On my desire to piss all over everything

These are exciting times for our Ottawa Senators: in a playoff spot despite spending less money on player salaries than my friends’ ball hockey team does on t-shirts. Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson legitimate contenders for league MVP. A brash young net minder ready to win some games and run for mayor, though not necessarily in that order. What’s more, Ottawa has more prospects projected to be top six players than they’ve had, well, pretty much ever.

Here’s the thing: 1) a rebuild that delivers a solid window of contention requires more than one great draft, because most draft picks never work out, and 2) there are fates worse than being a truly terrible team. Just ask the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The danger with prospects is that before they ever make it to the NHL we have a tendency to look at them exclusively through the lens of their potential. What’s their upside? Their absolute ceiling? Somewhere in there the most likely scenario for their development is lost. In the rush of enthusiasm, players and, I think, management, would rather put all their chips on black and fantasize about the big win.

Mika Zibanejad projects as a really great top six player. By that I mean a 20 goal scorer with a solid two-way game and some edge. He has upside, sure, but he slots in best as a complimentary player. In other words, Jason Spezza he’s not.

Ditto for Stefan Noesen. Murray clearly saw something in this kid that others didn’t, as he used a mid-to-late round first on him when he was projected to go in the second round. And he’s having a really nice season with the Plymouth Whalers. But again, he’s a Mike Fisher type. We’ll love him, but he’s not single-handedly winning us any games.

Matt Puempel is a different type of player, a pure scorer, but he’s had terrible concussion problems while playing for the Pete’s. He’s either going to score a lot of goals in the NHL or never make it there.

Then there are your prospects who project as third liners, like Jakob Silfverberg and Andre Petersson. You need guys like this, but we’re talking Nick Foligno types who will spend their time in Ottawa on the edge of top six duty.

Finally, you have your one dimensional players. Mark Stone has proven he can dominate lesser leagues but I’m skeptical can transition a power forward game to the NHL while lacking skating and size. I think Nikita Filatov plays on the moon these days.

Don’t get me wrong: together, these are the types of players that make up the heart and soul of a team, and I’m thrilled to have them. They constitute the kind of depth Ottawa’s lacked forever. But they aren’t cornerstones to build a championship around. With Ottawa unable to attract top end free agent talent, or rightly disinterested in going after the Brad Richards style contracts, you’re left with something of a nightmare scenario: a team forever on the bubble, hoping to sneak into the playoffs and go on a run, and years from being able to launch another rebuild.

This becomes especially easy to imagine when you see Spezza and Michalek exiting their peak years, Alfredsson retired, Phillips in the third year of his puzzling contract, and so on.

A rebuild is something that comes along once in a decade or so, and you have to get it right if you want to win a cup. We’ve got a team worthy of our support as fans, who are fun to watch and completely likeable. But I fear that Ottawa didn’t move themselves any closer to the ultimate goal of winning a cup.

I’ll be as excited as the next guy when this team lines up for puck drop in game one of the playoffs this year. I listened to a Leafs podcast the other day and you should hear them talk about their team about to miss the seventh straight year of playoffs. At this point they’d probably give up five first round picks just to experience some playoff hockey, even if they get swept. It’s a good time to be a Sens fan. But I can’t help but think that last year’s sell-off didn’t go far enough, or didn’t extend to this year, and we cashed it all in for one Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid moment in the first round of the playoffs. (The Bolivian Army will be played by the Boston Bruins.)

It’s hard to think this way when the team is so much fun to watch. Let me put it another way: if in the depths of last year, when the team didn’t win a game in February, if I had asked you if you would prefer a prospect like Nail Yakupov or a free pass to the first round to roll the dice with this lineup against whoever you met, what would you say?


18 thoughts on “On my desire to piss all over everything

  1. Well, I don’t know. Statements by management and ownership indicate that they know that the team is still rebuilding; I think Melnyk somewhere said that the team was not deviating from its three-year plan, despite unexpected success.

    If you look at Murray’s trades this season, he hasn’t ‘rolled the dice’ on rentals or vets. Turris and Bishop, for example, may be legitimately viewed as prospects. The Lee-Gilroy trade was more of an ‘even-stevens’ trade. I must admit that I would have liked Murray to have moved a guy like Kuba for the kind of return defensemen were getting before the deadline, but the demand may not have been there (we simply don’t know either way), in which case Murray’s decision to hang onto Kuba was for the best.

