Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Black Aces Vintage: Total Recall Edition

A few uniforms we'd like to see in the NHL again:

Vancouver Canucks 1978 - 1985: This one is crying out to be one of those retro jerseys used in a future Winter Classic or Heritage game. It's ugly, yes, but in that "so ugly it's good" kind of way. Mustard helmets are also rad.

New York Rangers 1976 - 1978:  These were brought in by GM John Ferguson Sr. and they were a big break from tradition and not very popular at the time. But these look pretty sharp in retrospect and would make a nice third jersey.

Minnesota North Stars 1967 - 1991: Either the Dallas Stars or the Minnesota Wild would do well to bring back a variant of one of these classic sweaters. The simplicity of the older model worn by Tim Young is my favourite but the Hartsburg era sweaters with the shoulder yokes are right up there.

Toronto Maple Leafs 1970 - 1992: The Leafs wore these uni's through their wilderness years in the 70's and 80's under infamous owner Harold Ballard and there are rumours the Leafs may be bringing these back as a third jersey.

Ottawa Senators 1995 - 1997: They wore the white ones up until 2007 but discontinued the classic black a decade earlier. These second-set uni's (the first sweaters were similar but not perfected yet) were classy and pre-cartoon era. These were also the last dark sweaters with a normal waist stripe. Sadly, it will probably take a lot longer for the organization to realize they had it right in the first place. How many more gimmick uniforms are we going to be subjected to?


Ottawa Senators Horrific Blast From The Past

If there is one photo that could dissuade anyone from going back to these jerseys, this would be the one. Radek Bonk had a very underrated Kentucky Waterfall going on back in his draft year. I wonder how much his rookie cards are worth nowadays?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Murray and Melnyk Come Out Of The Cold

After weeks of silence from both Eugene Melnyk and GM Bryan Murray, two embarrassing losses forced them to talk to the press, and predictably, their words went a long ways towards calming an angry and confused fan base.

You've all read what Melnyk said, "staying the course" yadda yadda yadda, "we have a plan" etc.

That was all fine and dandy but what had to be concerning was the tone that the Senators had basically thrown in the towel on the season by not making a change behind the bench or in the GM position.

It makes sense in one way because it's harder to find proper candidates mid-season and now is not really the time commit to a new coach or GM long term. I get that. But what I don't get is the notion that losing is inevitable and acceptable for the duration of the season.

It may get the team a lottery pick but what kind of damage will be done to the organization once it becomes okay with losing games?

And going for a total rebuild does not mean they will be successful at it. There are just as many teams that could never get out of "rebuild mode" once they started as there are teams that became elite through the process.

Bu there is plenty of time to debate these points. The Senators are headed for at least a slight rebuild anyways. The toothpaste is already out of the tube.

One of the more confusing points of this whole saga was Roy MacGregor's article in the Globe and Mail about how there was a plan to keep Murray in a senior advisor role once a new GM was hired during the off-season. If a new GM was a foregone conclusion, why isn't he being hired now to direct the rebuild during its most crucial time - the lead-up to the trade deadline?

The most obvious answer is the guy Melnyk wants is unavailable at the moment. The less obvious answer is that MacGregor got it wrong and that there has been no decision made about the future of Bryan Murray.

We may have gotten a hint after today's practice when Bryan Murray met with the media and said a few revealing things.

One, and most importantly, is that he wanted to remain GM and that he believed a "one year rebuild" was possible. He seemed very aggravated with Mr. MacGregor and "wished Roy was here", presumably so he could give him an explicit answer directly. Judging by Murray's tone, this is a guy who wants to fight for his job and doesn't sound like he is on the verge of retirement just yet. In fact, at times he was downright hostile.

Secondly, Murray said the players will either "perform for the coach or sit on the sidelines".

That's a veteran GM talking there and it is absolutely the right thing to say.

If you're not going to fire your coach (and I've gone on record saying he should have), then you have to stand behind him, and do it firmly.

