vying for very lucrative contracts.
Since the lockout, the Senators have lost two premiere players to this very situation, Marian Hossa and Martin Havlat. Trading Hossa however, was wise as they received sniper Dany Heatley in return from the Atlanta Thrashers, but the Havlat deal was not as fruitful, seeing Tom Preissing and Josh Hennessy to the Senators along with defenseman Michal Barinka and a 2008 second-round draft pick in exchange for Havlat and forward Bryan Smolinski.
Hennesy and the draft pick are all that remains from a deal that saw the Senators ship off a potential Rocket Richard Trophy contender.
Now, after resigning Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley to long-term mega contracts, and Alfredsson coming up on a new deal, the Senators are going to be coming up on dark days.
Next season, Heatley will begin his first year, of his new deal, making $7.5M, Spezza will earn $7M, Alfredsson will earn $4.667M, Mike Fisher will earn a ludicrous $4.2M, Martin Gerber will receive $3.7M, Ray Emery will earn $3.167M, Chris Phillips will earn a ludicrous $3.5M, Joe Corvo will earn $2.625M, and Anton Volchenkov will earn $2.5M. All told, the Senators have committed $ 41,973,996 next season.
That seems fairly reasonable for that core of players some might argue, but then they see who is not on that list and the concern rises.
Wade Redden, who is coasting through the last year of his uber contract that was awarded him when John Muckler decided he was more valuable than Zdeno Chara, has stated that he is willing to offer the 'home team discount' to the Seators, which means he would take a pay cut from the $6.5M he was given two years ago. However, as an unrestricted free agent, could still garner a fair bit of interest around the league as a special teams quarterback and top 4 defenseman.
He could still receive offers of up to $5M, depending on the financials of the team offering, and under the unwritten 'fair market value' rules, would not be able to take an offer much lower than that from the Senators without drawing the ire of agents, players and GM's league-wide, as current player salaries are used as precedent in negotiating new player contracts.
In addition to Redden, rookie phenom Andrej Meszaros will be a UFA at season's end, and will be able to command fair market value of about $3M/year. Antoine Vermette, Patrick Eaves and Chris Kelly could all easily get $2M/year.
With the players mentioned, that is a combined projected salary of roughly $14M, putting the Sens approximately $3M over the cap, meaning more likely than not, at least two of the afforementioned players will have to be moved at the deadline to prevent losing them for nothing.
But it gets worse the following season as captain Daniel Alfredsson becomes a UFA.
Alfredsson, whose new contract guarantees a base salary of $3.8M is laced with incentive bonuses, and under the CBA, performance incentives are attached to the following years cap hit, along with contract buyouts, so while his first year will be relatively inexpensive, he will still end up as a $6-7M cap hit the following year.
Assuming that Martin Gerber is kept and Ray Emery is dealt as is the speculation of late, Gerber would have to be qualified with at least $4M after a remarkable bounceback to start this season.
As of right now, the farm system is scarce as the only bright spot is Nick Foligno, so there are no young players to step into the fray. Ray Emery constituted the last of the ripe fruits that could be picked from the farm.
The financials are only part of the reason that there will be no Stanley Cup festivities anytime soon.
Much frustration has been expressed league-wide regarding the new schedule formula, seeing emphasis placed on rivalries, meaning that the Senators play each of the teams in their division eight games a year.
The team who has benefitted from this most in the league is the Ottawa Senators. So far this year, they are 8-0-0 in divisional play. Their schedule includes 8 games each against Montreal, Boston, Buffalo and Toronto, all teams they have solved quite handily, especially Toronto.
With the new schedule, there would be more inter-conference play, meaning Ottawa would be facing run and gun teams like Detroit, Chicago, Anaheim, and Colorado more often.
All indications are that the changes will be implemented as Western Conference teams will be able to prove they are being given the short end of the stick in seeing young stars like Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.
It's worth noting that Ottawa has not played a Western Conference team yet this year, and will not do so until November 29, with the exception of Detroit and Anaheim, the Western Conference teams they are facing are not exactly the creme de la creme. Including games against San Jose, Phoenix, St. Louis and Los Angeles.
With a bankroll on the verge of exploding, the imminent movement of players who they can't afford to keep and the schedule gravy train coming to an end, it appears that a Stanley Cup is not in the Ottawa Senators immediate future.
2005-2006 was Ottawa's year on paper, last season was their unlikely playoff run, but short of duplicating that miraculous playoff run this year, it appears that the Senators have missed the bus and blown the two most legitimate chances they had in winning the Stanley Cup.
For the Bleacher Report, I'm Andrew Castaneda.
With files from TSN.ca, Sportsnet.ca,Yahoo! Sports, HockeyAnalysis.com, CBC.ca, Sports Illustrated, NHL.com, as well as OttawaSenators.com.
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