Cornwall ON – Ottawa Senators fans need to chill. Please excuse the crude slang, but it is rather appropriate. Sens fans are in panic mode after a disastrous first half of the NHL season. Their beloved team is, as of this writing, 13th in the Eastern Conference with a 17-28 win-loss record, which puts them light years out of a play-off spot and inches from a top-5 lottery Entry Draft pick.
Calls are being made by the fans as well as pundits, professional media and bloggers alike, for the heads of General Manager Bryan Murray and Head Coach Cory Clouston. They have apparently taken a team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007, and turned it into a bottom-feeding laughing stock.
But as a wise man named Frankie once said: Relax. This season’s struggles are the best things that could have happened to the Ottawa Senators; For the first time since 2001, Ottawa has the chance to draft a franchise player with their 1st round draft pick. This is crucial for a club that cut ties with genuine NHL stars Marian Hossa, Zdeno Chara, Martin Havlat, Wade Redden and Dany Heatley, but today retain only two assets which were received in return: Struggling winger Milan Michalek and solid defensive prospect Patrick Weircoch. Yes, that’s all that’s left from those franchise greats.
And so with only Jason Spezza, a shell of his former self offensively since losing long-time line-mate Heatley, as a ‘star’ player on the roster, the prospect of drafting a Sean Couturier or a Gabriel Landeskog (no relation) is quite enticing. Daniel Alfredsson and Sergei Gonchar just don’t have ’it’ anymore. Alexei Kovalev never did. Erik Karlsson is developing fast but is still young and raw. Jared Cowen and David Rundblad have yet to play a game in the NHL. This team needs a young franchise forward to rebuild around.
Yes, I’ve used the dreaded R-word: Rebuild. For that is exactly what the Senators organization must plan for. It is painfully obvious now that the players deemed the team’s core pieces: Mike Fisher, Milan Michalek, Nick Foligno, Peter Regin, Chris Kelly, Chris Neil, Chris Phillips, Sergei Gonchar, Filip Kuba, Chris Campoli are (for the most part) overpaid role players who served key back-up roles when the team was built around real stars, but now cannot be counted to lead the team to the promised land by themselves.
But Ottawa faithful need not despair. The much maligned Bryan Murray has been able to do more in his 3 and a half seasons as GM to refill a depleted prospect pool than several Toronto Maple Leads GM’s have in twice that time. He has created a bright future for the Senators in goal with Robin Lehner and on the blueline in the aforementioned Karlsson, Cowen and Rundblad, Weircoch plus Eric Gryba. He has also stockpiled future role players up front as Foligno, Regin, Zach Smith, Jim O’Brien, Bobby Butler, Jakob Silfverberg, Andre Petersson, Marcus Sorenson, Mike Hoffman and Roman Wick all look to have a future as solid 2nd or 3rd line forwards. What’s missing is an explosive scorer with leadersership abilities. That is where a 2011 top 5 draft pick comes in.
A Couturier or a Landeskog could come in and develop into a star player to take the reins from the ailing Alfredsson and inconsistent Spezza. Now, this player would not be a saviour by themselves. But joined by other Senators draft picks, both past and future in supporting roles, they could help the Senators get back on their feet in a year or two.
And this is why patience is needed. Throwing Bryan Murray, who has made admittedly some bad trades and Free Agent signings but has drafted brilliantly, and Cory Clouston, an individual who was considered for a Jack Adams award last season and has an excellent reputation in regards to developing young talent, under the bus in a panic move would be ridiculous and short-sighted.
Patience will be rewarded with success. Rash moves and attempted season saving personnel moves will only result in many more years of futility. So sit back, relax and just enjoy the game.