Leaving a coach twisting in the wind is no good for either the coach or the players. Even if it's the wrong decision, there's no sense waffling about it.

It's a bizarre situation, but Murray is at least saying all the right things for the moment.

Friday, January 21, 2011

It Actually Gets Worse .... Somehow

Is there anything left to be said?

The Ottawa Senators, coming off their second straight blowout loss, this time at home to the Habs, are imploding at a rate that not even the most cynical of fans could have predicted.

Even doomed coach Cory Clouston was quoted after the game as saying the Senators "need to start from scratch". Truer words were never spoken, but I wonder if he really understood what he was saying. Surely he knows that process would start with him?

Right now, this is an organization in deep shock, unable to pull the trigger on a trade, unable to find the moxie to fire another coach who clearly should have been fired a long time ago, unable to even address the situation to the media and to the fans.

It's no coincidence that both Bryan Murray and owner Eugene Melnyk have fallen silent. My guess is that, up until tonight, they had no idea what to say to the fans anyways.

It's not like Bryan Murray to sit and watch his team fall apart, so it's almost certain that he's had the rug pulled out from under him by Melnyk and the result is a group of banged up players who don't believe in themselves, don't believe in their coach, don't believe in his system, and don't believe any hope is on the horizon, no matter how many cliches they recycle when talking to reporters after every loss.

But surely, with the team starting to sink to levels we haven't seen since the early expansion days, someone in upper management is going to have the balls to make a change behind the bench. There's nothing left to do now but tie the can to Clouston.

The little general continues to confound. How he has the chutzpah to keep benching Matt Carkner despite already having the softest defense core in the NHL is beyond comprehension. Of defenseman who have played over 20 games on this team, Carkner has the best plus/minus, is the only player who can actually clear the crease and always plays a solid, simple game. Oh yah, he's also one of the toughest players in the league!!

Instead, Clouston rolls with 12 year old Brian Lee and the invisible ghost Filip Kuba. Great choices if you were coaching a softball team.

Everyone will clamour that the team is trying to showcase the crappy defenseman they want to trade, but Lee and Kuba are already untradeable.

When you start making decisions that aren't in the interest of winning the game, then you've already compromised your integrity and started a losing culture that will linger with this team long after the dust has settled from this disastrous season.

But really, sitting Carkner isn't what this is all about. That's just one bizarre decision in a year full of miscues.

This also isn't just about Cory Clouston and his staff.

This is about an organization that has no idea what they are doing anymore and a complete lack of action off the ice is mirroring the complete lack of success on the ice.

But this has got to be the game where it all comes crashing to earth.

There is no way Clouston is coaching this team after the All-Star break. He may survive to coach against Buffalo simply because making a change during the break would allow a smoother transition.

This team needs to act now and do something big before losing becomes an acceptable outcome.

Maybe it already has.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Black Aces Vintage - Ducks Edition

Tough loss for the Senators on a night they deserved better. Jonas Hiller was incredible for the Ducks with 39 saves.

The one real bright light for the Senators - and he's been building for a while now - is Milan Michalek, the forgotten man.

Coming off a major ACL surgery, Michalek has been pretty much invisible so far this season but he seems to have turned a corner here and is starting to create a lot of chances and get a few points.

He's signed for three more seasons and the Senators will be hoping that this is a preview of what he can do next year. I'm sure Bryan Murray would rather hold on to the winger instead of peddling him at the deadline, if only to prove that he did get something valuable in return for Heatley.

The Senators looked motivated and organized tonight but at some point, they are going to have to win an actual NHL hockey game.

How good would Jason Spezza look on this team right now?


With the rare appearance of the Anaheim Ducks in town, here's a special edition of Black Aces Vintage, Ducks style, with some old-school artifacts from the Disney movie that came to life as a hockey team.

Before Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger, there was Paul Kariya. The Ducks first bankable star, Kariya was a human highlight reel in the early part of his career before a vicious Gary Suter crosscheck to the face in the 97-98 season took the wind out of his sails.

