How I would fix the Senators

With the Ottawa Senators continuing to lose (1-6-3 in their last 10 games), it’s only a matter of time before the general manager Bryan Murray is fired, and with good reason.

By Cindy Pierson Dulay [CC-BY-2.5 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Eugene Melnyk looks happy that he named me as the new Sens general manager.

Now, I have no idea who the new GM would be. It’s been rumoured that TSN personality Pierre McGuire could be the replacement, but I don’t know about that. I do know the new GM has a lot of work to do.

Now, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be asked to be the man in charge, which is a shame. Because I have a 10-step plan in place to get the Senators back on track.

Now, even though I’m not a Senators fan, I thought I would show my 10 steps here, just in case the new GM needs some help.

1. Call a press conference. Maybe it’s part of the announcement that I’m the new GM. Maybe it’s the day after. It doesn’t matter. But it’s important to tell fans to have patience, because the team us going to suck for the next few years.

To rebuild a team, you need to acquire draft picks and let them develop. You need to make trades that improve your team a little bit at a time. You need to sign free agents that don’t have any place to go, because it’s going to be difficult to convinve high-end free agents to come to a city that is losing.

But, you also need to tell Sens fans that the team isn’t going to pull a Pittsburgh or Chicago, and have five horrible years to get top-three draft picks every year. The fan base wouldn’t put up with it. Instead, a rebuild would need to be done along the lines of the Boston Bruins. Coming out of the lockout, the Bruins came dead last in the Northeast division for two straight years, but rebuilt with smart draft picks, smart free agent signings, and smart trades.

That is the model the Sens will need to follow. There are no quick fixes (just ask the Toronto Maple Leafs and Phil Kessel). But it’s important that the fans know there is a plan, and it may be a painful couple of years, but they’ll try to be competitive.

By Jonathan Milley from Halifax, Canada (DSC_3844) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Talking to Daniel Alfredsson would be one of the top things on my list to do.

2. Talk to Daniel Alfredsson. Have a heart-to-heart with him. Tell him the plan for the team. There’s going to be some tough seasons ahead. The team isn’t going to be very good for a few years, and he has a choice. If he wants to stay, he can stay the whole time, be a leader to the young guys who are coming in, but know he probably will never see postseason success.

His other option. Be traded to a team that has a chance to win a Stanley Cup. He can make a list of teams, and he’ll be traded to one of those teams. If the list is eight teams, then it’s one of them. If the list is three teams, then it will be one of those teams. Even if the Sens don’t get much back in return, Alfie deserves the right to dictate where he wants to go.

3. Trade Chris Phillips for a second rounder. At the trade deadline, Phillips will have a cap hit of $771,505. That’s not too bad for a shutdown defenceman. But Phillips is missing Anton Volchenkov a lot this year, and his numbers aren’t that great. He doesn’t belong with the Sens anymore. And he won’t be re-signed in the offseason.

So he has an option. Either help out the team by accepting a trade and having a chance to try someplace new and win a Cup, or pull a Mats Sundin and stay with the team, leave in the summer, and not give the Sens anything.

Why a second rounder? Because that’s generally the going rate for a trade deadline rental. Four second rounders were traded last year at the deadline, (that doesn’t include trades that happened before the deadline, such as Dominic Moore for a second rounder. In the weeks leading up to the deadline, 10 second round picks were traded). The year before, nine second rounders were parts of trades.

So Phillips for a second rounder? Sounds good to me.

4. Don’t rush Robin Lehner. Instead, sign a goalie for a couple of years, until Lehner is ready.

The worst thing the Sens can do is rush Lehner up before he’s ready to be a bona fide #1 goalie. He needs to spend at least one, if not two, years in the AHL before he could be ready to join NHL as a full-time #1 goalie.  The reality is goalies generally come into their own in their mid-to-late 20s.  

Martin Brodeur’s streak of four straight 40-win seasons? Happened between the ages of 25 to 29.  Roberto Luongo’s 47-win season? He was 27.  Ryan Miller’s best two seasons? Last year at 29, and a few years back at 26.  Miika Kiprusoff’s streak of dominance came between the ages of 29 to 32.  Ilya Bryzgalov’s best season just happened at the age of 29.  

And the list goes on. Craig Anderson’s best season at 29. Tomas Vokoun’s two best seasons at the age of 26 and 29. Henrik Lundqvist has posted 30-win seasons every year, but he didn’t start playing in the NHL until he was 24 (he’s only 28 now).

Rushing Lehner up to the Sens could do more harm than good.

So in the meantime, they need to sign a goalie that can win games, but would be happy with a cheap, two-year contract. So that excludes guys like Tomas Vokoun and Ilya Bryzgalov. Instead, they should sign someone like Jose Theodore to a two-year, $5 million deal. The Sens get a goalie that can be the #1 guy for a couple of years, not much will be expected of him and he’s still good enough to win some games single-handidly.

5. Get a new coach, someone with a lot of NHL experience. I don’t know  why Bryan Murray decides to get coaches that either have no NHL experience, or haven’t coached in the big leagues in years. Maybe it’s a ploy to make himself remembered as a better coach than he was. Don’t belive me? Look at the coaches the Murray has hired since becoming GM.

2007-08 season: John Paddock: Coached less than a season in Ottawa.  He hadn’t coached in the NHL since 1994-95. How long ago was that? Quebec, Hartford and Winnipeg all had hockey teams. Ryan Smyth was a rookie. Eric Lindros won the Hart trophy and was a dominating force. There was a reason Paddock spent a dozen years in between NHL jobs.

