Monday, June 23, 2008

Senators Far From A Championship

What a difference a year makes.

Last summer, the Senators were coming off their longest playoff run ever, losing to the Ducks in the Stanley Cup final, yet optimism was at an all-time high.

We all know what happened next but it is still shocking to see the state of disrepair that the Senators find themselves in after spending more than a decade accumulating talent and depth in the organization.

Going into the free-agency period, the Senators look like a team teetering on the edge of a major decline.

Let’s start with goaltending.

Does anyone truly believe that Martin Gerber is capable of leading a team, any team, to the Stanley Cup? In 12 career playoff games, Gerber has 1 victory.

If anything, Gerber excels only at being frustrating. His state of confidence seems to be so fragile that fans and management openly acknowledge that he can’t be pushed by another goaltender.

What kind of parallel universe are we existing in? An NHL goalie who cannot be pushed or his confidence crumbles?

And somehow, this is deemed acceptable. In fact, it’s generally conceded that the Senators will rely on Gerber once again next season after getting rid of the troubled but talented Ray Emery.
There’s no sense in debating spilled milk because Emery is already gone. Now the focus is squarely on Gerber and there is no indication that he can even handle the pressures of the regular season, let alone the playoffs.

Bruce Garrioch of the Sun, who led the rabid crusade to run Emery out of town, is suggesting the likes of Ty Conklin and Dwayne Roloson could be brought in to backup Gerber.

Does that sound like a Stanley Cup winning combination to you? Since when did the team switch their focus from being a champion to merely being average? Many people are surprised that Detroit’s Chris Osgood was able to win the Stanley Cup yet Martin Gerber is maybe half the goalie that Osgood is.

Goaltending should be the top priority going into free-agency but unfortunately, there are not a lot of options. The only one that makes any sense is Cristobal Huet. That’s not exactly a home run but he’s certainly an upgrade on Martin Gerber.

The defense still has a solid core in Chris Phillips, Anton Volchenkov and Andre Meszaros. Unfortunately the Senators don’t have that top-flight puck mover that every Cup winning team needs.

Detroit has Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. Anaheim has Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer and Mathieu Schneider.

Ottawa has Brian Lee.

If Bryan Murray can convince former Ottawa 67 Brian Campbell or ex-Hab Mark Streit to sign in Ottawa, things will be much rosier. Unfortunately their services will be in high demand, in particular Campbell's.

The forwards are in better shape but there is still no second line center. No matter how well loved Mike Fisher is, he’s more effective in a checking role than an offensive one. Garrioch reports that the chances are “slim” that Cory Stillman comes back so that even further depletes the skill up front.

The Senators now have an abundance of gritty forwards and defenseman but slowly the skill in the organization has been depleted outside of the Big Three.

Players that have or will walk out of the organization for virtually nothing include Wade Redden, Zdeno Chara, Martin Havlat (only Josh Hennessy remains from his trade), Tom Preissing, Mike Comrie, Cory Stillman (and if Stillman isn’t resigned, Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves) and Ray Emery.

Not many organizations can take that kind of hit over three seasons and still call themselves Stanley Cup contenders.

That’s not to say that there isn’t hope.

Not many teams outside of Pittsburgh can boast the talent of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley.

Bryan Murray is also a smart general manager and if anyone can reverse the fortunes of last season’s disaster, it’s him.

But are there too many vital weaknesses on this team that free-agency won’t be able to patch?

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