Fresh off of a solid beating in the Stanley Cup Finals at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks, the Senators roared out of the gates to the tune of a 9-1 record to open the season.
But the team that started the '07-08 season hardly resembled he team from May. Gone were GM John Muckler, second line foward and penalty killer Peter Schaefer, and spare parts Mike Comrie and Oleg Saprykin. In were new GM Bryan Murray, new coach John Paddock, foot soldier Shean Donovan, grizzled vet Luke Richardson, and rookie Nick Foligno.
The defensive unit was set and locked up long term—with the exception of Wade Redden, rumoured to be on his way out. The forwards were looking good, with the usual questions about whether or not to keep the Big Line together. The goaltending was the only iffy part, with Ray Emery trying to recover from offseason wrist surgery and Martin Gerber, who lost his job to Emery last season.
But there the Senators were early on, leading the pack on the strength of "Darth" Gerber. They re-signed "heart and soul" forward Mike Fisher for 5 more years, Dany Heatley for 6 more years, and signed veteran hometown boy Randy Robitaille to provide depth and secondary scoring. The only bumps in the road early on were a nasty hit on Dean McAmmond by Philadelphia pest Steve Downie, the uncertainty around Emery's role, and a nasty shoulder injury to Patrick Eaves. Then once November rolled around they resigned Jason Spezza for 7 years, ending all the RFA speculation for this coming summer. Things were pretty good for the Sens Army.
Unfortunately, November also brought something else: sloppy, undisiplined hockey.
Half-hearted efforts, ill-advised passes, bad penalties and shoddy goaltending sent the mighty Sens on a 7 game losing streak. Just how rare is such a thing in Sensland? This was their longest winless streak in 11 years. The questions and rumours were at extreme levels. Should they make a trade? Should someone be fired? Are the Sens lazy?
GM Murray stood tall behind his team, not biting on the calls for firings or trades. Sure there were tons of suitors looking to take assets off of his hands, but making a trade for the sake of making a trade is never a good idea. Eventually the slump ended (as slumps always do) on the strength of the Big Line and a couple kids. The Big Line of Spezza-Heatley-Alfredsson was tearing things up as they tend to do, but Nick Foligno and Cody Bass also played some very inspired hockey in December.
The Emery/Paddock situation was the only real non-positive situation as December lead into January. The back and forth exchanges on both sides being the down part, and the recent improved play of Emery being the positive.
So here we are in early January staring down the homestretch. It won't be long before the trade deadline arrives, and every team's fans are screaming for their GM to do something—anything!!
Outside of the ghost of Peter Forsberg, I haven't heard too many rumours that make any sense. In this market and new NHL, it doesn't pay to mortgage your future for today, even if that means a shot at the Cup.
I would never in a million years trade the likes of Vermette, Kelly, Volchenkov for a rental player (who the Sens have terrible luck with anyways). The only move I can see as more than likely is trading Wade Redden out west to shave payroll and re-signing Chris Kelly long term. Perhaps if Calgary or Edmonton is willing to offer someone cheap and valuable for Wade, we could add something—but a deal like that is most likely going to involve draft picks.
In my opinion the Sens have all they need to take a serious run at Lord Stanley's Cup. I'm sure just like any of the other GMs with any kind of shot, Bryan Murray would like to add someone and not have to give up much—but in reality I can't see much going on.
I think Saturday, January 12th's game against the Detroit Red Wings should go a long way to showing GM Murray how we stack up against this season's Cup favourites. We're mostly healthy now, only missing Patrick Eaves, so this could be the team that heads into the playoffs.
This is why they play the games, and instead of letting the video gamers at NHL 08 simulate the season. As the song goes "All the big guns gonna shoot out the lights, the place will be rockin', it's Saturday night!"