He was never really the same afterwards, although still a very good player for a long time. In fact, his greatest moment came much afterwards in 2003 when he was bulldozed into unconsciousness by Scott Stevens in game six of the Stanley Cup final, but returned later in the game to score a big goal to cap off a Ducks win to force Game 7. An amazing moment and one of the more dramatic scenarios ever in a Stanley Cup final.

Kariya was a serious kind of dude but was somehow convinced to take part in the NHL's set of commercials in 1996 where the slogan being pushed was "The Coolest Game On Earth".  Obviously, the NHL's marketing department has come a long way since then. Peas?

This isn't exactly vintage, but just try and remember the Ottawa Senators in a Stanley Cup final. It just seems like a long time ago. Here's Chris Pronger laying out Dean McAmmond in Game Three with a sneaky elbow. Unbelievably, this isn't the worst thing that ever happened to McAmmond on the ice. He would later be nearly decapitated by Steve Downie in a pre-season game.

To lighten matters, here's the Ducks mascot Wild Wing in a 1995 pre-game stunt gone horribly awry. Classic.

Clearly, this incident inspired Will Ferrell in Old School. Go Cougars!

Another time Wild Wing, who often descends from the rafters to get the fans riled up, got stuck on the way down and was trapped for a while in front of horrified children. I couldn't find video of that one. Bummer.

And yes, this really happened. Ottawa's own Jason York in the worst NHL jersey of all-time.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Beat Goes On

As the Ottawa Senators reel from nightmare to nightmare - the latest a blown third period lead against the Washington Capitals on Sunday -,  the fans (and likely the players) continue to sit and wait for the other shoe to drop. Maybe it got hung up on a power line on it's way down.

Eugene Melnyk is strangely silent. Bryan Murray has shed no more light on his cryptic comments from two weeks ago when he couldn't vouch for the longevity of the coaching staff.

Basically, everyone is in no-mans land, and with the trade deadline still far off, and the finish line to the season even farther, the silence could linger for a lot longer than anyone could have imagined after the wheels really fell off this team just after Christmas.

At this point, it looks like coach Cory Clouston is not going to get fired. It's clearly not his coaching abilities keeping him alive but likely a combination of internal politics and a state of shock at the upper level that is prolonging his stay behind the bench.

One wonders at his strange decisions, such as sitting Matt Carkner against the Capitals. Here's a guy who not only provides the only toughness in sight on that back end, but also plays his heart out every game, sticks up for his teammates and has his plus/minus near surface level. Those factors didn't stop Clouston from sitting Jarkko Ruutu earlier this month, so presumably those characteristics aren't held in high regard amongst his coaching staff.

Some will make the argument that Clouston is trying to showcase the likes of Brian Lee and Filip Kuba on behalf of upper management who are looking to move their contracts.

If so, it's still a lousy way to do it. That is exactly how you create a losing atmosphere in the dressing room that could live on long past Clouston's expiry date. Bowing to politics and not rewarding your hardest working players.

I'm sure that sets a great example to all the young guys on this team.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Slump Busted

Finally, a win for the Ottawa Senators.

And finally, it looked like they were actually having fun out there for a change. Which means the fans watching at home were getting entertained, something that hasn't been the case for most of the year, win or lose.

A good job by Cory Clouston and his staff for getting his players ready to compete right out of the gate, and in the process, showing management that his players haven't quit on the coaching staff just yet.

You have to wonder about the effect that the Chris Neil - Chris Campoli scrap in yesterday's practice had on this team and whether it went a ways towards waking them up out of their "woe is me" attitude that had definitely taken hold of this team ever since the calender turned on the new year.

Neil showed right there why he's the type of player who needs to be here for the "rebuild" that is apparently about to take place. This team certainly needs an infusion of youth but you also need veterans around who can set an example and take pride in what they do for a living. Neil is one of those guys. So is Chris Kelly. So is Daniel Alfredsson.