    The other side of the coin is that with the management, coaching, and player development systems the Senators are putting in place, they don’t need to rely on getting that surefire top forward prospect. ‘Fail for Nail’ sounded like a plan in the off-season, but what does it profit a team to win the draft lottery and lose its soul?

    This is only the first year of the rebuilding process. We don’t know what Murray is going to do at the draft. We don’t know how he will try to improve the team’s pool of prospects and picks next season. We don’t know whether or not he’ll try to sign a top-six free agent forward in his prime (assuming one is available by July 1st). But all that Murray and Melnyk have said – and it is what they say that matters – indicates that they have not lost sight of the fact that the team is still rebuilding. So long as they are able to keep that in mind, I think we’ll see the team continue to improve its depth at forward (maybe even landing a top forward prospect via trade), while still being competitive.

    • I agree that management thinks it’s rebuilding. I just don’t think their conception of a rebuild goes as far as I’d prefer. Right now we look like we have tons of depth, so we’re fine with the decision to hang on to vets – and it’s not like I wish that Murray had made trades at THIS year’s deadline – but if those prospects don’t work out, and history indicates that most of them won’t, then we’ll wish last year’s sell-off had gone further. To me the Senators’ rebuild is closer to what Toronto is doing. Have your cake and eat it too. Rebuild while competing. It doesn’t really work.

      • Toronto’s an extreme example. It didn’t work in Toronto because they’ve failed to actually try to rebuild anything through the draft; they’ve traded draft picks in exchange for lesser players, and traded prospects before finding out what those prospects would become.

        It’s still early, but Ottawa’s been different. There’s a leadership core on the team that can still be competitive, and there’s been an emphasis on retaining and maximizing the value of draft picks by investing in the scouting staff.

        By all accounts, this team shouldn’t have made the playoffs this year. The fact that they are making the playoffs isn’t a failure on the part of team management; it’s a success thanks to a refreshingly effective coach and some players working their butts off.

        • I agree that this year isn’t a failure. I’m as happy as anyone to watch some playoff hockey. But I also think that this year’s success hinges on Spezza and Michalek being in their prime, which we have maybe another couple of years of, some core vets who will soon be gone, and one of our defensemen turning out to be dominant. That buys you a low seed in the playoffs as a team who gives up more shots than anyone else. I’ll have a great time watching playoff hockey, but I don’t think that’s the goal.

  2. Anyway, it’s not like I expected this post to be popular. The team is in a playoff spot and has prospects, so a giant enthusiastic high five would probably be better received. Just thought I’d be contrarian for a change.

  3. I think its a bit of a misnomer that only the teams that tank have success. Don’t get me wrong,
    I absolutely believe being a middle of the pack team is the worst place to be as a franchise.
    But Anaheim, Vancouver, Boston, Philly all didn’t tank (I neglect to include Detroit because they have that freak Lidstrom. In fact many of those teams were in similar if not worse situations than we find ourselves in now, ie with less prospects and assets. They all managed to recover and become contenders again. If you have good asset management, good coaching, goaltending and structure throughout your organization you will be a strong 1-4 seed every year. Hell, look at New Jersey. Those 4 teams are considered contenders year after year.
    I guess the decision not to trade spezza for below his value is what ultimately sent us down this path. We have depth at center, in goal, a great coach, a franchise defenseman and some nice supplementary pieces scattered throughout. This is more or less the foundation you need to have a great team. Teams don’t always have to be top heavy to get to stanley cup finals, you just need to have a great team.

  4. I’m sure a lot of fans have been asking this same question, I know I have. There would have always been uncertainty- rebuild or not. Good piece.

    • Thanks! I don’t disagree with your point about not needing to tank. I just think it takes a few years of quality drafting and as many picks as possible. We have depth right now, but we only consider it depth because those players are pure potential. If that one year we gave ourselves to restock the cupboards doesn’t work out, well…that’s the whole rebuild down the tubes.

      • Hitchcock is pointing out the oivbous, that Spezza isn’t a very good hockey player.Spezza doesn’t like physical play. Spezza doesn’t compete in the corners. However, Spezza likes to make pretty passes, offer risky and dangerous ones at inappropriate times.Spezza undermined John Paddock by not reading the riot act to his good friend Ray Emery for not practising hard.So anything physically or mentally difficult, like going into a corner, or calling out a friend for poor effort, Spezza is NOT your man, and thus, someone you don’t want to go to war with.This demotion from Hitchcock might be the best thing that has ever happened to Spezza, in that it might wake him up, just like Bowman forced Yzerman to wake up.

