First off…how have we never found this image before?
We’re not quite there yet, but close enough to take stock of our Senators, catalogue some reactions, and wonder about the second half of the season. In themes!
What does this mean for the rebuild?
Obviously if the team is outperforming expectations, it’s neither rational nor fair to lament a lost rebuild. I’m looking at the Islanders or Blue Jackets and am not at all jealous of them for having a shot at Nail Yakupov so much as thinking that if he ends up there Yakupov will face some serious obstacles to having a fulfilling, competitive career. The Senators have both exciting prospects (Zibanejad, Noesen, Puempel, Lehner, Prince, Silfverberg), unexpectedly exciting ones (Stone, the mysterious defenceman in Binghamton that Murray alluded to being “almost ready”), some young players already performing beyond expectations (Karlsson, Cowen) and some X factors (DaCosta, Filatov). More than enough, one might think, to elevate what is already there to something more.
But there are still plenty of questions for a team that is, even with all pistons pumping, essentially a bubble team, and one with too many question marks to seriously trouble a team like the Bruins, Penguins, Flyers or Rangers. (I keep Florida off that list because, seriously, does anyone know what that team is about now? Would you be surprised if they went 21-21 for the rest of the season?) Players like Kuba and Alfredsson mean a lot for the team’s success so far this season, and the picks or prospects they might yield in a deadline trade won’t be useful for three or four seasons. A playoff round’s worth of ticket revenue might be worth the longterm depth of this team.
This seems evidenced by Murray’s decision to roll the dice on Kyle Turris, who has looked pumped to be playing in a hockey market, but who cost the team a lot in their best prospect and a pick. I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole strategy of conservative building goes out the window if the team shows a strong, six-game loss in the first round—even if that means more prospects leaving town, or free agent acquisitions.
This is a fickle market, but I don’t think there’s ever been a time when the fan base was more amenable to doing what was necessary to build a contender. It’s easy to get swept up in exciting hockey, and I’m all for building a winning culture. But I don’t want to see this team mortgage depth for another year of “anything can happen in the playoffs” attitude.
Is the team playing above their heads?
With Karlsson leading defencemen in scoring, Spezza having flirted with top ten in scoring, and Michalek with the lead in goals, this team has players who, occasionally, are among the best in the league. Not to take anything away from their stellar play, but that’s not something you can count on season in and season out, and it’s one of the main reasons Ottawa is where they are in the standings. A couple of key injuries, and the Senators are in a world of trouble. Heading into the second half of the season, you might expect these players to tail off a bit. Or they might put together a full season, but it’s best to plan around a more modest forecast than to say “this is the new norm.” Especially with Daniel Alfredsson, their best all around player, considering retirement.
Are the Senators as bad as everyone thought they were at the beginning of the year? Of course not. We all predicted a bottom ten, maybe a bottom five finish, but anyone familiar with their lineup, and who didn’t become enamored with other teams’ acquisitions (Jeff Carter was going to turn the Blue Jackets into a scoring machine?) knew better than to pencil in the worst. But realistically, this is a team that will miss the playoffs. I hope they bust all of those paper bag predictions, but it looks the case.
The more things change…
No one could have predicted that after being traded for Craig Anderson, playing himself out of a qualifying offer from Colorado, and then being signed as a backup in St. Louis that Brian Elliott would be among the best tenders in the league. Similarly, no one could have thought after Anderson’s play down the stretch that he would be one of the weakest links on a defensively porous team. He may face more shots than all but two other teams it the league (Dallas and Minnie, for those keeping track, who have also succeeded by outscoring their opposition), but his numbers are atrocious. Alex Auld has not proven himself capable of stealing the starting job, and Robin Lehner still lacks a lot of maturity. One hopes that Anderson’s performance will trend upward in the second half of the season, but it’s hard to get excited about what we see there today. I hated the four year deal when it came down—and I’m an Anderson fan, I was when he was in Florida—so all we can do now is hope for the best.
What to do in the offseason?
Getting waaaaay ahead of myself here, but there are some key questions heading into 2012. Karlsson and Foligno are due new deals, and we know at least the first of those will involve an enormous pay raise. If they receive $7M and $3M per year respectively, the team allows Kuba, Carkner and Winchester to walk, Alfie stays for the last year of his deal, and all other RFAs remain at about the same pay, that’s about $18M in cap space. (Including a bunch of buyouts coming off the books.) That’s a lot of coin to play with, unless this team wants to maintain an internal cap. (Gotta pay for that scoreboard, if the heritage jersey sales haven’t already.) You have to wonder if the team will consider one of the premier free agents—does Ryan Suter make it to market? How about Zach Parise? Does the team go for a second tier player like Huselius, or does Murray reunite with Dustin Penner for a good ol’ fashioned reclamation project?