I had a thought the other day: is there another team in the bottom 10 of the NHL better positioned to add a top prospect and transition from mediocre to good than the Ottawa Senators?
Buffalo is in the first year of a multi-year rebuild. They’re legitimately horrible.
Edmonton has added aggressively, drafted superstars, and is still a mess. At this point they’re talking about rebuilding the club’s culture from the ground up.
Carolina is full of unwieldy contracts, from the Staal brothers to Cam Ward to Alex Semin to the tiny and oft-injured Jeff Skinner. They’re 10 games under .500 even with all of those expensive veterans.
Arizona is talking full rebuild and is buried under their expensive goalie contract. Who knows in which direction they’ll jump.
Columbus probably shouldn’t even be in the bottom ten. They’ve just had terrible luck with injuries this year.
New Jersey has the oldest lineup in the league.
Toronto has terrible contracts we read about in every paper all the time and don’t need to see listed again here.
Philadelphia’s defense is a mess, and they’ve handed long-term contracts to the like of Andy MacDonald and Mark Streit.
Minnesota could fix their goaltending and be better; they won a playoff round last year.
And then Florida, who could also be better, and at times have looked playoff-bound.
So, the Sens, Minnie, and Florida. I’d say those are the three who could add a prospect and then do some damage.
What sets Ottawa apart from the other two? Consider the following:
- Ottawa has the lowest payroll in the league, and thus the most room to spend. You can see how restorative it’s been for the Islanders to add take advantage of teams near the cap to snag Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk. A few key signings in Grabovski, Kulemin and Halak, and they’re one of the best teams in the East. That could be Ottawa, if they play their cards right.
- Ottawa has the youngest lineup of those three. They’re the third youngest team in the league, compared to Minnie’s 13th and Florida’s 26th. They already have young players in key roles, and they’re producing. Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone have been revelations this season. Mika Zibanejad has quietly turned his season around. Cody Ceci and Curtis Lazar are both very early on in their careers, and are only growing. Alex Chiasson is a human male who can skate.
- Ottawa has a core to build around. Kyle Turris is on a high value contract, as is Erik Karlsson. Bobby Ryan re-signed, causing the city to emit a giant sigh of relief, and he seems to be thriving in a leading role. Robin Lehner is holding a knife to my throat as I type this.
- Ottawa has goaltending. Craig Anderson has been one of the best in the league this year, and Robin Lehner, though struggling at the moment, has finally been given the opportunity to work without a safety net.
- Ottawa doesn’t really have any bad contracts. Sure, Colin Greening…with his $2.5M cap hit. Not exactly a crippling mistake. David Clarkson that signing was not. Milan Michalek hasn’t been great, nor has he been disastrous. Maybe Zack Smith? None of those signings is the sort of thing that will prevent Ottawa from being aggressive if and when they get the opportunity.
All of which makes it confusing to hear and read fans and bloggers describe this iteration of the team as ‘disastrous’ and ‘disappointing.’ What exactly were the expectations to begin with? A low playoff seed, maybe, at best?
One advantage of all of this parity is that there are only thin slivers of truly bad and truly good teams. Most teams are in the milky middle of the league. And so a team like Ottawa, who aren’t truly bad, can snag a top ten prospect and not have it mean that they’re years away from contending.
Ottawa’s playing good hockey at the moment. Their shots on goal are being cut down. They can hang with any team in the league on any given night. And there’s nowhere to go but up. Add a good player in this year’s draft and Ottawa could be next year’s dangerous, dark horse pick.
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