It's been a brutal season and there are sure to be a few more lows on the way, but there are still a lot of good reasons to keep watching the games and for fans to support the team. The drama of some longtime Senators possibly playing their last months in this city, and the promise that the youngsters bring, like Robin Lehner who won his first NHL start tonight against the Islanders.

What's going to happen next? Nobody knows for sure but you can bet it's going to be an interesting few months here in Bytown.

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Jesse Winchester
2. Sergei Gonchar
3. Chris Kelly

Honorable Mentions: Milan Michalek, Daniel Alfredsson, Matt Carkner

Hey, the Senators scored 6 goals and Sergei Gonchar was a plus 5. That doesn't happen .... ever. Cause for a little celebration don't you think?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lord Have Mercy

The time has come to put Cory Clouston out of his misery.

Just on humanitarian grounds alone.

When things get this bad, as they did tonight against Boston, after losing 6 games in a row, and after already being told that Clouston was "day to day" in his job, the best thing to do right now is end it.

A mercy pull.

It may not be politically correct to fire Clouston because everyone and their dog knows that the players should take the blame here, but like the New Jersey Devils finally came to realize with their doomed coach John MacLean, there's only so much misery a team can take in one season before making a change just for the sake of change.

Clouston jumped the shark back on January 1st when his charges showed no pulse in losing to the rival Maple Leafs 5-1 in their own building. That Clouston survived to coach another game was an escape worthy of an Indiana Jones movie, but now it's no longer amusing.

Clouston's removal won't help this team score goals with Jason Spezza out of the lineup, but it may just burst the bubble and allow the dark cloud around this team to empty itself of rain and move on.

The more this season ticks away, the stronger the losing culture grabs ahold of this team. If Bryan Murray is serious about starting a youth movement and keeping some younger players from Bingo in the lineup, then it would be best to try and change the atmosphere in the locker room with a bold move.

Here's a humble suggestion: Murray should stay where he is and spend all his attention on his GM duties leading up to the trade deadline in order to help this team for next year. Let Greg Carvel coach the squad for the rest of the season.

He's been in the shadows in Ottawa since Bryan Murray took him from Anaheim in 2004. He's been loyal throughout his tenure and has watched as coach after coach has taken the fall. It would be a nice reward for Carvel and it may alleviate the tension in that room. The rest of the season would then be a tryout for next year and Carvel would get some head coaching experience under his belt before moving on to another organization once the Senators surely bring in an entirely new coaching staff over the summer.

Clearly, something has to break here, and the lesser of two evils may be the compromise solution.

Give Carvel the reins and try and get a winning attitude back in that dressing room before a full-blown malaise sets in that could cause even more problems down the road.

Monday, January 10, 2011

What About Vermette?

If the Senators are desperately looking for a trade partner in order to shake up (or break up) their core , they have probably already talked to Columbus GM Scott Howson, who is in a similar position as his counterpart Bryan Murray according to Columbus Dispatch writer Tom Reed:

"It's believed Howson is desperately trying to make trades. This time it can't be for a Chris Clark. The Jackets need significant changes and that means breaking up the club's core.

The general manager should not hesitate.
Howson is going to have to move a Brassard or Voracek or Vermette or Russell or a top prospect to get anything of value. It might require a combination. The general manager should at least listen to offers for his captain and four-time All Star. I could not have imagined typing that sentence a year ago. Trading Nash would not be my first option -- he's far and away the organization's best player -- but right now everything has to be considered."

It's interesting that Antoine Vermette's name gets mentioned here.

Would Ottawa have any interest in bringing back the speedy forward, especially in the desolate aftermath of the Pascal Leclaire (disaster) era?

Vermette was only sacrificed in order to get a number one goalie, which Leclaire is when he's healthy, so it's likely the Senators organization still thought highly of him as he was sent packing. One thing Vermette has in spades is breakaway speed, something Ottawa desperately lacks among their forward group. He won't solve the Senators scoring problems but he would make them quicker.

