With their disappointing, but ultimately cleansing season drawing down to its final five games in April, what do the Senators do now?
Well, other than go golfing a little earlier than usual, there are bound to be big changes in the organization but I'm guessing that many will be done off the ice rather than to the current roster itself.
Fans, non-fans, dogs, cats and even inanimate objects know that coach Cory Clouston has no chance to return behind the bench next season. What happens to his two main assistant coaches is unclear, but I would be surprised to see either Greg Carvel or Brad Lauer retained. Everyone can speculate about GM Bryan Murray's future but until I see him on television telling reporters that he feels it's time to move on, I think he'll be back in the same role next season to finish the rebuild he started in March.
But what happens on the ice?
There's been a lot of talk about the Senators going out and getting that coveted "top six forward" in the summer, but looking at the pending UFA list, there aren't a lot of options on the table. More like scraps when you get past Ville Leino and Simon Gagne (who is himself bordering on the "scraps" label after a disappointing year). Leino is going to be a top commodity for a lot of teams this summer, but would he, or any other similar free agent, be the right fit on the Senators if he is going to take ice time away from players they are currently trying to develop, such as Bobby Butler, Erik Condra and Colin Greening? And then there's highly touted college kid Stephane Da Costa who is going to get every opportunity and then some to make this team next season.
Marek Svatos is starting to show what he can do and may get a contract offer in the summer. Don't forget whoever the Senators select early in the upcoming draft. Whether it's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog or somebody else, that player is going to be expected to compete for a job in camp, and possibly for a spot in the top 6. Jeff Skinner turned a lot of heads this season and every team is going to be looking for that same type of guy early in the draft. And that's not even mentioning Nick Foligno and Peter Regin, two players who have slipped into the shadows because of ineffectiveness and injury.
Already, there's not a lot of room on that forward list.
Yet if the Senators stand pat and don't bring in another veteran, they run the risk of putting too much stake into what players like Butler, Condra and Greening have brought to the table late in the season. One only needs to look at the case of Peter Regin, who shone late in the 09-10 season and into the playoffs against Pittsburgh, but barely showed up for the first half of this year. These sorts of things happen all the time to young players. The risk might even be increased for college players who are used to playing about half the games NHLer's do.
Murray has to decide if the play of those particular three college kids, Butler, Condra and Greening, is a mirage or just a sign of things to come. I'd bet on the latter, but then again no one in their right mind would hire me to manage a hockey team. These are among the toughest decisions a GM has to make. I wish Murray good luck.
Bobby Butler has cooled significantly down the final stretch and has now been taken off the top line where he was once creating great chemistry with Jason Spezza. Maybe this kid scores 25 goals next year or maybe he plays in Bingo.
In a way, a guy like Butler has been given his chance precisely because a player like Nick Foligno couldn't get the job done whenever he was given an opportunity. You could tell the coaching staff has been trying to turn Foligno into a top-six guy but it's not working. There's nothing wrong with Foligno ending up as a solid third or fourth liner, but when a team pushes a player one way and it doesn't work out, that's when trades happen.
To me, Foligno is a prime candidate to be moved this summer in some sort of package to get a scoring winger. If the Senators don't like what they see on the free-agent market this summer (Alex Tanguay anyone?), they could get the kind of player they want in a trade, possibly from a cap-strapped team looking to unload a salary.
Trading Foligno would be hard for the Senators simply because he's so well liked and has character galore. If he could ever get his game in shape, he could be a captain one day in the NHL. But if Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly can be traded, Murray won't hesitate to move anyone outside of a few mainstays if he thinks it will help improve the squad for next year.
Right now, Foligno doesn't fit into the top six, and that's disappointing for both the player and the organization.
I don't see the Senators giving up on Regin. He's already shown that he can be a point-getter when he's at his best. Unfortunately for Foligno, he hasn't yet shown that side of his game. It doesn't mean he won't in the future, but he's already missed a few prime chances.
Which means Foligno may be finding a new home this summer if Murray is serious about bringing in a legitimate top six forward.