2008-09 season: Craig Hartsburg: Coached Ottawa for 48 games. Hadn’t coached an NHL game since the 2001-02 season. In his seven seasons of coaching (including the two where he got fired halfway through), he only led a team to better than third in the division one time. Not conference, but division.

2008-2009 season to present: Cory Clouston: Not one bit of NHL coaching experience. Yet, this was the choice to lead a team that had struggled with its previous two coaches.

So the Sens need a coach, and they need one with experience, who knows how to deal with NHL players, and has had some level of success. I wouldn’t go after Ken Hitchcock, as his brand of defensive hockey is pretty boring (although successful). Candidates include Michel Therrien and Pat Quinn, but I think the front runner would be Craig MacTavish. MacTavish worked with some pretty brutal teams in Edmonton, and in eight seasons, finished below .500 only once.

He is the best bet to lead the Sens through a rebuild.

By Dan4th (http://www.flickr.com/photos/dan4th/4354880364/) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Jason Spezza needs a sniper on his wing.

6. Get a sniper for Jason Spezza. Look, I think Spezza is vastly overpaid, and isn’t that great of a set-up man at all. He needs other great talent to work with in order to be successful. When Dany Heatley was his wingman, Spezza was a great setup man. But without a 50-goal scorer on his side, his assists decline a lot.

Since Spezza can’t be traded (it’s hard to find someone willing to take on a $7 million cap hit for four more seasons on a player that is one-dimensional, not to mention the no trade clause that he has that can quash any deal to a city he doesn’t like), Spezza needs to be a part of this team for a few years.

Now, I don’t think the Sens should necessarily go out and overpay for a potential 50-goal scorer. But there are a couple of cheap options out there that could help him out. There are guys like Milan Hejduk, Mike Knuble and Michael Ryder. All three are cheap scoring options for Spezza until something better comes along, and none of them would expect a long-term deal.

7. Get rid of Chris Neil. His salary is stupid, he’s not as good as people remember (only once in the past four years has Neil scored more than six goals in a season, and he’s on pace for four goals this year), and he’s not even a go-to fight guy anymore, as Matt Carkner has claimed that title on the Sens. The only thing Neil is good for nowadays is looking tough while on bench when something happens on the ice that he’s not a part of.

More than likely, no one would trade for him. So the only other option would be to buy out his contract. According to CapGeek, Neil would have a cap hit of $666,667 a year for the next four years. So the Sens would save about $1.3 million in cap space for the next two seasons.

Done and done.

8. Make a splash in the free agent market by signing one big name free agent. In the Ottawa hockey market, you need to stay competitive, or fans stop coming to games. Sad, but true.

So in an effort to solve this problem, I would need to sign a key free agent. Someone who has a history of being a good player, isn’t inconsistent, and would be worth the risk. That leaves only three players this summer: Brad Richards, Alexander Semin and Simon Gagne.

Richards is a 90-point guy. Semin is more of a wildcard, but has tons of talent and would give fans hope of seeing a highlight-reel goal any game they attend. And Gagne is a 40-goal potential player (in fact, Gagne should be considered for a linemate of Spezza, but I don’t think he would be cheap enough for the criteria I lined out in point #6).

Best of all, these guys are 30 years old or younger. Signing one of them to a four- or five-year deal wouldn’t be as bad as signing 35-year-old players on the downside of their career. Murray’s already tried that. It doesn’t work.

By Alaney2k (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (<A class="external free" href="http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html" rel=nofollow>http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html</A>)], via Wikimedia Commons

It takes a good team to do better than this.

9. Get some true second liners. I mentioned this in a post a couple of weeks ago, but Ottawa is full of third-line players. They need to get some true-second liners. A second-line player is a guy who can be counted on to not only get 60 points or so, but easily fill in on the top line if there is an injury there.

These are harder to come by, and would probably need to be acquired by trade, more than a free agent signing as Tim Connolly may be the only free agent this summer who fits the second-line role. But when you look at other team’s second lines, and then Ottawa’s second line of Chris Kelly, Jesse Winchester and Ryan Shannon (or Nick Foligno, or Zack Smith), then you can see why Ottawa has so many scoring woes.

10. Get a shot-blocking defencman. As mentioned above, Ottawa really misses Anton Volchenkov. But at the same time, I think he’s now overpaid by the Devils to do what he does, so letting him go wasn’t that bad a move by Murray. Not replacing him was brutal.

Now, Sens prospect Jared Cowen could be that guy. But he can only do so much. I think they need to get at least one more shot-blocking d-man. Someone that could be a leader for Cowen, and a stable presence on the ice late in a one-goal game.

Someone like Brent Sopel would be a good fit. He’s sixth in the league in blocked shots, and should only earn about $2.5 million a season next year (and is a free agent this summer).

It’s important fans know what they’re getting in Sopel. Don’t expect him to score goals or make beautiful two-line passes. He’ll score about one goal a season, get 10 assists, and block about 150 shots. Oh, and he’ll also bring Stanley Cup experience, which can never be overlooked when a team does make the playoffs (see Hal Gill last year).

Conclusion. So there you have it. You may be wondering about some obvious moves, such as trading Sergei Gonchar, Alexei Kovalev or Mike Fisher. I really don’t see a situation where anyone would want to take on those players or their salaries.

Obviously, not all of the above steps would be possible. But it’s a good guideline for a new GM to follow. Making these moves gives the Sens some draft picks, clears cap space and allows the team a chance to rebuild.

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