It's also interesting to note that the Blue Jackets have around 5 million in cap space. Who Columbus could possibly want off Ottawa's roster is anyone's guess, likely no one Murray wants to trade. The Blue Jackets are still in the playoff hunt in the West although starting to fade.

While it's a longshot at best, I have a hunch Ottawa fans would welcome back Vermette with open arms should the occasion ever present itself.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

What Happens Now?

For Cory Clouston, the worst-case scenario has happened.

Losing to both the Hawks and now the Lightning makes him 0-2 ever since GM Bryan Murray said the coach's job status was day to day.

My guess is that Clouston survives, though I don't think that's necessarily what's best for this team. They could use a change behind the bench (in fact they could have used it about a month ago) but without Jason Spezza in the lineup, the Senators are in a hopeless situation no matter who's coaching. What's the point of Murray taking over a team that can't generate any offense?

Maybe Murray will have no choice but to pull the trigger after his public comments earlier this week. Doing nothing will confuse people, but any new coach is going to have the challenge of his life to squeeze some goals out of this team.

Either way, Sunday will be grim for the boys.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Gong Show: The Sequel

Quite the day in the capital.

First Bryan Murray spoke to the press and refused to stand by Cory Clouston, hinting that the coach's job is on the line this weekend against Chicago and Tampa. Then he let it be known that he talked to Chris Phillips about the "plan" going forward, which sounds an awful like Murray "plans" to deal the veteran defenseman. And finally the GM said he wouldn't hesitate to bring up Robin Lehner to save this team from the clutches of Brian Elliott.

In short, it sounds like everything hinges on the next two games and that's not going to work very well because you can pretty much guarantee the Senators are going to get annihilated by the Lightning on Saturday after playing in Chicago on Friday. Even if the Sens can get motivated enough to beat the Hawks, they're a real longshot to win two games in a row on consecutive nights, but you never really know.

My take?

This won't be popular, but I think Clouston should have been let go about a month ago, right around the time that Murray was rumoured to have pitched this idea to Eugene Melnyk, a story that Murray completely shot down today in his press scrum. It may be unfair to a hardworking coach like Clouston and his staff, but it also wasn't fair to the hundreds of coaches who have been let go in the NHL. Firing a coach can sometimes light a fire under a team, like it did to Pittsburgh in 2008-2009, Philadelphia in 2009-2010 and all the way back to New Jersey in 2000. It's possible that Ottawa would be in a better position right now if a change had been made before it was too late. Then again, firing Clouston might have made no difference at all. But we'll never really know now. Even if a change is made, there's no real hope left at this point.

Obviously this lost season rests on the players but you can't move contracts in the NHL anymore. All you can do is change the coach, install a fancy hot tub in the dressing room or do nothing at all. This is a team full of skilled players and yet they can't even execute a cohesive attack or run a respectable power-play. Something is wrong here, and it's not just the players or Bryan Murray's management skills as everyone would love to believe.

Murray has done some very good things during his time as GM, and he's made some mistakes as well. He is on the ropes right now and it will be interesting to see if he can make a bold move that helps the team for this year and next. I wouldn't be surprised if he somehow manages to pull this thing out of the fire and survive the chopping block. He hasn't survived this long in the NHL by being a dummy.

As for Lehner, I think it's a good move to bring him up here for a shot and see what he can do. Murray would never let Lehner get lit up game after game and would have no qualms about sending him back down if it wasn't working out, so no need to worry about "ruining the kid". It would give the young goalie a chance to get a few games under his belt in preparation for next season and possibly give this team some kind of spark.

And lastly, Chris Phillips future with this team probably depends on him signing a contract before the trade deadline. Murray won't let Phillips go for nothing in the summer and Phillips would bring back a good return in a trade. Yet this is not the type of guy you want to see leave the team. With a ton of young defenseman coming into the system, Phillips should be kept around to mentor the rookies while trying to get back on track himself.