  5. In response to the question you conclude with, it’s an easy answer: I’ll pick a trip to the playoffs ten times out of ten.

    You don’t necessarily need a high draft pick to get an elite player. You also won’t necessarily get an elite player if you “earn” a high draft pick. You’ll never win the Stanley Cup, however, if you don’t make the playoffs. It’s as simple as that.

    There are always questions about prospects. Sometimes, lower-ranked prospects will come in and outshine higher-ranked ones; people have long had high expectations of Patrick Wiercioch after the 2008 draft, for instance, but right now it looks like Mark Borowiecki is going to be an NHLer sooner (and possibly for longer). In both instances, though, it’s far too early to tell.

    Finally, I think looking at Puempel, Noesen, Stone, and Zibanejad as our best chances to find a top-six forward (or even top-line forward) is misplaced; the guy you slot in as a third-liner has, arguably, the most potential of any of our players: Jakub Silfverberg. We haven’t had as much exposure to him as we’d like, but he set the world on fire in the SEL this past season. I’m most excited about seeing him join the team.

    • Fair enough. I’m stoked for playoff hockey too. (And for Silfverberg.) I just don’t want to see this team get annihilated in the first round every other year. Like I said above, if the one draft we gave ourselves to rebuild doesn’t work out, then the whole rebuild is down the tubes. I just wish we’d maximized our picks last year.

  6. You knew this guy was going to weigh in…and watch out ‘cause here I come and I am high as SHIT on ecstasy and Cheetah Power Surge Non-Poisoness Energy Drink right now!

    Sounds like all the negativity from the Leafs podcasts has rubbed off on you. Also, get that mess off your ears man, life’s too short!
    I don’t know if arguing you is futile because we seem to be of two minds in our view of Ottawa’s prospects/ the draft in general. The Senators are being hyped as having one of the deepest prospect pools in the league, third only to Edmonton and I think Florida and you’re really this worried about them fucking it up? You seem bent on dismissing all of the Sens kids as complementary or bottom six yet want the Sens to continue to build through the draft. Okay, that’s a point of view but they are doing that. Yes, they kept some core guys so prospects don’t have to jump into the league expected to be guys to that are instantly built around and I think that’s pretty smart. The same logic has given Lehner a cushion of development time. Look at the Leafs for proof this is a good idea. Back to the draft (Backdraft), five picks in the first two rounds and all forwards this year alone, 3 of them pure scorers. That’s a lot for one year. It might be time to accept that it takes a special type of Columbus-like shittiness to “win” the draft lottery and with this team’s coaching and work ethic a total tank is just something this team just doesn’t seem to have in them. They are going to have to go about rebuilding in a bit of a different way and it’s not the end of the world. I understand you have a tendency to be conservative with your view of prospects and that’s smart but mark my words, you’ll be proven wrong by at least a couple of guys in the system and things won’t be so bad. I didn’t think Erik Karlsson was even going to make the NHL. I thought Jared Cowen (first star of last night’s game, over 20 mins) knee was too fucked for NHL speed. 😉
    In time, as he is still only 18 years old, Zibanejad very safely projects to be a vast upgrade from college FA Butler and 7th rounder Greening should he play wing. I could see Silferberg as an upgrade as well. Complementary is not always a bad thing as wingers are typically complimentary though both of those guys can also play centre. Spezza he is not? I don’t even know what to do with that. Who is Spezza? Spezza. Cool, good thing we have one of those. Michalek, Spezza he is not…and that seems to be okay. Next, I’m not so sure with his leadership and point totals that Silferberg or a diminutive finesse goal scorer like Petersson are projected as bottom six guys. I think your expectation differs from the organization’s. I’ve assumed that it’s top six or bust for at least Petersson’s game. Ditto Prince and Pageau. They are the goal scorers plain and simple. The tone I get from your article is that maybe you just don’t like Ottawa’s picks? You need to build around centres. I don’t know how you’re not at least a bit optimistic with the acquisition of Turris and the drafting of Zibanejad. Two exciting young centres, one only 18 and the other only 22, cheap and already fitting in on the second line. I know you hate that Turris trade but Ottawa needed a top 6 centre very, very badly. Yes, it was a gamble of a trade but the entire rebuild you desire must be acknowledged as a gamble too, perhaps an even bigger one.
    I, like you, am not worried about the bottom six. That’s where most picks end up and Ottawa is clearly good at building this area. I don’t think I’m as quick to say that’s all they can do as you though. They also are not finished drafting. They aren’t giving away first rounders and that is absolutely key going forward. The first round is the round you really want to hang onto as many NHL stars are from the first round but not necessarily the top 5. Ottawa will also likely pick up a nice pick(s) for Sergei Gonchar next year come deadline day. A contender or bubble team with space would be stupid to pass him up for a run.
    The idea that Ottawa cant land a free agent I cant really get behind either. This is year 1 one of what is by all indications about a(n ahead of schedule) three year plan. Soon, Gonchar’s money will be off the books, Kuba’s money will be off the books, I hate to think it but…Alfie’s too. Yes, people want to play in New York Citayyy but people also want to play where the money is and with the cap space and core of players the Sens have they are likely going to be able to land a big fish at the right time. I don’t think we in Ottawa have the luxury of rebuilding the Edmonton way. Our fans do have patience but we live in a house of 1,000,000 people already twice divided but two very annoying franchises with 80+ years foothold on us.
    Anyway, no.1 picks are undeniably awesome but if the Murrays are good at one thing its drafting and it’s not all about the top 5. If you ask me that shit is putting everything on red to an extent too. Take those picks when you have them but don’t rely on them.
    Finally, Toronto’s “rebuild” to me is not like Ottawa’s in the slightest. First and foremost, I can’t call a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in going on 7 seasons and HAS tanked a bubble team. They traded 2 top end picks (2nd and 9th overall GODDAMN) for a very good winger and lost an amazing centre and a highly touted tough puck moving d man in the process. AND THEY GAVE THEM TO A DIVISIONAL RIVAL! Bad rebuild choice, bro! They are lucky Kessel and Lupol can score so much with so little down the middle. They did a panicky massive sell off / swap thing with Calgary that didn’t work out at all AND have completely abandoned their original strategy of toughness that they had seemingly bought into only like what? Two seasons ago? That’s not even touching their poor coaching, thin prospect pool and unreliable goaltending, a position they hand to a new person(s) seemingly every season. Oh, and Phaneuf’s a dink.

