Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sens Struggles Will Force GM's Hand

The Ottawa Senators are running out of excuses for yet another no-show performance against the Montreal Canadiens this weekend, and with each successive letdown, Bryan Murray is now getting closer to being forced into making some kind of move to help improve this struggling club.

If you want an excuse, you could chalk up the listless loss on Saturday to the fact that it was yet another back-to-back Friday-Saturday game, and that they were coming off an exuberant high after their captain Daniel Alfredsson recorded his 1000th point with a hat-trick against the Sabres on Friday. You could say they didn't have their legs. Not too many people are buying that one anymore after seeing this team come into the majority of their games looking like they weren't prepared in the first period. Heck, you could even try to pin some blame on the hometown fans who were once again made to look meek in their own barn as the Habs faithful took over the rink with ease and managed to boo the beleaguered home captain on national television for all the country to see. We can guarantee there has never been a case where the home team captain gets booed in his own rink whenever two separate teams come to town. Never. Yet here we are.

More and more, we are seeing that the Senators can only rely on one line, the Chris Kelly, Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu trio to provide energy every single game, while individual players scattered across the team, namely Alfredsson and Mike Fisher, have been very good for the most part, even if their various linemates aren't producing.

The entire defense core, thrown into chaos by the significant departures of Anton Volchenkov, Andy Sutton and the injury to Filip Kuba, is still struggling as a group with various individuals taking turns having good games before regressing the next. Fortunately, it looks as though Erik Karlsson is really starting to find his game after getting off to a horrendous start. With the call-up of David Hale, the pairing of Sergei Gonchar and Chris Phillips is going to get a chance to stay together and improve.

Yet it's getting late fairly early around here, to paraphrase Yogi Berra. With two very winnable games on the dock for this week: Phoenix and Florida, Murray may get a slight reprieve if the Senators are able to win two in a row for the first time this season.

But essentially, Murray has only 3 real options going forward to help this club.

One, he can stand pat and wait for the team to charge back to life. This is the easiest option considering the salary cap and the restraints it puts on Murray, but it is probably the least effective. What's clear is that the Senators just don't have a real goal-scorer. They have a few guys who may be able to get 25, but they don't have a sniper who can help them win games even when they are outplayed. Basically, if the Senators don't get a lot of shots on net, they don't score. Not doing anything to try and address this weakness will make sure the Senators are also-rans by December.

Two, Murray can make a big trade, or a couple of small ones. Not an easy task, obviously. But if you are looking for candidates to be moved, look no further than Nick Foligno. It's becoming clear that Foligno is not going to be a top six forward with any consistency and he's young enough that his name will more than likely come up in any trade talks. Foligno is a great character player, but what is he really providing for this team? Other Senators that could conceivably be moved if Murray did try and make a trade? Filip Kuba, Milan Michalek, Brian Lee, Chris Campoli and even Ruutu who is in the last year of his contract. It's hard to imagine Murray would trade a player with the upside of Peter Regin, despite his early struggles, because the Senators need more players with skill, youth and a cheap ticket, not less.

Three, Murray can make a coaching change. But that's not going to happen. Cory Clouston has done a great job since he came into a bad situation two seasons ago and the fact that Murray has went down that route twice already certainly precludes it. This is an option in name only, not in reality. Yet questions about the preparedness of this team are starting to creep up. Clouston needs to shore up that weakness before the whispers get louder.

So which option is it going to be? Stand pat, make a trade or make a coaching change?

Likely, even Bryan Murray doesn't know yet.


Anonymous said...

How about a fourth option. Change the philosophy back. This is not a puck possesion team, let Clouston coach what he knows best -defense first. What happen to all the talk last year about Clouston making Spezza a better two-way player. I think this change is philosopy has everyone confused about their role. If the D worry about D not offense they won't turn the puck over as much, thus causing the forwards to play more defense then shooting the puck.
Go back to basic boys, in all sports Defense wins championship.

Pierre said...

I'm going with the coach firing.