Who's going to play the hard 20-plus minutes that Phillips logs every night? Do you really want Filip Kuba stepping into that role? Or a rookie like Jared Cowen? That's a recipe for another missed playoffs next season.

Phillips should be signed to a multi-year deal and Murray should turn his attention to trading Kuba and Sergei Gonchar if there are any takers.

Just my two cents.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Welcome To The Gong Show

The big news of the day, other than the fact that Cory Clouston didn't get fired, was the bombshell that reporter Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun dropped on us from the rumour mill at the World Juniors in Buffalo.

Simmons wrote that the story going around about the Senators is that GM Bryan Murray tried to fire Clouston about a month ago but that owner Eugene Melnyk scotched the move and said Murray "might as well go" if Clouston had to be fired. This story is presented as a rumour, but obviously it's gotten around to the point that Simmons felt safe enough to print it.

It's questionable whether Bryan Murray will even address this story (although he's been brutally honest in the past) but if this is indeed true, then the problems in Ottawa are much, much worse than we originally thought.

The embarrassing loss to the Leafs on Saturday was enough for the Sun to devote a front page to Clouston's imminent firing and for Don Brennan to suggest that the players had possibly quit on Clouston.

But that kind of situation is pretty normal in the NHL. Coaches lose their players and then get fired. Happens a handful of times a year.

But an owner taking the power away from his GM to hire and fire in his own department? And threatening to sack the GM over it? Now that's unusual and, sadly, a sign that the whole organization is stumbling badly right now with no real direction and no hope left for this season.

Even if this story is completely false, Bryan Murray is hanging out in Buffalo right now, away from his team, looking completely neutered. The powers of the GM are pretty much sacrosanct in the NHL. Sure, they have a budget and a salary cap to deal with, but usually they have the power to run the hockey department as they see fit. And obviously that includes dismissing coaches when it needs to be done.

Clearly, this needs to be done in Ottawa. Whether it gets done right now or at the end of the season, Clouston has had his run and he hasn't gotten the results expected out of this roster. That's not being unfair. That's just the facts.

And it's likely that Murray has played all his cards as well, but it's hard to believe Melnyk would stand in Murray's way if he wanted to dismiss Clouston and take over the bench for the rest of the season. It would be understandable for Melnyk to say no if Murray wanted to fire Clouston and hire Ken Hitchcock or somebody else. But Clouston doesn't have a contract, so if Murray takes over behind the bench, it's not really costing Melnyk any extra money. In fact, it could make him money if Murray was somehow able to spark this team to a better record. Certainly, Clouston is not going to do that.

And what kind of message does this send to the players? If the GM doesn't believe in the coach, the players certainly aren't going to. This is basically the worst thing that could happen during the course of a season. Losses are one thing, but for an organization to fall apart in the executive offices is another.

In fact, this story is just so weird that I don't really believe it after writing about it for ten minutes.

Even if there is a smidgen of truth about it, Murray needs to come out immediately and give his support to Clouston. There's no other choice.

If he doesn't, it's going to be a gong show for the next few weeks.

Talk about bizarre.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Senators Hit Rock Bottom In Awful Season... Changes Around The Corner

One more loss in a season that's already on the trash heap.

One more embarrassing loss to the hated Toronto Maple Leafs in Ottawa's own rink.

At this point, one more loss is basically meaningless, but it does start to push this bad-luck (and just plain bad) Ottawa Senators team to the point where everyone involved can't help but think of the future, and more importantly, who will and who won't be coming back.

And with the trade deadline not far away now, a lot of these clearly defeated players won't make it to the end of the season in a Senators uniform. Possibly even the coaching staff won't if Clouston can't even inspire a heartbeat in his team for a pride on the line game against the Leafs.

That's how bad it is right now.

So much for New Years cheer.

The Senators have five pending unrestricted free agents who are regulars on their roster, and it's now safe to say that at least four of them won't be returning next season: Pascal Leclaire, Alexei Kovalev, Jarkko Ruutu and Ryan Shannon. They're as good as gone, one way or the other.