    • “The Senators are being hyped as having one of the deepest prospect pools in the league, third only to Edmonton and I think Florida”

      Yeah, and it’s hype. I’ll believe we have a deep prospect pool when I see these guys as NHL players. I think you absolutely need to hedge your bets with volume, because it’s just a fact: most prospects don’t do anything. For the record, I think Florida is way better off than Edmonton and certainly Ottawa.

      “You seem bent on dismissing all of the Sens kids as complementary or bottom six yet want the Sens to continue to build through the draft.”

      Well, me and all the people doing projections. It’s not like anyone is saying any of our prospects are foundational. I’m okay with not having a superstar in the system, I just think we need volume. I have zero problems with complimentary – look at the St. Louis Blues – you just need a shit ton of those guys. Again, look at St. Louis.

      “Yes, it was a gamble of a trade but the entire rebuild you desire must be acknowledged as a gamble too, perhaps an even bigger one.”

      Absolutely! A rebuild is a huge gamble! That’s why you mitigate the risk by picking up an enormous amount of prospects. I hate the Turris trade because we gave up one pick and one prospect for a prospect. I prefer volume or a sure thing. Sure things are hard to find, so volume it is.

      “five picks in the first two rounds and all forwards this year alone, 3 of them pure scorers”

      If history stands up, 1, maybe 2 of them will become NHL players. That’s not a rebuild to me.

      Anyway, my article is not about how Ottawa should tank. I think it’s great that they’re out performing. It’s about how the fan base has a tendency to look at the half-dozen guys we have in the system and think “What we have now plus that = awesome!” when it’s more like “What we have now minus Spezza and Michalek in their prime and Alfie and Gonchar and Kuba plus maybe one or two of those guys as complimentary players = bubble team.” If that’s what it is, so be it. But it’s not how you win a cup.

      Hey, if all of these guys work out I’ll be the first to eat crow and write an article about how I was wrong.

