Monday, November 25, 2013
GM Murray Has A Problem On His Hands – “Win Now” or “Win Later”
This Ottawa Senators team needs help. They’re not terrible, but they’re not very good either.
The smart move by GM Bryan Murray would be a patient one, not sacrificing any young players who’ll have a role on this team for years to come just to try and make the playoffs this season. But it’s a little more complicated than that.
Owner Eugene Melnyk would have been expecting the profits that come with one or two playoff series, and to take a step back this year after going to the post-season twice in a row will be seen as a failure for the organization. It will affect team revenues for this season and possibly dampen ticket sales for next. It was recently reported by Forbes that the Senators sit roughly in the middle of the pack for franchise value, and that value should continue to go up with NHL revenues rising year after year. But outside of shared TV revenue or possible expansion, that’s not money in Melnyk’s pocket unless he sells the team for that value. This team, as do a lot of NHL franchises, live or die with ticket sales. Still.
Hockey decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. The armchair hockey GM would keep building for the future but the real GM has an owner and a team president with one eye on the revenues and the other eye on mood of the ticket buying public. Luckily, Ottawa fans are fairly smart and realize not every year is going to be golden, but it’s not always the smart fans buying up the tickets.
A lot of people just like to go out on a Saturday night to the rink and be entertained and get a few beers into them. They don’t care that some Swedish kid is tearing it up in the juniors and will be on the team in two years. They’re not paying their money for that right now. They don’t like seeing low-scoring and hitless hockey. This is a great hockey market, but it’s not Toronto where people will flock to the rink to see any product put on the ice. It’s a delicate balance in this city and Bryan Murray is the one who has to manage it as best he can. The mandate is to win now and win later. That’s not always possible.
The seeds for Ottawa’s slow start were planted in the summer when Daniel Alfredsson and Sergei Gonchar departed, but even their lack of leadership and poise in tight games doesn’t explain everything that’s gone wrong so far this season.
A lot of guys played their hearts out last year because the team was decimated by injuries. Now that the stars have returned to health, some of those players who picked up the slack have fallen slack themselves, like Colin Greening, Milan Michalek, J.G. Pageau (now in the minors) and Patrick Wiercioch. Some guys are just not having career years like they did last season, most notably Craig Anderson. Stepping into the void has been Robin Lehner, but he’s also been inconsistent as well, alternating great games with mediocre ones.
It’s not like this team is going to miraculously turn this around to the point where they can storm into the playoffs, overtake the current 4 teams that stand in their way with everyone playing 3-point games. There’s also that historical stat that says teams out of the playoffs at Christmas (or even November 1st) tend to stay there. It’s going to take at least one team currently in the playoffs tanking fairly hard and probably an extended winning streak to power this team past everybody else. And then they’ll have to keep winning consistently just to stay there. It can happen, but it’s not likely at this point.
What Bryan Murray can at least do is try to bring in a defenseman who can move the puck out of the zone consistently (which is where they miss Gonchar the most) and skate on the power-play with Erik Karlsson, preferably someone who can’t walk away in just a year or two. It’s also important to keep what solid veterans they already have in Chris Neil and Chris Phillips. Their roles may be reduced in the coming years but it’s important to have these kinds of guys around, as demonstrated by the Alfredsson and Gonchar decisions. Having players who have won in the past is often overlooked by prospect junkies who are always pining for the next young player who will supposedly solve every problem. The fact is most teams win Stanley Cups with a mix of veterans, players in their prime and cheaper young players. It’s a balanced way to build and perfect for a market like Ottawa.
Larry Brooks of the New York Post suggested Ottawa is interested in defenseman Michael Del Zotto but remarked that the return would have to be Marc Methot. That makes zero sense for Ottawa. In fact, it’s a laughable notion. Del Zotto would be a nice pickup but it sounds like New York is trying to hit a home run on the deal. They may be swinging for a while on that one.
Anyone can take a quick look around the league and come up with a few players that might interest Murray if the price was right and who could conceivably be available. But then again, it always seems to be a player no had been talking about who ends up on the ticket, so sometimes this kind of speculation can be futile for the fans.
You can take a look at teams worse off than Ottawa and cherry pick defensmen that could help. Brian Campbell in Florida would be great in an Ottawa uniform but his salary wouldn’t even come close to working in Ottawa. Yet Dmitry Kulikov’s would, although there’s rumours he could head to the KHL after this year after a rough run in Florida.
Bryan Murray has to decide if this season is just an aberration in an otherwise smooth rebuild, or an indication that something is wrong with the structure. Because in order to really bring in an impact player for this season in hopes to make the playoffs, somebody important on the current roster is going to have to go the other way. Ottawa could deal Craig Anderson, possibly their biggest chip, but it’s not like the goalie market is thriving right now. Edmonton already signed Ilya Bryzgalov and Ryan Miller is out there as competition. Anderson is still this team’s number one goalie. You don’t trade those guys very often, nor would you want to unless the situation demanded it.
For Ottawa fans, you may just have to accept this is going to be a mediocre season and hope that improvement comes from within the organization. In fact, you may have no choice in the matter.