GM Bryan Murray (if he somehow keeps his job) will be trying to convert all of these assets into some kind of return at the trade deadline, even if it's just a late round pick. Leclaire is all but untradeable but there should be at least some interest in the other three UFA's.

The fifth UFA is lifelong Senator Chris Phillips and he is the only one who has a chance to return next season. With they way things have turned out this, partly due to the struggles of Sergei Gonchar and Erik Karlsson (early on in the season only) combined with the multiple injuries to Filip Kuba, Phillips has played way too many hard minutes this season and it's starting to eat away at his confidence. Phillips has always been best as an anchor on the second pairing but now, along with Matt Carkner, he's the only defensive defenseman left on that back end and now he's fighting the puck, resulting in uncharacteristic giveaways. But what are the Senators supposed to do? They have to play Phillips into the ground because he's all they have.

As much criticism as Phillips is getting this year, imagine if his minutes were being played by anyone else on this defense? If Bryan Murray can somehow fix Gonchar or bring in another player to take some defensive heat off, then Phillips is definitely worth bringing back. Whether that happens or not is a big question. Of all their pending UFA's, Phillips would bring back the most in a trade. And there's your problem.

Murray watched Anton Volchenkov walk away for nothing even though he had a chance to move him at the deadline. He may not want to make the same mistake with Phillips, but then again, the Senators don't want to see another life-long Senator and his veteran leadership leave the team. Not re-signing Volchenkov was clearly a big mistake by Murray, but then you could say not trading him when he had the chance was just as bad. It's the exact same situation with Phillips all over again.

The stakes are high to say the least. If I had money on it, I'd say Phillips stays and gets re-signed to a three or four year deal before July 1st. Just a hunch.

Which brings us to Filip Kuba. With a group of youngsters like Jared Cowen, David Rundblad and Patrick Wiercioch, there's no room here (or desire) to keep both Phillips and Kuba. Yet Kuba is the skater with one more year on his deal, not Phillips. Gonchar is going to be hard to move because he's playing terrible and he's on a 35+ contract for the next two seasons. It's doubtful he's going anywhere, or possibly thinking of retiring with the Russian Olympic games coming up very soon. Even if he did retire, the Senators would still be paying him and eating valuable cap space.

So here's saying it's Kuba leaving in the off-season. He's been steady but never really excelled that much ever since the Senators thoughtlessly moved a young defenseman in Andrej Meszaros for him due to a contract squabble. Meszaros, as most young defenseman do, went through some expected growing pains with Tampa but now leads the NHL in plus/minus for the Flyers, plays over twenty minutes a game and has a cap hit of 4 million, just $300,000 more than Kuba - basically peanuts.

Kuba is a much better player than he's showing this season and is definitely still feeling the effects of some major injuries. A lot of GM's would still be interested in the all-around game Kuba can provide when healthy and with only one more year left on his deal, it's conceivable Murray may be able to move him in the summer, or perhaps as early as this trade deadline.

Another player under the gun will be Brian Elliott, who continues to show that he is not capable of being consistent over a long span of games. Even if Robin Lehner is not ready as early as next season, it doesn't mean the organization will just ride Elliott one more season. That just won't work anymore. He's a restricted free agent, and no doubt will get a qualifying offer, but the Senators would certainly like to bring in an established veteran rather than cross their fingers yet again that Elliott will find that consistency everybody has been waiting for. Elliott will still be cheap enough to be a backup goalie, but unless Lehner can't be denied anymore, look for a change in the crease. Tomas Vokoun is unrestricted this summer. So is Ilya Bryzgalov. Either might be a fit if they take less than 4 million on a very short term deal. And there's certainly no guarantee either would, with Vokoun likely being the cheaper option of the two.

Of course, if the Senators decided that a complete rebuild is necessary, no one is safe, except for maybe Erik Karlsson.