      • Bro? Bro! Bro, come at me bro! COME AT ME BRO. READ MY COOL T SHIRT IT SAYS “COME. AT. ME. BRO” Well, it’s hype because you say its hype. I think it’s smart drafting (still in progress) being recognized. So, *dusts hands* this debate is going really, really well. PAY ATTN GHOST OF CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT! I think Florida have good prospects. They have Huberdeau, Markstrom and Gubrandson. We have Zibanejad, Lehner, Cowen. It’s not like they are worlds ahead. Edmonton have great forward prospects but still a long way to go for defense and goaltending. Hype or different approaches? Detroit, NYR, and Boston got strong one way, the Pens, Blackhawks and Caps took another. I’m just saying, the Sens ARE drafting for the top 6 they are only less than a year in and they are not done yet. Where we differ greatly is that I just don’t think the Sens have that 5+ years to do it the way you want it. To me it’s just not the reality of our team’s market.
        As for you and an army of hockey analysts (who you discounted for ‘hyping’ Ottawa’s prospect pool a breath earlier), yeah, you’re a pessimist and I’m…less of one. Spezza is still in his 20s as is Michalek, Turris is top 6. That’s three spots in the top six over the next couple of years. Im not saying if “all the guys” work out im saying that I believe that yes, out of Zibanejad, Puempel, Prince, Noesen, Pageau, Da Costa, Butler, Greening, Silfverberg, Petersson, Hoffman, Stone, Hamilton, Filatov and the next couple years of picks, trades, or trading up in the draft which BM has a penchant for, 1 top six guy will likely emerge. With the cap space they have I also believe the Sens can acquire an FA or two as well once someone in the prospect pool does breakout. The rebuild is going faster than expected because the Sens weren’t quite as fucked as others to begin with. I don’t think they will be damned to an eternity of getting bounced from the first round. In fact, just this year alone, if they line up against the Rangers or Florida I think they have a shot at pushing through the first. Anyway, I guess this wraps things up as I have completely convinced you as you have me.
        As for “that’s not how you win a cup” I don’t know. The way you’re talking about definitely worked for Pittsburgh and Chicago yes but New Jersey, Anaheim, Detroit and Boston didn’t do it that way. Seeing as Murray was involved in Anaheim and Detroit’s management previously, I’m giving the guy’s plan a couple of years still.

        • I don’t think I’m explaining myself very well. I think that when a team is ranked number 1 or 2 or whatever in prospect depth, it doesn’t mean they’re set. They could just have more depth, utility players than anyone else. Prospect depth, especially one year of it, is a long way from contention. I don’t think it necessarily will take five years. I just think it takes more than one.

          You and I just said the exact same thing – out of all of those guys, 1 or two of them will turn out to be top six. I just think that sort of stinks.

          I don’t doubt that it boils down to attitude. I’m totally skeptical about Turris long-term, as well as all of our prospects. You’re willing to take a “wait-and-see” approach, which is totally reasonable.

          • Oh I feel you, Woolly. I don’t think they are set either. You’re right, as it stands, this draft is going to be much leaner than last. Well, most of them likely will be from here. I think Ottawa had something like 6 picks in the top 50. With the strategy they seem to be going with they aren’t going to be able to sell off the team year after year. I have a very strong feeling that Murray will be up to something at the draft. He traded up for Karlsson and Rundblad 😦 in the recent past. He could do something nothing crazy but back when he traded up for Karlsson it seemed weird and insignificant BUT I AM MANAGING MY EXPECTATIONS! He’ll probably do a little something. Not in a Brian Burke holding a “I will do whatever it takes to secure the no. 1 pick for John Tavares” press conference in front of a horn section getting ready to perform a striking rendition of WAAAAMP WAAAAAAMP WAMP WAAAWAAWAWAWAAAAA (a Toronto favorite!) but he has definitely traded up in the draft in the past. Hopefully, with all the prospects the Sens have and Gonchar with only one more year left after this he can do something with that. Interesting to think that when Kuba is gone and Gonchar eventually off the books, the Sens are going to have sign some kind of FA to keep above the cap floor…though Karlsson seems poised to make their salary combined in the coming years. I expect Murray to hold a boom box over his head blasting “The Crying Game” on draft day.

  7. YEah, we didn’t blow it up enough.
    I personalyl would not have re-signed Phillips, but I get the 1,000 games thing so meh.
    Of the rest, I definitely would have traded Kuba this year for prospects or a pick and kept Gonchar for the mentoring role. You can’t really buy out Alfredsson but he should not be offered a new contract, the team needs to move on and he’s good enough to get us there but isn’t elite enough to carry us to a cup.

    I’d hate to see us become Carolina or Barfalo, just good enough to get in but never super-elite like we were in the late 90s early 2000s. We really could use an elite forward or two outside of J to the Spezz-aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. I have a feeling our current situation could be attributed to Murray still being thinking he can ring ring the Stanley-ding. I doubt it, but hey…even Prince Charles got laid so anything can happen?

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