Jason York and Alain Sanscartier have both said that Clouston's job could be on the line.

It's simple, it's easy and it absolves Mr. Murray of any responsibility for the team he put on the ice.

Of course, if the Senators fire a coach every year, you really have to wonder about the team's mental make-up and whether or not they truly are "coach killers".

Anonymous said...

I second the coach-firing as the most likely option.

It's much easier to fire and replace the coach than it is to pull off a big trade. The salary cap has tied Murray's hands and he's stuck trying to make a trade from a position of weakness, where every potential trading partner will be looking to take advantage.

Standing pat is not an option in this market and there's no way Melnyk will be content spending to the cap to ice a cellar-dwelling team.

It all adds up to Clouston's head on the chopping block if this team doesn't turn things around by the quarter pole.

Of course, there's also the chance that Murray loses his job as well.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that Clouston's the problem. If he gets fired, that move has scapegoat written all over it.

You're right to point out that we lack a natural scorer. But, how'd we do when we had one (Heatley)? We did great in 2005-06 and 2006-07, and the team did not so well in 2007-08 and 2008-09.

Any way you want to analyze it, the team has been different since 2007-08. That's when we got a new GM. Call it a "change of culture", "change of philosophy", or whatever. It ain't working.

You can analyze trades, drafts, free agent signings, or whatever. The team isn't performing to expectations. Murray sets the expectations at the beginning of the year, and I've never heard him say that we'll have a tough year.

In fact, in 2007-08 we were told that we needed a "change of culture" and that we have more character. The result -- we were four and out in the first round.

In 2008-09, we were told that we needed more accountability and that we had more depth. The result -- we missed the playoffs.

In 2009-10, he traded Heatley and fed us this crap that we had more balance. The result -- 6 and out.

We've only had 10 playoff games in the last three years. That's the worst three year stretch since 1994-95, 1995-96, 1996-97.

If we added Crosby to our lineup tomorrow, I don't think that we'd be much better. The guys who are there are not playing to their potential. Who has played to their potential the last three years?

Management's job is to get the most out of its players. It ain't working. Time for a management change.

Anonymous said...

It's the coach's job to get the most out of the players given to them by management.

For whatever reason, it looks like the team has begun to tune Clouston out. He's gotten good results with the pluggers (Ruutu, Neil, Kelly) - but for whatever reason, he doesn't seem to be able to motivate the superstars (Heatley and now Kovalev).

Oman said...

I'm gonna say, trade spare parts if you can (Lee, etc.) for a minor shake up, and fire the power play and conditioning coaches if you have to fire anyone. They should be getting a power play goal a game with this team, and they are getting injured far to often.

Any bigger shakeup now is risky and could destroy any tentative grasp they have of this season.

Anonymous said...

the sens will come around, give em time. The issues are:

- inconsistent goaltending
- absolute soft defence with a sprinking of old slow defence (philips)
- alfie is past his time and almost done. NO real scoring threat outside of him. unfortunately alfie is too slow to carry the puck up the ice into their zone anymore
- lack of effort!! On saturday night I saw karlsson dump the puck in and NO forward was there to pick up the puck! how can this be?? How can three forrwards miss the dump in when a d-man shoots it in??
- kovie is a total bust and is eating up too much cap space. send him down or sit his ass.

Anonymous said...

Trading a spare part is a cop out. You're just creating a more dysfunctional environment.

If anyone should be traded, it's a guy like Kovy who's not getting the job done. That sends a message to the team that there is no room for passengers.

Other than that, you could throw a Hail Mary and recall Butler and Locke to shakeup the roster for a couple of games.

I don't think any of these moves would be a permanent fix. A bunch of things aren't working. That usually means that you need to change something much bigger.

I say make Leeder the interim GM while the search starts for a new one. That alone may get the guys going.

Michael said...

Option 5: Suck it up, hope for the best and shed $15M in cap space next year. And that's before the trade deadline, which as a seller is for prospects and picks.