But the team may decide to just do a quick blood transfusion. If you count Kovalev, Leclaire, Ruutu and Shannon as already gone, it wouldn't be a stretch to also see an RFA like Chris Campoli get moved, along with the aforementioned Kuba and Elliott and of course the constantly embattled Brian Lee who needs a fresh start somewhere else. Right there you have eight players on the move with both cap space and most likely draft picks or new roster players coming back. That would mean a lot of core guys return but with a completely new supporting staff.

And that's not even including the expected change in the coaching staff, none of whom have contracts for next season.

Basically, it's possible to change the look of the team without burning it to the ground. But then again, a lot of people might suggest doing just that.

What's certain is that everyone's future on this team will be debated fiercely in the coming months while the season continues to slip away.


As tough as it is to say, Clouston sitting Jarkko Ruutu in favour of Bingo call-up Jim O'Brien for the last two games was the right move. It was refreshing to see someone skate north-south all game long and battle viciously for pucks the way O'Brien did on Friday night against Columbus (he wasn't as noticeable against the Leafs). Ironically, that's what Ruutu was once good at but you have to wonder if all the losing has taken the edge off of Ruutu's game. He's not even much of a pest this year. He will certainly look good to a lot of teams come the trade deadline and here's betting that a little playoff action will restore Ruutu's spirits. But as it stands right now, he's not going to be on the Senators next season. Might as well get a young guy like O'Brien in there and see what he's got. One thing you also like to have about O'Brien is his size. He just looks big out there and when he's moving, it's like a train derailing. He's got a bit of a Mike Ricci thing going on too. The Senators may want to keep him around for a bit longer to see how he progresses........Nice to see Matt Carkner getting a little facetime on the groundbreaking and very popular 24/7 HBO series. In the third episode, they showed a close-up of Carkner pummeling Eric Godard of the Penguins on Boxing Day and the immediate aftermath on Godard's face in the dressing room afterwards. Not bad for a guy once destined to play his entire career in the minors..... Nearly everyone playing in the East is bidding a fond farewell to Maxim Lapierre, recently traded from the Habs to the Anaheim Ducks, about as far away as he could go in the NHL from Montreal. Not many players are more hated than Lappy, who apparently wasn't happy with coach Jacques Martin. With Lapierre and P.K. Subban, that was just too much personality for a Martin coached team. At least one of them had to go.......Andy Sutton has had an up and down season in Anaheim, but one teammate, youngster Luca Sbisa, is learning a lot from the veteran on and off the ice and took time to send some kudos his way recently. It's interesting to wonder how this Senators team would have looked early on if Sutton was back there bashing heads instead of Filip Kuba this season. But I'm no expert or anything..... Calgary Herald writer George Johnson perfectly summed up the atmosphere in the Calgary rink after the dour Darryl Sutter was finally put out of his misery as Flames GM.

"The mood around the rest of ol' Dome wasn't nearly so sombre. Walking through the catacombs, winks. Smiles. It was as if ... the Berlin Wall had just fallen. One employee said it felt as if the building itself has just enjoyed a huge exhale."

Was Sutter really that grumpy? The real sad thing in all of this is that Sutter was allowed to guide this team into free agency this past summer when it was clear that he had already done some major damage with the terrible Dion Phaneuf trade and the equally ridiculous Matt Stajan contract. But as they say, better late than never. Sutter was, and is, an excellent hockey man (better as a coach) but he seemed to be stuck in pre-lockout hockey. No doubt the Flames suffered for it and now they have an aging Jarome Iginla without a real team around him. If you want to look at it fairly, the Senators are in a similar situation with Daniel Alfredsson, maybe worse with Alfie's age, but at least Ottawa has Erik Karlsson, Robin Lehner and a handful of can't miss defense prospects in the system. The Flames can't boast of a similar hope. It could get ugly for a long time there unless Jay Feaster finds a way to turn the whole thing around. On a side note, it must sting Sutter a little that Feaster is the one taking his job, seeing that Feaster is the one with the Stanley Cup ring after their battle back in 2004 between the Flames and the Lightning.....

Happy New Years